r years, they have lived in deprivation, poverty and today also, they only manage a bare minimum to sustain their lives. It is the story of rural people (nearly one third of the population) and tribal communities of Bhadrachalam and Paloncha regions of Khamman district, Telangana.
Sheathed with poverty, in addition to social taboo, inaccessibility, violent situations, and severe lack of awareness among the people, the children remained miles away from hope: a new beginning with education.
Khammam is one of the most backward districts in India, having a population of over two lakhs. Rural people constitute 81% of the total population of the district. Mostly dependent on agriculture, the rural populace face acute hardships in arranging food for themselves and their children. The children born to these families are among the poorest in the state, but fortunately, not among the uneducated.
With the setting up of a Mission Education centre for the children of the tribal families in Bhadrachalam and Paloncha regions, a gleam of hope has flared up. SIRI – the centre under Smile Foundation’s Mission Education programme has been introduced especially for the children who have never stepped inside a classroom before.
Months of door-to-door visits and counselling of the parents has helped 180 children come under the fold of education. While for some children, the centre is just a stone’s throw away; for some, it is a distance of 3-4 km in average that they cover by foot. To ensure 100% attendance of students at the centre, nutrition support, games and exciting activities are conducted. However, it is the thirst of knowledge among each child that motivates them to cross the expanse of fields, streams and marshlands to reach the centre on time.
Children of these families getting educated is the commencement of empowerment that was long awaited. Parents who once denied sending their children to school have now started taking part in the process of empowering their children. From attending regular parent-teacher meetings at the centre, taking part in awareness sessions on education, nutrition and healthcare, to keeping a check on their child’s study habits at home, the parents and village elders have begun taking responsibilities with pride.
Within years, these children would be mainstreamed at regular private and government schools.
Given the right tools, education and support—every child has a chance to succeed. Smile Foundation’s Mission Education programme is committed towards giving the less privileged children a chance to dream and to aspire, and towards supporting them through education and constant encouragement to realise their full potential. It’s about surrounding them with a support system capable of holding them accountable to their dreams. It’s about restoring the dignity of children living in poverty.
A total of 1.7 million and 16 million Indian children are shown to be out of school at the primary and upper primary levels (UNESCO Report). Children are bound to remain out of school mainly due to challenges of accessibility and affordability or being compelled to choose between earning and education.
This is especially true for children from poor and marginalised communities. Such children need to provide social and economic support to their families from a very early age. They look after siblings, help with household chores, contribute to family occupations, and in many cases become substitutes for hired labour. In many countries such roles are traditionally considered as part of the socio-cultural norms, even in middle income families. But the line is crossed when such work deprives a child of basic rights, education and recreation, causes physical or psychological risks, or brings indignity.
We have seen lost childhood – children in slums, holding tools in small hands instead of pens. We have witnessed India with children staying hungry throughout the day. Education was a cause to meet and difficult to achieve; education with ill health is a disaster and we aimed at healthy education.
Mission Education is Smile Foundation’s national-level programme that aims at providing basic education, nutrition and healthcare to underprivileged children for their holistic development. We believe that any cause, be it poverty, human rights or unemployment can be dealt with the tool of education.
Education is both the means as well as the end to a better life; means, because it empowers an individual to earn his/her livelihood and the end because it increases one’s awareness on a range of issues – from healthcare to appropriate social behaviour to understanding one’s rights, and in the process evolve as a better citizen.
Today with 114 operational projects in 21 states of India, Mission Education is benefitting over 20,500 children every year. From the onset, this programme has benefitted more than 200,000 needy children. The beneficiaries are mostly children who are homeless, children of the poorest families, street and runaway children, children engaged in daily labour, children with rare disabilities, and disaster struck children. Mission Education also emphasizes on girl education and women’s education to empower them and their families.
Smile Foundation works extensively through proven models to achieve its objective. Every child is born with pride and dignity, but social pressures as well social evils have made us restore that dignity. We are moving ahead with all these children; so that no child remains uneducated because of poverty.
This is a movement that we all need to get behind. This is a mission to empower the underprivileged children and families with a chance at making it in this world. Mission Education is uncovering the untapped potential of children living in poverty every day; so that they can push the boundaries of tomorrow and the next day, and evolve as leaders who become the face of the next generation.