Thursday, July 20

The girl with big dreams and a bigger determination to fulfill them: Sravya Madasu from Telangana

Sravya Madasu

14-year-old Sravya Madasu wants to be a doctor. “There are no hospitals in the radius of 10 km of our village. It is so difficult to get a doctor during emergencies. I want to be the first doctor of Pudur village and open a hospital in my community.”

Sravya goes to a government school in Bollaram and is ‘happy’ that her mother cannot afford to send her to a private school. “Would I have met Magic Bus had I been studying in a private school?” she asks innocently.

She lives with her maternal grandparents. “We live in a kuchcha house – the one which is made out of mud,” she explains. “I live with my elder sister, mother, and grandparents,” she says. After a small pause, as if out of habit, she adds, “My father does not live with us. He left my mother just when I was born. He did not want two daughters. My father believes that daughters are of no use. I have never seen his face since.”

“My mother has been an inspiration to both of us sisters. She was married at 17 and really struggled to educate herself. She is a graduate and wants to study further. She works as a computer operator at the Gram Panchayat office with a salary of Rs. 5000 a month. She wants to complete her B. Ed. so that she can be a teacher. Teaching pays better.”

Her mother learnt from life. She was forced to marry early because her parents – both of them were agricultural labourers – had barely enough money to educate three children. She works hard so that both her daughters study further and build their own careers. “My mother never speaks about marrying any of us. My elder sister is studying electronics. I want to be a doctor. She is forever supportive of all our dreams,” she says proudly.

With Rs. 5000 a month, a day-to-day struggle to have enough to eat, is inevitable. “There have been so many days that we have slept hungry. Sometimes we just have rice with a little bit of pickle. But that is fine as long as the family is together and supportive of each other,” she says. There are times when Sravya’s uncle steps up to support the family financially.

So what brought Sravya to Magic Bus?

“Actually it was the other way around – Magic Bus came to my school. Initially we were all hesitant to participate. Is it another P.T. class? We used to wonder. Gradually, we understood that Magic Bus was less about the balls and cones, and more about application, drawing parallels and inferences with our real life,” she explains. Sravya joined Magic Bus two-and-half years ago.

Sravya at her school

“None of us at school ate healthy, nutritious food. In fact, we used to pick and separate the vegetables and eat rice alone. Through the sessions, we came to know how important it is to have nutritious food. Similarly, we have learnt so many new ways of taking care of ourselves, of leading healthy and hygienic lives,” she says.

Doesn’t her mother tell her about everything she needs to know?

“Even if she wanted to, she barely has time to do that. In Pudur village, every other person is engaged in daily wage work that keeps them out for long hours. They cannot give their children the attention they require. There are so many children in my school who are irregular; there are others who do not pay attention in class. All of us need mentors in our life to guide and inform us. Our Magic Bus didi is just like that to us,” she explains.

While underlying the immense value of mentors in each of our lives, Sravya also promises that if she ever gets an opportunity to mentor someone else, she would take it up happily just like those who made a difference in hers.

Monday, July 17

Learn at leisure: Learnings from the DISHA programme

DISHA programme is funded by HDFC bank and implemented by Magic Bus, Life Labs,
 and Learning Links Foundation, in partnership with the State governments of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. The programme aims to build life skills of adolescents, improve their learning levels in numeracy, reading, and science, and ensure first-generation learners complete their formal education. The programme works in 172 schools across four states impacting the lives of 17,500 adolescents.

One of the challenges in school-based interventions is the discontinuity that takes place when the schools are closed during vacations. Disha being such a school-based intervention, we were concerned about the long summer vacation in the months of April to May. We wanted to continue the learning process despite the school being on vacation. We wanted to ensure that nothing interrupts the learning process that Disha has fueled. This gave birth to the idea of a Summer Camp!

While summer camps are a fairly common urban phenomenon, it is unheard of in the back and beyond areas where the Disha project operates. The children living in these remote regions have never experienced anything like this. Summer vacations for these children mean visiting relatives, playing with friends; some children, especially in tribal belts, accompany parents to the forest to collect forest produce such as tendu leaves, selling the produce at weekly markets, making brick kilns. Girls end up helping with household chores. Sometimes children even start gambling, playing cards with small sums of money. Being first generation learners and with no support system at home, children start disengaging from the learning process.

We put our heads together to make it a different summer experience for our children, one that would be joyful and full of learning. The focus remained on developing life skills and improving their numeracy and literacy skills. The underlying principle was to make learning fun and engaging. We worked with the children and not with their teachers.

The camp was called Masti-ki-Pathshala in Madhya Pradesh and Dhoom Dhadaka in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Not all children who attend the Disha programme came for the camps due to lack of resources to cover all the schools under the programme. There were many children who had left for their native villages during the summer holidays.

Masti Ki Pathshala

Under life skills education, some of the innovative activities included Best out of Waste, Community Mapping, Collage Making, and Treasure Hunt.  These activities encouraged children to work in groups, think out-of-the-box, get creative, solve problems by engaging with others, negotiate, and take decisions.  Science-based activities and projects were also undertaken to ensure children have more clarity on science-related concepts that they learn in schools. To improve language and numeracy skills, innovative activities and Teaching Learning Material (TLM) was used. For example, building vocabulary related to daily life through a game of dumb charades, using story boards to narrate stories, using pebbles to teach counting, number line, learning about shapes through everyday objects.

Best out of waste
Learning to count using pebbles

Masti-ki-Pathshala received wonderful support from the community. Parents, Gram Panchayat members and SMC members have supported it wholeheartedly. In Chhattisgarh, 643 children attended the Summer Camp. SMCs were actively engaged in planning and organizing them. In one of the locations where the Resource Person (RP) was finding it a challenge to reach on time, the Sarpanch provided temporary accommodation to support the camp. Seeing the success of the camp, the Chhattisgarh government has recommended that in the coming year, we organize a camp across all of Disha’s schools!

In Rajasthan, 150-200 children were attending the camp every day. Those who were marked as absentees in school were found to be a regular at these camps.  They have now promised to be regular in school in the new academic year. In fact, some of the schools not covered by the Disha programme have also requested for the camps to be organised in their schools’ coverage area. The camp will end with an exhibition to showcase the work done by children where community leaders and other stakeholders groups will be invited.

In Maharashtra, the Summer Camps were organized within the school premises. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to build rapport with children and school stakeholders as the Disha programme is in its inception phase here. We started the Camp in 15 schools out of the 28 schools where Disha is functioning at present. We reached out to as many as 423 children! In Nagpur, the Principal of a school was so impressed with this initiative that he purchased a cricket bat and ball along with a football for the children in his school.  Teachers said that the students who would never come to the school started coming regularly for the Camps. In some schools there were no cupboards for the Science programme but post the Camp, the Panchayat resolved to pool in money for its purchase.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Camp was conducted in 10 schools. One of the biggest highlights is the role played by the Community Coordinators in getting children for the Camps. They conducted door-to-door visit, informing and involving the parents in the process. They worked really hard to develop a link between the project and the community.


By: Team Disha