By Dibyajyoti Gogoi:
We are proud of our country. We have diverse cultures, religions, traditions and belief systems. India comprises of twenty-nine states and seven union territories. India is a blend of cultures and languages, making it an incredible nation. But when we compare the cities to villages, there’s a stark difference between everything that comes first to our mind. Schools, colleges, roads, transport facilities, communication system, hospitals, etc. If we can provide better health, education and communication facilities, it would lead to the development of rural India. It is true that development of rural India depends on these basic facilities. Yet, if we think from a broader perspective, we will realise that we tend to ignore an essential prerequisite for development.
We always tend to ignore the children below the age of five. The moment a child turns five, parents are just happy with sending him to a government school. What if the child at such a young age is unhealthy? The brain of a child starts developing from birth itself. According to child development experts, the atmosphere the child grew up in can have a lifelong impact.
In cities, we can see many kindergarten schools with high-quality infrastructure. There are beautiful nursery schools, pre-schools. There are also separate babysitting facilities for the kids. Rich families always have the option of sending their kids to schools which provide bus services, colourful uniforms, good infrastructure and professional caretakers. One does not find similar facilities in villages. Villages usually do not have a concept of a school for kids who are five years or younger. What do you think? Do we have the same kind of health care environment for the kids who have been brought up in rural India?
Even though the government has initiated the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in the villages, the benefits of it are yet to reach many parts of the country. Especially, the villages in the more remote areas. I believe that everything requires a strong base.
Let’s take the example of the kids in Thep, a small village in Udaipur, Rajasthan. Very few people in the country have heard of the village. The village is located around 80 kilometers away from Udaipur city. There is no scope to acquire education in the village. The village is under-developed. People cultivate their lands with wheat, maize and chickpeas. They survive on these crops throughout the year. People know how to survive, but poverty prevents them from living a dignified life. People living in the village survive on a very low income and survive on very basic food items. Many families have 8-10 children. Grinding poverty prevents parents from buying warm clothes for their children. Children enjoy playing on the river banks. They sell vegetables on the roadside instead of studying in a school.
A child from the village said, “Why should I go to school? There is no teacher in school. We have to cover long miles to reach school. After that we have to return as no classes take place.”
Seva Mandir came to the rescue of this village by starting a ‘balwadi’. Seva Mandir is a reputed non-governmental organisation based in Udaipur, Rajasthan. The ‘balwadi’ is trying to provide some light into the life of the villagers by educating the children. A woman named Modan Debi runs the centre. Even though she has only studied till standard eighth, her efforts to ensure that children receive a proper education is really commendable. She is an inspiration for other women in the village. The kids below the age of five can come to play and learn basic skills. The objective of the centre is to generate a feeling of hope amongst the villagers by educating small children. Education can surely pull them out of grinding poverty.
When a child directly enters a government school from class 1, without attending kindergarten, it becomes difficult for him to adjust. The ‘balwadi’ acts like a bridge. It’s also relaxing for the mothers as the kids are taken care of. Mothers can use the time to do some other work. Children may not have proper clothes to cover their bodies, but they have the zeal to walk long miles, just to reach the centre. The ‘balwadi’ may not have good infrastructure to protect them from rain and harsh weather, but it prepares them for future hurdles in life. There is not much space to learn and play. Yet, they have converted one room in the shelter into an ‘activity room’.
Despite there being plenty of challenges in society, some people are trying hard to bring about some changes. They reach out to those areas where the government hasn’t been able to. The nation does not recognise or notice such people. It only knows about those who get the spotlight in the media. It does not have time for those who sacrifice their blood and sweat.