Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Quality education for all tribal children

GPM is so proud of its association with Reach Education Action Programme (REAP) that once again has shown incredible innovation in its campaign to give quality education to vulnerable children throughout India. With great foresight REAP has inaugurated a hostel for tribal children who would otherwise need to migrate from their villages when their families search for work to survive. The plight of vulnerable children in poor tribal families in rural India is exasperated when these families are required to migrate from their villages for up to six months of the year because a lack of seasonal work. Once a family migrates, the children’s education has for all purposes ended, guaranteeing a life of illiteracy and continued poverty. Indeed, among the Katkari tribes, migration to other cities to work at brick kilns and sugar factories is common.  Poverty and landlessness forces mass migration for their survival. Every year after the Diwali holiday, families migrate and return only in June.  They take their children along with them which means that their education is hindered as they are taken out of school.  This cycle is repeated every year and thousands of tribal children lose out on education.

REAP recognized the harsh consequences of tribal migration for children and last month opened a hostel for vulnerable children in the tribal hamlet in Lahe, Maharshtra.  Now, tribal children who would have migrated with their parents to work continue their education as they will stay at the hostel and continue their schooling uninterrupted until their parents return.   A beautiful feature of REAP’s program is the strong cooperation of the village residents themselves. Indeed one member of the tribe has given his house to be the ‘boarding’ for these children while two couples from the hamlet have volunteered to act as the children’s ‘parents’ and look after them.

REAP’s pioneering six month boarding program was initially a hard sell for the parents.  Several meetings were held with the villagers to encourage them about the plan.  Eventually the great merits of the program led to the hostel’s inauguration by REAP’s Director, Dr. Trevor Miranda, on November 20,  in the presence of the zilla parishad area development officials, head masters, school teachers,  village Sarpanch (village mayor) - who also happens to be a teacher in REAP’s program -, school children from the village and residents.  The school officials praised the unique project and said that this is a major step in providing all children a quality education.  The director announced that with the success of this pilot project, more boarding’s would be opened in villages to prevent illiteracy caused by migration.  The director also announced that REAP would provide toilets and solar lights in the village; the crowd cheered in appreciation!

REAP currently networks with about 100 Zilla Parishad Schools in Bhiwandi, Sange, Shahapur and Khardi area to bring quality education to tribal children.  REAP also runs a boarding for tribal girls in Dolkhamb, Shahapur to encourage tribal girls to complete high school.  Currently 40 tribal girls are studying there.
We commend REAP and its founder and director Dr Trevor Miranda for the pioneering dedication and commitment to the education of vulnerable children living in rural villages and urban slums.

Children at the November 20 hostel inauguration

REAP director Dr Trevor Miranda welcomed at the inauguration

Children singing at the opening ceremony

Tribal girls and boys listening to the inauguration speeches

The tribal hamlet in Lahe, Maharshtra

Thursday, November 28, 2013

'I can be a doctor just like you!'

A very special guest came with us to class in the slums today. Dr Amit A. Saraf MD, F.C.P.S. (Internal Medicine) came in to our classes to be part of ‘Careers Week’ for the children in the Kalwa slum.

Tori and I, volunteers at GPM, met Amit when we visited Jupiter Hospital in Thane last month. Straight away we understood that Amit is a really nice doctor with a good heart. We needed to get prescriptions for the Hepatitis B shot and while writing the prescription Amit asked us what we were doing here in India. When we told him about GPM, REAP and our educational activities in Kalwa slum he was genuinely interested and amazed that we had come all the way to India to do, in his words, ‘such a beautiful thing!’

Before we left his office he told us that if there was anything he could do for the children in our care, he would do it with pleasure. We were impressed by Amit’s sincerity and we immediately thought that he would be the perfect person to tell the kids about his profession; he would surely  be a source of inspiration to the children living in the slums.

True to his word, early this morning the doctor walked with us through the slums of Kalwa and to the classes run by REAP. He was visibly concerned about the conditions of the slums but was heartened by the warm welcome he received from the children. With a beaming smile on his face Amit excitedly and patiently told the kids about his profession. He passionately explained to the children that if they want to become doctors they need to eat healthy and nutritious food that their parents dutifully prepare for them so that they’ll have the strength to study. He told them that for a career in medicine, and indeed for any profession, they would have to commit to studying hard but they also should enjoy their time playing; ‘the most important thing is to do everything with love’. The kids appeared amazed and genuinely interested in every word the doctor said. Just from looking at the children’s eyes while the doctor engaged with them you could see that they were regarding him with great respect and admiration.

Dr Saraf spent time answering the many questions that the children had about being a doctor and about the medical field in general.  A very poignant moment occurred while Amit showed the children how to use the first aid kits that GPM donated to the classes. He patiently explained the purpose and importance of each item in the first aid kits. One of the children, with a big smile on his face,  told him: “Thank you Doctor, now that I know what to do I don’t need to go to a doctor anymore and I can save some money!” 

This day was incredibly powerful for everyone involved: the kids were happy because they heard encouraging words from a real role model and they felt pride that the doctor spent time and effort explaining his job and came to speak with them. The doctor was glad to have the opportunity to do something good for his community, that otherwise without our invitation and with his busy routine, he had not been able to do; we (the volunteers and the staff) were really happy because this day actually happened and we could feel that everyone was enriched by this meeting. In addition to the wonderful presentation by Dr. Saraf, the rest of the week looks quite exciting with talks by a lawyer, audiologist, engineer and a soldier. We hope that the message of support and encouragement from these amazing professionals will give the children the message that they can reach their goals and thrive.

By Debby Dell’ariccia, GPM –Entwine fellow Fall 2013
Dr Amit A. Saraf MD explaining  First Aid kits

Dr . Saraf  in front of the class

Children, volunteers and REAP teachers listneing to Dr Saraf' presentation