By Vivek Kumar:
As a Gandhi Fellow, I have been focusing on my responsibilities and value what I have learnt from the toughest challenges I’ve faced till now. After my fellowship, I spent almost two years in Kotra, a block 120 km south-west of Udaipur city, and one of the most marginalised places in this country.
My dream is to transform education from a situation where it doesn’t practically exist to creating a sustainable model to ensure that this basic right is made available to every child in the remote villages of the Mandwa Panchayat.
I came back to Kotra after a Social Sector Leadership stint in Uganda. Kotra was the next opportunity I had to make a difference to the place that inspired me to be a change leader.
I co-founded “Kshamtalaya”, a non-profit organisation that supports school children in disadvantaged rural settings so that they develop into socially and economically active young adults. Our first project is based out of a panchayat in Mandwa in the Kotra Tehsil.
We saw a tremendous amount of untapped potential and a huge appetite for learning which could be positively used to support the children and help them live their lives with dignity. I had stayed in the village as part of a project two years ago when the people in the village had showered me with a lot of love and care. The warm hospitality that I had received helped me to connect with the people better when I came back. It was then that I realised how bad the infrastructure was.
The schools were, in a way, designed to fail the students. There was only one school that offered high school education (class 9 onward) and had only one teacher. So the message that was being conveyed to the village was that there was no educational support for the children beyond class 8 and it was a strong enough message for the community to take their kids out of school by or before class 8.
This was the moment when we decided to initiate the program we call “Kshamtalaya” to not only support students successfully transition from the time they finish attaining compulsory education but also equip them with what they need so that they can think better and prepare themselves for life after school.
The challenges of working in such communities are immense, but at the same time, it’s also very rewarding. For example, there is no electricity or piped water (it’s drawn from handpumps or wells and carried home in pots). There are also no roads in the village, not enough schools and inadequate healthcare facilities.
Another major issue is that 67% of the adolescents out of the approximately 2,088 residents have never been to school and 49% of the children have not received any education. The sad part is that 40% of the children work as labourers in the local areas. It was difficult to get them to invest their time in education and help them see the long-term benefits.
The education model that we employ aims at unlocking a child’s true potential by fostering social and emotional learning through an integrated approach. Coupled with mastery of traditional skills, social and emotional proficiency will equip students to succeed in the swiftly evolving modern economy which thrives on a problem-solving attitude. We have a three-fold integrated approach where we work closely with students in the age group of 12-18 to develop their foundational literacy, character and competencies.
Kotra in next five years should be a place where school students should be able to constructively engage with civic institutions using systems thinking and work together with local institutions to provide high-quality access to vital services. We visualise 100% students completing their school education, and we visualise an enterprising, empathetic, compassionate and a non-violent Kotra.