Monday, April 22, 2019

How we finally got 4 girls to learn!

DSS has been working at a slum called Valhekarwadi, a settlement of 35-40 hutments comprising of 2 communities: Nandiwaale (Bull bearing nomads who make predictions about weather and harvesting) and the Untwale (Camel bearers). The parents from the Camel bearers community work on garbage trucks each day from 7.00 am to 4.00 pm. There were 4-5 girls in the age group of 10 to 14 years who had to look after the house, cook, clean the house, wash clothes and utensils, look after their younger siblings and also take the sheep for grazing. Our teachers would go to their houses every day to bring them to our class. They could not be enrolled to schools, their parents were totally against it, but we thought that they could at least come to our School on Wheels class so that we could work on developing their interest in learning and eventually we could convince their parents to send them to schools. But the girls would often refuse to come to our class because of all the household chores that needed to be completed. And if they did come to the class, something or the other would happen: like the cattle would enter their huts and eat grains or any food available. The parents would then beat them up. One such time when the girls were in the class, one of their lamb was eaten up by dog. That was it, the girl was beaten up and her coming to the class was stopped. 

These girls were smart and fond of learning, it felt wrong to stop teaching them, so our coordinator tried to hire a teacher who could go to the settlement and teach the girls instead of making the girls come to the School on Wheels class. We interviewed a few teachers but all of them refused to go to the settlement since it was unclean. One of our own teachers Ms. Vidya Pawar was ready to go and teach the girls at their door step! We planned her class in such a way that would not interfere with the girls’ work. The teacher would follow the girls and try to teach them, for instance if  the girls were cleaning their utensils, she would sit with them and teach them ‘स – साबणाचा’ (s for soap), ‘प - पाण्याचा’, etc. The teacher would also follow them to the river when they went for washing clothes. 
One such afternoon when it was extremely hot, the teacher went with the girls to the river and fainted there. The girls felt really bad and thought they should cooperate in some manner since the teacher was taking so many efforts. The girls convinced their parents to let them sit for the class in one of the tents. The girls and the parents found one such tent where classes could be conducted. In the beginning only 3 girls would come to the class but eventually all 4 girls started coming regularly. Now these girls themselves come a little earlier to the class (they don’t need to be called anymore), and they would even clean up the tent and make it ready for starting the class! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Change is taking place, slowly but surely!

DSS conducts surveys in temporary locations including construction sites to enroll out of school children between 6-8 years of age to schools. In 2016-17, in one such survey at a construction site in Baner, we found Rahul, a 7-year old child who was not enrolled to school. 

We spoke to Rahul’s father, Mr. Garibdas Shrivas multiple times to enroll him to school, however the father would say that they were from Bihar and since they were new to this place, he would not send the child to school. After some more meetings, he agreed to enroll the Rahul to Baburao Katke PMC School in Baner. DSS also provided him school transport facility. But the pick-up point of the bus was about 8 minutes away from their home and Mr. Shrivas could not drop the child till the bus due to his Security Guard duty. He would say that his boss would get upset if he took a break to drop Rahul to the bus. Our staff thus spoke to his employer to request him to give Mr. Shrivas a 15 minutes break so that the child could continue going to school and the society chairman agreed to it. Still the father often insisted that the bus pick the child up from their door step, which was not a possibility, given the logistics. However, later he ensured that the child was regular to school.  

The next year, Mr. Shrivas bought his son a bicycle to go to school. However, the distance to the school was close to 2.5 km and the road was a busy one which worried the parent a little. Thus, he researched a little and found that a school transport vehicle was available for the Sant Tukaram School in Pashan. He went by himself to the Rahul’s school to get the child’s school leaving certificate and enrolled Rahul and his younger daughter Alka (who by now was also of the school going age) to the Pashan School. He now pays for the private school transport for both his children and they are both regular to school. 

Not only has he been so diligent to send his children regularly to school, he has also been speaking to other parents to convince them to send their kids to school. We have been in constant touch with him and since we saw such a positive shift in his attitude towards Education, we made him the ‘Shikshan Mitra’ in this area. Since then he always attended all the Shikshan Mitra meetings conducted by us and he has also helped enroll children of other watchmen around him. He also regularly follows up with the 5 children we assigned to him and sends us updates and photographs via WhatsApp. 

Mr. Garibdas Shrivas, who was initially so reluctant to send his child to school has now become so aware about the importance of education that he himself took an informed decision of changing his child’s school, arranged private transport for his children after enrolling his daughter on his own! Not only that, he is also a responsible Shikshan Mitra who is helping us with enrollment of other children and helping us ensure that they are regular to school! Who says change is not possible!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

School Management Committee Melawa 2018-19

School Management Committee (SMC) is a mandatory body for government schools which has come into existence due to the Right to Education Act in 2009. The constitution of SMC is such that parents, teacher representative, school principal, student representatives, education specialist, community representatives, all come together for the betterment of the school. The parents constitute 75% of the committee. It is a highly effective tool, which can bring about improvement in learning environment. DSS started working with SMC from 2014. In 2018-2019, DSS has been working with the SMC in 30 schools.

Formal introduction of SMC members to the entire school, conducting trainings and workshops, etc. were a few of the activities undertaken under this initiative. We conducted an annual event for the members of the SMC in these schools to bring them together and discuss the work done and changes brought about by them in their respective schools. This event which was conducted on 23rd January 2019 was graced by 80 SMC members from 20 schools. The event was inaugurated by the Chief Guest: Ms. Shubhangi Chavhan, Assistant Administrative officer, Education Department (PMC).

The inauguration was followed by a welcome song by 6 SMC members after which 8 members presented the work done by them in the year. The chief guest then felicitated members of 15  schools selected from the total 30. These schools were selected on the basis of total number of meetings conducted, the attendance of 80-90% in meetings, number of visits to the school kitchen, the infrastructure and other facilities in the schools of these members.

A small quiz based on the trainings conducted by DSS was also conducted for all the members. The fact that most of the members won the small mementos presented to them on giving correct answers showed that they have understood their roles and responsibilities and are aware about the development areas of schools.

Mrs. Chavan addressed the audience telling them how happy she felt that the members’ sincere work towards making the schools better is being acknowledged with trophies. She liked the fact that the members come together and try to resolve any issues, these issues. She said that the members should in fact involve the parents in these activities too. She also mentioned that she would like this initiative to be run not only through the 30 schools but all the schools!

The SMC members sang the song ‘शाळा आमची आहे किती छान’ (Our School is so nice) which was the perfect way to conclude the programme!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Our recent experience working with the sugarcane factory workers’ children.

The temporary settlement of 'Tolis'
Every year during mid October, many migrant families travel to sugarcane factories to work during the harvesting season. These seasonal migrants return to their villages by December-January when the work gets over. 

It is common for the workers to bring their entire family, including young children, thus disrupting their education. While the parents toil the entire day in the factory, children are left behind at home to help their parents with the household chores and to look after their younger siblings. 

There are two types of workers: the ones who work at one sugar factory throughout the season and the other which are called ‘टोळी’ (toli which means group) and work in different factories during the season and are always on a move.

We came across one such ‘toli’ near Talegaon in December we decided to bring our School on Wheels (SoW) bus to this location. (School on Wheels is a signature programme of Door Step School where we use buses remodelled as classrooms to conduct classes for children in locations where there is a lack of space.) This settlement in Kanhewadi constituted of around 10-12 families of sugarcane crushers hailing from Chalisgaon with 12 children, 8 of which were between ages 6 to 14 and 4 were between ages 3-6. 

Visits to the farm to meet the workers who could not attend our meetings
The parents were a little sceptical in the beginning since the classes were to be conducted in the bus, but our staff could speak their native language (Ahirani). Hence we explained to them how DSS works in their own language and also spoke to their Contractor who, along with a few parents, checked out our website to know more about DSS. This eased them into sending their children regularly to the classes. During this time, we not only conducted parents’ meetings in the settlement but also went to the sugarcane farms to meet a few parents who could not attend the meetings due to work. 

The 8 children between 6-14 years of age were enrolled to schools in their native village but when we checked their learning levels, we found that only 1 child knew almost all the मुळाक्षर (Mulakshar – Marathi Alphabets), 1 child was learning बाराखडी (Matras) while the other 6 hardly knew any alphabets. We prepared plans for each of these children. We conducted the SoW class near their settlement for 2 hours daily. Our staff noticed that the children were eager to learn. Our focus was primarily on the older children while for the Balwadi (3-6 yrs age group) children we told stories, taught songs and conducted different activities according to our monthly project topics. Since we came to know about the location only in first week of December, we could conduct only 16 classes till December end when all the families of the toli returned to their village Chalisgaon. By the time they left, almost all children had completed their Mulakshars. We followed up with the parents (Door Step School takes down parents’ contact details while enrolling children to our classes. This enables DSS to track them once they migrate), who informed us that the children have started going to the school again after returning to the village. 

This was our first experience working with the toli. We have taken the contact details of the contractor as well, and plan to target this community as soon as they arrive in October next year. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Book fairies make daily school bus rides more fun and productive!

A PMC PMPL bus runs between Hadapsar and Wanorie to pick and drop students to and from school. Children staying in the Ramtekdi Vaiduvadi area commute through this bus. Ms. Sheetal Gaikwad and Ms Shabana Sayyed, residents of the Vaiduvadi area, work as book fairies in the Wanorie branch of our school. Even they use this bus while returning from school. 

During their travel from school, these book fairies observed that the students create a chaos in the bus and do not listen to the bus kaka, which makes it difficult for him to maintain order in the bus. To control this situation, our book fairies came up with a brilliant idea. They asked the students to read the books that are distributed to them, and it was decided that every student would narrate a story to the others during their bus travel.

Thereon, the children started reading books and preparing for their storytelling session. Thus, during their time in the bus, the kid would either be reading books or listening to the stories being told by others. This automatically reduced the chaos in the bus and their travel time was rather put to good use. For this positive change in the children, the bus kaka thanked our book fairies.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Yekamma finally goes to school!

Yekamma Pawar came to Pune with her parents and 2 older brothers from Karnatak last year. The family stays in a temporary slum in Nakhati Nagar, Rahatne and the parents work as daily wage earners for contractors. Yekamma attended school in her native village till 2nd standard. Door Step School staff had been meeting her parents since last year in order to convince them to send her to school in Pune. Every time we met them, they would say they did not have time to go with her to school for her enrollment (taking a day’s leave from work meant not getting paid which, for them is a huge loss). Yekamma’s mother would also ask us who would look after the house if she went to school? After all someone needed to be at home for the daily chores of filling water, cleaning the house, cooking. 

The girl kept telling our staff how much she wanted to go to school. We would tell her how we were trying to get her parents to agree. We also told her to speak to them, tell them how much she wanted to learn. After much convincing from the DSS staff and Yekamma herself for almost a year, this year the parents finally gave in. They took 2 days off from work and came with our staff to the Rahatni Girl’s School (No. 55) to enroll Yekamma to 4th standard. She has been regularly attending school since then. She has also been an active participant in various sports activities lately: she won the first prize in long jump in an event organized by Bajaj, in the same event, her school won the lezim competition and she was declared to be the best flag bearer. About 115 schools participated in a sports event organized by the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation in which she got the second place in 50 meters running competition and was declared the best flag bearer in the lezim competition in this event too. Yekamma's parents too are now happy seeing her do so well and are glad they sent her to school. 

When DSS recently spoke to her teachers about her progress at school they were impressed with her, they said they initially had doubts about her even coming to school regularly but now they are happy with her sincerity. 

Her sports teacher Mr. Ganesh Lingade, said she shows great potential in sports, and she is especially good in Kabaddi. He said they plan to prepare her for school level Kabaddi championship next year. 

We are thankful to Yekamma’s parents who finally agreed to send her to school. We are proud of Yekamma and hope to see her succeed at school and in sports. We hope that all the parents understand importance of education.