Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Donation by students of Walnut School

Walnut school holds a ‘Fun Fair’ where children are asked to put up and manage their own stalls. 5 students of this school had put up a selfie booth in this event. They made a profit of Rs.5000/-. All these students are from 5th standard. They together decided to donate this amount to ‘The Society for Door Step Schools’. They bought stationary items like crayons, pencils, pouches, bottles etc with the money and have handed it to DSS. It is really commendable to think of other children at their age. We would like to say a big Thank You for their contribution.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Shikshan Sarvansathi 'शिक्षण सर्वासाठी' (Education for All)

Rajani Tai has been writing a series of articles 'शिक्षण सर्वांसाठी' (Shikshan Sarvansathi - Education for All) in Loksatta newspaper. So far Loksatta has published 4 of her articles in this fortnightly series. Below are the links to the original articles and their translations in English:

People beg because there are people who give alms

We bring you the 4th Article by Rajani tai from Chaturanga, a supplement of the local newspaper Loksatta. In her forth article, she explores the effect of giving alms on the psyche of receiver and specially if they are children. How it damages their self respect and how they consider it their right to receive handouts. She also briefly touches the quality of education offered in the Government schools and the rules and law governing these schools:

We had just begun our work. In front of our office was a Band Stand. Every morning a lot of children used to collect there. Therefore we conducted our teaching classes there. At the same time, some persons used to come there to distribute bananas and bread and such things. We saw firsthand, the way the children crowded around these people, how they tried to be one up in getting more, and the wretchedness they displayed. They were not beggars, nor did their parents send them to beg, but neither were they told not to take anything for free. In a way the children were getting training in begging and running after handouts. Even now we experience such things. We as citizens are very enthusiastic about distributing free handouts. 
       Some years ago we worked in a slum near the Sassoon court. Now due to widening of the road this settlement has been removed. One experience from there – One van came there regularly and distributed meals for the seniors and milk pouches for the children... They had a habit of either begging for food or eating such free food. The milk pouches were sold to the nearby tea stall and the money was used to buy liquor – the milk was never given to the children.
     We enrolled the children from this slum in a nearby Government school.  In those days lunch was not provided at the school and children carried their own lunch boxes. These children didn’t carry their lunch, as food was not cooked at their homes. The children stayed hungry the whole time, so we used to take them to nearby “Zunka- bhakar” (Sorghum Indian bread and cooked onions) center, for their midday meals. Of course now the children get mid-day meals at school and the Zunka Bhakar centers have become extinct. Even now there are many such families who do not cook regularly – especially in urban areas. In the villages you don’t find them as there are very few donors of freebees.
     Slightly digressing from the main topic, let us see how the children going to Government school fare. The standard of these schools is very low. Though the children attend school only 30% know the basic Marathi alphabets. There is no one at home who can teach them or monitor their progress. The parents are busy trying to make both ends meet. Many a times they leave the house before the child leaves for school, therefore there is no one to check whether they actually reach the school. And the schools too are very accommodative – only 80% attendance is required. Yet only 50% children attain this target is the reality. Now exams are not conducted to promote a child to the next class, so once a child is enrolled and he has 80% attendance he is promoted to the next class irrespective whether he has learnt anything or not. Another lacuna in the system is that when a child is 6 years old he has to be enrolled in the 1ststandard, if he is 8 years old then 3rdstandard and 10 years at the time of the first enrollment then he has to go to the 5thstandard, regardless of his acquaintance with the basics of learning. Once he is enrolled, then his class teacher has to ensure that reaches the level of the other students – the law says so. In reality this doesn’t happen. Even if a child attends school, it doesn’t mean he can read and write.

Here is one case where we used to go to teach the children who stayed in a hostel run by a voluntary organization. Being an NGO it was run through funds donated by various distinguished and eminent persons of the society. Each one contributed as per their capacity. Some wanted to celebrate their child’s birthday, some wanted to celebrate the anniversary of their parents. A lot of food, clothes got distributed. In general, the hostel never ran short of food. In all these activities our teaching time table used to get disturbed. The classes were held irregularly, the teaching schedules and targets were not met, the children lost interest in studies – these were the few visible outcomes. But the serious and more long term effects which were not noticed was on the minds of the children. The feeling of self-respect started getting damaged. Instead they started expecting free handouts as their right. Here we see some voluntary organizations too unknowingly promote this culture.

Helping out others is always good but the donation has to be for a worthy cause – it should not be because it is our need to give. Giving alms to street beggars is always wrong because it encourages the parents to send their children to beg. We have our centers in such settlements. At a certain fixed time the parents barge in the class and send the children to beg. The location and time is already finalized.

This issue needs a lot of introspection on our part – is it their need to beg or is it our need to give. Many a times after an event we have a lot of leftovers, then we remember such slums where food is always welcome. We distribute the food and then suddenly the role changes – our need to dispose the excess food takes the garb of a generous donor and we bask in the unwarranted goodness. Whenever we give alms to any beggar anywhere, either to rid of their pestering or because we feel pity for them the end result for sure is the same- people beg because we give alms

For the original article in Marathi, please visit Shikshan Sarvansathi (Education for All) - Article 4 

Rajani Paranjape

Translated by Mrs. Wasudha Korke

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Thanks to the PCMC Education Department, 500 children now get school transport!

Door Step School works closely with schools in Ravet and Punavale through its program ‘Every Child Counts’. We have identified need for deeper intervention in this area since most of the children enrolled to these schools are from migrant communities like construction workers and brick-kiln workers.

These children stay in settlements which are 3-4 kms away from school. Traffic heavy roads and highways make it more difficult for children to reach school without escort and transport facility. Transport is the most basic facility required for these children’s school access and continuity.

DSS has been providing transport facility for both these schools since last 4 years. Around 100 to 125 children avail of the transport facility each month since then. Hence, there is need of consistent transport facility for children in these schools. We believed that if the Local Government takes ownership of this, it would be part of school process in the long run and thus sustainable.

As per Right to Education Act, schools have right to demand transport facility. But due to the administrative hurdles involved, schools refrain from making this demand and taking it forward. Hence, we decided to take this issue up with the Local Governement. (Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation). We spoke to the education dept. officials, additional commissioner and commissioner and local corporators through frequent meetings – to create awareness about the need and to take specific administrative decisions. It was tough to motivate them to take the necessary actions.
We took a group of children, parents and Shikshan Mitras to PCMC Education Department to meet the education officers, education committee members and standing committee members. Following all these meetings the PCMC took ownership of the school transport in these schools

This has helped 400+ children not only in Ravet, Punawale but also 90+ children from other remote areas like Wadmukhwadi and Charholi.

This is indeed a significant step towards schools and local Govt. being sensitive towards needs of children from migrant / marginalized families and taking responsibility to fulfil the same.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Door Step School’s little scientists!

 Door Step School in collaboration with Quest Science and Math Lab organized its Annual Science Exhibition on account of National Science Day on 16th February 2019.

 Since more than 10 years, Mrs. Malati Kelkar and her team at the Quest Science lab have been conducting science workshops for the children from our Community Learning Centres and construction sites. Apart from this, they have also provided science kits for our children at construction sites and conduct training for our teachers on how to explain science concepts to the children with help of science experiments. 

A total of 130 children from our various construction site study classes participated with full enthusiasm and showcased around 60 science experiments and fun activities related to science and maths. More than 1000 children from a few schools in Aundh like Dr. Kalmadi Shamrao School,  Golwalkar Prathamik School, etc and around 150 visitors from various institutes and organisation paid a visit to the exhibition. 

The children not only showcased the experiments taught to them by Quest or DSS teachers but they also searched for newer experiments on YouTube and tried to explain the concepts to the visitors. The science activities were started by DSS with the objective to help increase their interest in the subject thereby increasing their curiosity. 

Article 3: The seed was sown, it sprouted and was nurtured, grew into a tree and now bore the fruit.

We bring you the 3rd Article by Rajani tai from Chaturanga, a supplement of the local newspaper - Loksatta.

This experience is also about twenty years ago. In those days Senapati Bapat Road in Pune was not crowded with the structures as of today. There was the Chaturshringi temple and few buildings around it. Rest were all open spaces. Adjacent to the temple were many hutments where families whose main occupation was begging lived. We used to take our “School on Wheels” bus there, for the children living there.

These children were professional beggars. Their skill sets were different. Living on the streets day in and day out, and maneuvering through the crowd and traffic, and earning a livelihood is not an easy task. The younger you are, and the more pathetic, dirty, shabby appearance you have added to the capital of your business. 

The first step before we started the class was to get the children cleaned up. On the first day our teachers and Volunteers got everything ready – new clothes, bathing soap, towels etc. They used the nearby public bath and toilets. The children were given their new clothes, soap and towels and were asked to go and take a shower. They came out soaking wet including the towel - they did not know the use of a towel! – Our volunteers and teachers were dumbfounded not exactly knowing whether to laugh or feel sad.

Our class used to be for about three hours. After class, the children went home, changed into their working attire and reported to work on the streets. Many a times, when we passed through that area and waited at the traffic signal a child would come forward with hands spread for begging and before we could register his presence he would disappear – most probably he had recognized us but for us to recognize him was next to impossible due to a complete change of attire and demeanor. His “makeover” was an essential part of his business strategy – this truth he had understood at an early age. We understood it so late in life.

To get these children enrolled in schools is a difficult task as these children are the main means of income generation. The children earn much more while begging, than seniors. Therefore, the parents are most reluctant to send the children to school.  Festive season is the prime time when the children have to be at home. We tried putting these children at a Boarding school nearby. The children liked it there. Suddenly, one day we got a message from the hostel saying that the children have run away. After enquiring at their homes we found that the children were at home. On questioning them as to why they ran away, the parents replied that the festive season was the prime earning season and if the children were away, how they would fend for the whole year?

Many people advise us that we should insist that the children should stop begging. But, if these children are the main source of earning for the family then how can we insist on such a thing? Can we provide them with any alternate occupation or any other source of earning? If we sincerely feel we need to stop these children from begging then as a first step we have to stop giving alms to them. When the parents realize that this business is not working, they would try to find some something else. It is simple logic based on demand and supply. But unfortunately, to give alms to beggars is our need and we create the demand because somewhere it satisfies us.

Then how do we go about educating these children? - How do we prevent them from begging? Just recently, residents of an Apartment complex nearby, volunteered to offer their community hall to start this process. They provided all facilities like bathrooms, toilets, food, T.V. and other entertainment equipment and a teacher to teach. We worked along with them, basically to keep the children occupied for the whole day, make them learn to sit in one place. We appointed two trained and experienced teachers. Unfortunately, this project didn’t last long. The reason being the expectations of people with no experience in such projects were not met, which were very basic for people like us but totally out of the familiarity of the children- things like discipline, daily attendance, cleanliness, not quarrelling with each other, eating properly etc. The response from the children was not as per the anticipation of the Apartment owners, so slowly the facilities were withdrawn and the project ended. By and by the settlement was removed and the families shifted elsewhere. This is a common feature with such settlements. But many a times the people come back again to the same place, but then once the routine is disturbed it is difficult to set up again.

The families in this settlement however didn’t come back. They settled in a slum called “Poolachi Wadi”. Our work with such children is still going on but it is like an obstacle race. The children are irregular in their attendance, but very regular in being absent during festivals. Then is it worth working with such children? – YES IT IS.  Our very recent experience endorses this – one of our teachers who had worked at Chaturshringi project met a man on the road a few days ago. He recognized her, though she couldn’t place him. He was one of the children at the Chaturshringi project. He stopped her and talked very emotionally about the old days- the art classes, the songs which he had learnt, the “School on Wheels”. On being asked how he was and how he was fending for himself now, he very sadly said that he was as he was before but he had made sure that his children were not brought to the city and were studying at school in his native place! He wanted them to have a better life than his!

The seed which was sown twenty years ago at Chaturshringi, had sprouted, nurtured and had grown into a tree, was now bearing fruits. What else does one want?

For the original article in Marathi, please visit Shikshan Sarvansathi (Education for all) - Article 3

Rajani Paranjape

Translated by Wasudha Korke

Friday, February 8, 2019

Unconcerned or helpless,ignorant or constrained?

We bring you the 2nd article from the series of articles that Rajani tai will be writing fortnightly for Chaturang, supplement of our local newspaper - Loksatta.

About twenty years ago, we started a class near Spicer College which was then the outskirts of the city and new roads were under construction. Obviously the labour force working there stayed in a nearby hutment, comprising of twenty huts, which meant twenty families and about thirty children. We used to conduct classes for the children living there.

As there was no place to start a physical center, we used our “School on Wheels” bus. This bus is specially designed like a classroom, with seating arrangement, cupboards for storing books and equipment, a blackboard and drinking water to name a few. We conducted classes of two and a half hours with children of all ages attending the class. Parents worked nearby so they could keep a watch and moreover those children with young siblings could both study and take care of the young ones.

The classes were held daily. Routines were set, the children too, started enjoying the experience and learnt to sit at one place. As per our normal schedule we had planned to enroll the children in a nearby school after they were familiarized with the basic alphabets, arrange for their transport if required and help them with their homework after school- in short take up the role of their parents. But it was not to be.

One morning when the bus reached the destination there was no one around – neither the parents nor the children. The empty huts stood as silent sentinels.We tried finding out the whereabouts of these people. There were no cell phones to speed up communication. Then we decided to be there early in the morning and the mystery was solved. A truck was there to pick them up and take them to another work site at the other end of the town and drop them back after a day’s work.  We requested the parents to leave the children behind, but the question put up by the parents was very cogent – “who would take care of the children once the class is over? If, we were willing to take the responsibility of looking after them for the whole day then they would leave the children behind.”

We now had a problem on hand. We had no infrastructure to take care of the children for the whole day. Enrolling them at school meant only half day engaged. Here we were eulogizing about education and when the need arose shirking the responsibility by saying it doesn’t fit in our rules – it just didn’t seem right.

The parents took a step forward and offered to take the younger children along with them, and give packed meals to the older children who were to study and spend the day with us. Now we had to take up the responsibility. There were about ten to twelve children above six years. We decided to take them to our office.

Now our office was very small – just two rooms and that to in a private house with a garden around. We were worried how the children would behave – will they pluck the flowers, make noise, misuse the toilets, will the owners object? And many such qualms.

But no such thing happened. They were very quiet, they played with whatever material we gave them, ate their food quietly and after the heat reduced stood on the terrace watching the road. No shouting, no quarrelling. We were very curious to know what food they had brought with them. It was a very pleasant surprise to see each one of them having similar brand new stainless steel double decker lunch boxes with rice and curry in it. The parents had specially made this purchase!

After a few days the parents were again transferred to Aundh at Spicer College. We started planning to prepare the children, to take the school entrance test in March. Accordingly, we sounded out the school authorities of a nearby school. And once again, one morning when we reached the site, there was no sign of the people, their huts. We had no clue about where they had gone, no messages, no notes, no farewell, and no nothing. 

Our teachers were greatly disappointed. But we had nothing to fall back on to trace their whereabouts. Therefore the only way to console ourselves was to believe in the teachings of the Gita –“Putting in efforts to the utmost of our ability is our responsibility, expecting the results as per our aspirations is not in our hands. 

What was the take home from this experience? The children of the road construction workers is a group of children who are deprived of education. Hence, wherever it was possible we set up classes for them. The main shortcoming of the parents was their work pattern. They didn’t stay in one place for a long time. As the work progressed they had to shift their dwellings. Many a times their settlements were away from the cities with no proper access, roads which turned into sludge during the rains. How do we teach such children? What does the behavior of the parents near Spicer College reveal? – Their disinterest in their child’s education – then what do you make of the preparation they did to send their children to the day care? What does their leaving, without informing us tell? – Their unconcern or their ignorance or is it plain compulsion.

For the original article in Marathi please visit Shikshan Sarvansathi-Article 2

Rajani Paranjape

Translated by: Wasudha Korke