wenty seven villagers came together early morning at the temple yard in Padarkhedi village, Guna district of Madhya Pradesh. They had a task in hand – to plan and lead the scheduled Smile Health Camp for their village.
They were guided to design pamphlets and devise slogans for the periodic free health camp and a team was assigned the task of spreading awareness in the neighbouring villages too. The local administration and the local media were asked to support the initiative so that maximum people could benefit from it. 279 people, from newborns to octogenarians, benefitted from the camp.
Community-driven health camps in which villagers take the lead, and local authorities and community stakeholders take pride, are just one of the interventions under the Integrated Education and Health Programme, initiated two years back by Smile Foundation with support from GAIL. The programme focuses on bringing overall development of the community by providing quality education to children through Mission Education and primary healthcare services through Smile Health camps, in a cluster of villages in Guna.
The villages of Ahmedapur, Bhumlakhedi, Bawarikheda, Chainpura and Padarkhedi have been adopted under the project, which has successfully made every single person in these villages – from children, to their mothers and the village elders, not just beneficiaries but partners, spearheading the process of change.
Most of the villagers are small time farmers, farmhands or daily wage earners. At the beginning it was difficult to convince these people, waging a daily struggle for bare survival, to send their children to school rather than help with the household and farm work. Rigorous counselling, intensive awareness campaigns and door to door meetings had to be conducted, to bring the first badge of students into the Mission Education centres at the five villages.
Today, most of the village children have joined the centres and attend classes regularly. Necessary materials like books and stationary are provided to them, along with technical support like computers. Their parents do not miss a single Parent-Teacher Meeting (PTM), except during the harvest season. To facilitate the process of mainstreaming these kids to the formal education set-up, linkages have been established with the nearby schools and the District Education Department.
The children at the centres have now joined the movement and taken the onus on themselves to bring their younger siblings and non-school going friends to the centres.
They take out awareness rallies every four months, along with the teachers, explaining the importance of education and mouthing slogans like “School Chale Hum” and “Padenge Bache, tabhi toh Badhenge Bache”. Besides leading to higher enrolments, the awareness rally by children also helps with higher attendance and a lower drop-out rate.
The mothers, a majority of whom had never been to school, now take pride in their children who can even read and speak English. Not to be left behind, they demanded education for themselves and two special education centres have been opened in Bhumlakhedi and Chainpura villages for these 55 “students”.
“We have flexi timings for our special students who have to juggle between farm work, rearing cattle and household chores. They are now getting basic language skills in Hindi and English besides simple Maths through a specially formulated lesson plan,” says Dr. Santosh Bhargava, Smile Foundation’s Project Officer in Guna.
The villagers, who earlier used to leave everything to fate, have now begun to plan what is good for the community. Village Education Committees (VEC) have been formed in all the villages which keep track of the programme, discuss issues such as RTE, TLM, Child Rights, and even pressing issues concerning the community such as disability pension and old age pension.
Officials from local government departments such as NRHM, ICDS, Block Development Office and District Administration are well informed about the programmes and are involved with the developments. The mutual handholding has been taken forward as the local authorities have invited Smile Foundation to be a part of public information campaigns and decision making committees like Bharat Nirmaan Jan Soochna Abhiyan and the Advisory Committee of the National Service Scheme (NSS) Unit at Government College, Raghogarh.
“When everybody becomes equal and active partners – community, local government and us – the result is beyond belief,” says Dr. Bhargava.
Nothing but education for children can bring a lasting change in the society. But a child cannot be empowered in isolation. Hence, Smile Foundation focuses its intervention projects not only on children, but also their families and the larger community, making the latter an active participant in bringing sustainable change.
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