Education Powering Change in Tribal Children of Sambalpur

The transformative power of education is not just about empowering individual children; it has the potential to reshape entire communities. This impact is evident in the story of the tribal community living on the banks of the Malti River in Sambalpur, Odisha. With parents struggling as daily wage earners, education was not a priority for this community. The journey towards change began over two decades ago with the establishment of an educational center, which faced numerous challenges and ultimately evolved into a legacy of sorts.

In the nascent stages of the centre, months were dedicated to spreading awareness and sensitising the community about the pivotal role of education. Persistent door-to-door visits and mobilisation drives bore fruit when the first batch of students was successfully enrolled. However, this initial success was only the beginning of a journey marked by substantial challenges. The community was isolated, accessible only through the river, and devoid of roads and electricity. Navigating the river during the rainy season posed dangers that the community had to confront.

Undeterred, the dedicated teachers and the team at the centre worked collaboratively with the community, initiating gradual changes to enhance the quality of life. Simultaneously, the centre fostered a child-friendly atmosphere, emphasising the holistic development of each child. Interactive and activity-based learning sessions were introduced, ensuring regular attendance and retention in school. The curriculum was enriched with co-curricular activities such as music, yoga, sports, and art, promoting the overall well-being of the children. Health camps, WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene), and nutrition awareness sessions were conducted regularly to instill health-seeking behavior in both tribal children of Sambalpur and their families.

From its modest inception, the school has grown into a fully-fledged educational institution with facilities for residential students and modern amenities. Over the years, hundreds of students have received education, with many advancing to pursue higher studies and secure government jobs. The transformation has been holistic, positively impacting not just the educational status of children but also fostering better economic stability, health, and overall well-being throughout the entire community.

This journey exemplifies the resilience of a community determined to overcome obstacles in their pursuit of education. The story goes beyond the mere provision of academic knowledge; it underscores the importance of community engagement, health initiatives, and holistic development. The center, once faced with challenges of inaccessibility, has become a symbol of progress, offering hope and opportunity to generations. The impact reverberates not only in the lives of the tribal children of Sambalpur but also in the broader social fabric, showcasing the lasting influence of education on communities.

The flagship programme of Smile Foundation- Mission Education (ME) focuses on the holistic development of children, especially those for whom quality education is not easily accessible and where education is not prioritised. We have reached 15,00,000 children and their families through all our initiatives in more than two decades and hope to bring millions more into the fold of positive change in the future.


Mission Education in Tribal Districts of Odisha

In the heart of Odisha lie two districts, Kalahandi and Kandhamal, where two Mission Education (ME) centers of Smile Foundation are creating transformative impacts in the lives of tribal children living in challenging circumstances.

Kalahandi District

Kalahandi, considered one of the poorest districts in India, faces stark challenges despite its abundance in rice production. The district is predominantly rural, with a significant tribal population, including the Gonds, Kondhs, Sabars, and others. Poverty touches 47.28% of the population, hitting hardest in the tribal communities.

Agriculture sustains Kalahandi, engaging over half of its population. However, unequal access to resources leaves many in dire poverty. The literacy rate is modest, with 59.22% on average, showcasing the need for educational interventions.

Smile Foundation, in collaboration with DAPTA, manages the ME center in Lanjigarh Block. In this tribal-dominated area, four centers cater to 150 children in villages where government schools are non-existent. Surrounded by streams, hills, and forests, these areas pose challenges for children to access education.

Of the 120 children in three centers, 52 are girls and 68 are boys, aged 5 to 15. The majority belong to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) and Scheduled Caste (SC) communities, living below the poverty line. DAPTA provides quality education, nutrition, health facilities, and essential materials, supporting these children on their educational journey.

Kandhamal District

Kandhamal, another backward district in Odisha, battles poverty with an economy rooted in agriculture, horticulture, and forest produce trading. Tribal populations dominate this district, facing challenges due to low literacy rates, lack of industries, and dependence on cultivation and forest products.

ME center KZSVS, in Daringbadi Block, manages three learning centers supporting 145 children from Dongri Kondh, a marginalized tribal community. These children face challenges accessing government schools due to distant locations and impassable roads.

Of the 145 children, 51 are girls and 94 are boys, aged 5 to 15, primarily from PVTG and SC communities. KZSVS ensures these vulnerable children receive quality education, nutrition, health facilities, and essential materials, addressing their unique needs.

Interventions under the Mission Education Programme

In the Kalahandi and Kandhamal districts of Odisha, our SMission Education programme has implemented a series of impactful interventions to address the unique challenges faced by children in difficult circumstances. These interventions include the extension of teaching-learning through ME centers, providing essential learning resources for activity-based learning, imparting values through dedicated education classes, and investing in the training and capacity building of teachers.

The programme also emphasizes the celebration of important days and regular co-curricular activities to enrich the learning experience. Additionally, community engagement initiatives aim to raise awareness about the importance of education and ensure the sustainability of the ME centers. The programme places a strong emphasis on local resource mobilization, enhancing the capacity of ME partners for long-term sustainability. Rigorous monitoring, including weekly calls, monthly review calls, on-site visits, and reporting from ME centers, ensures the effectiveness and continuous improvement of these interventions.

Overall Impact of the Programme

The impact of the Mission Education programme is profound and multifaceted. In both Kalahandi and Kandhamal, there has been a noticeable increase in classroom attendance, reflecting the success of interventions aimed at making education more accessible and engaging for children.

Academic performance has shown improvement, and enrollment rates in government schools have risen, indicating a positive shift in the perception and value placed on education. The passing rates from primary to upper primary education have increased, demonstrating the effectiveness of the program in promoting educational continuity.

Moreover, there has been a growing interest in education among parents, contributing to the overall improvement in the community’s perspective on the importance of schooling. The reduction in school dropouts underscores the program’s success in creating a supportive environment that encourages continued learning.

Beyond academics, our interventions have led to improvements in health behavior, nutrition awareness, and the recognition of the pivotal role education plays in the lives of children and their families. These combined impacts reflect the comprehensive and transformative nature of our flagship Mission Education programme in Kalahandi and Kandhamal.