This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by sharbani chattoraj. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Students Of This School In Odisha Learn Math, Science And Farming!

More from sharbani chattoraj

By Sharbani Chattoraj:

It is a rather unusual chain of events that have brought me, a Bengali from Jharkhand who had so far been working in branches of the State Bank of India in various parts of Karnataka, to Gram Vikas High School in Kankia, a small village in Ganjam district, Odisha. It all started with my fascination for the Youth for India Fellowship, an initiative which was started around the same time that I joined State Bank of India as a probationary officer.

Youth for India Fellowship is a 13-month programme sponsored by the State Bank of India to provide an opportunity to young and educated Indians to work with rural communities. It is a unique programme; applications are welcome from both within and outside the bank, and criteria for selection are uniformly applied to all. While a maximum of 100 fellows can be selected per year, no more than 10% can be serving officers of the bank. Upon selection, officers are considered to be on deputation for the period of the Fellowship, and during this period they are treated at par with other fellows who were not part of State Bank of India, to begin with.

Over the course of 13 months, fellows are initially exposed to the activities and areas of focus of the partner NGO they are attached to, and then they are expected to identify and fill a gap which suits their skills and area of interest. Tangible deliverables must be identified and progress monitored. The Fellowship is not considered complete unless, at the end of 13 months, the NGO certifies that the project has been completed as per plan.

After missing the deadline to apply an inexplicable number of times, I managed to do it right this year and was fortunate enough to get selected for the Fellowship. I was chosen for the NGO Gram Vikas in Odisha, which was recently ranked 23rd among the Top 500 NGOs across the world by NGO Advisor, a Geneva-based independent media organisation.

Gram Vikas is founded on the idea of human dignity. With this simple, powerful and deeply emotional idea, it works in six major areas – water and sanitation, education, renewable energy, social housing, livelihood and community health . As Joe Madiath, who came to Odisha as a volunteer in the aftermath of a devastating cyclone in the early 1970s and founded the organization in 1979, said to us during our orientation with the NGO, Gram Vikas is all about breaking out of the trap of thinking that poor people deserve poor solutions, and providing long-term, sustainable solutions and means of improvement of lives. The first and non-negotiable precondition of any intervention of Gram Vikas in a village, therefore, is 100% inclusion of all households of that village, irrespective of caste, religion, status or any other divisive factor. In the thousands of villages that Gram Vikas is working, every single person in the village is involved in the work.

Location

It was almost inevitable that I would choose Gram Vikas High School, Kankia, as my project location. My area of interest lies is in working with senior classes, particularly in terms of helping them get ready for the world outside school. Our current system of school education, unfortunately, continues to place emphasis on the kind of education that has little practical value outside the school examination system. This is why the system continues to produce educated and unemployed (and at times, unemployable) youth in such large numbers. It is my firm belief that we need to equip our youth with skills essential for success beyond school. This also happens to be an area of focus for Gram Vikas. Mr Vinit Kumar, Quality Controller of Education and Life, Gram Vikas Residential Schools, calls this ‘functional literacy’.

gram-vikas-school-1-1
Gram Vikas High School.

Of the four schools being currently run by Gram Vikas, the one at Kankia is the only one which is a high school. Students from other Gram Vikas schools – Mahendra Tanaya Ashram School in Koinpur, Gram Vikas Vidya Vihar in Rudhapadar and Gram Vikas Shikshya Niketan in Thuamul Rampur – finish middle school and come here.

As Miss Gitanjali Prusty, Headmistress of Gram Vikas High School, shared with us, priority in admission is given to first-generation learners, tribal students, girl students and students from villages where Gram Vikas is involved in the implementation of various projects. Close to 30% of students are first-generation school goers. Interestingly, teachers of the school go on enrolment drives to neighbouring villages every summer vacation, and the whole Gram Vikas organisational machinery is involved in getting more and more children into school.

Established in 1982 and converted to a high school in 1997, Gram Vikas High School has, at present, 510 students on its roll – 308 boys and 202 girls. Most of the students belong to Scheduled Tribes and come from poor families. The concentration of students is heavier in the senior classes; with classes IX and X having nearly a hundred students each. For the past few years, the school has had a 100% pass record in secondary examination.

The school is fully residential, with separate hostels for boys and girls. Students are encouraged to stay on campus even if they come from nearby villages so that they can get benefits from the facilities and the curriculum being followed at school. The school has the usual amenities – sports grounds, a library, a mess, a computer lab, kitchen gardens and so on. It also has a wonderful space called Kalpanadham (literally, abode of imagination), where all kinds of arts and crafts are encouraged.

The entire staff of the school consists of 19 teachers. Of course, there are three cooks, spearheaded by the head cook Shri Devraj, affectionately known as Nona (grandfather) to students and teachers alike. There is no administrative staff or any other staff for that matter. Whatever is done and needs to be done at this school, be it cleaning the campus, cutting of vegetables, bringing food and other essential items from the market, financial work, washing dishes, taking care of electricity and water supply, even minor repairs – it is done by the teachers and students themselves. This is what makes the school unique; it is setting an example which many others may find very difficult to follow.

Student Empowerment – The Cabinet

Students at the school are not merely the object of attention; rather, they are active stakeholders and responsible members of the school community. To facilitate and sustain this kind of involvement of the students, the school has a robust, democratically elected set-up. It is the cabinet.

Every year, at the beginning of the academic session, voting takes place for the post of Chief Minister, who is usually a student of Class X. Elections are fair and impartial, and so far there have been no cases of uncontested election. The current Chief Minister is a young gentleman by the name of Raju Sabar. When not hard at work for his upcoming board exams, Raju can be found quietly working behind the scenes in various capacities, guiding his cabinet and other students diligently to ensure smooth functioning. Other than the Chief Minister, all other ministers generally volunteer for the job, which has no perks and massive responsibilities.

Ministries are related to the work required in the school – Water Ministry, Solar Ministry, Food Ministry, News Ministry, Sports Ministry, Cultural Ministry, Hostel Ministry, Cleanliness Ministry, Health Ministry, and of course, the absolute must of all schools, the Bell Ministry. Water ministers take care of the water supply to various parts of the campus. Solar Ministry is in charge of the 25 solar lamps on campus, and also of maintaining the solar energy system as the back-up for electricity. Food Ministry ensures that all children have their meals properly – this includes ensuring that children are seated and serving food when necessary. One has to see ministers Manoj Bishoyi and Gaurahari Sabar in action to believe how smoothly mealtimes go.

News Ministry does not merely read news in the assembly; ministers, led by the ever-smiling Mithunu Gouda, are aware of exactly what is going on in the school and will not hesitate to inform the Principal should any teachers be found to be avoiding class. Sports Ministry has the job of ensuring that all students get sufficient equipment to play at allotted times. Esliel Naik, Sports Minister, is also the Deputy Chief Minister and effectively the spokesman for the cabinet. Cultural Ministry is in charge of organising cultural programmes every Saturday evening, and also a movie screening every Sunday.

Together, Cleanliness Ministry and Hostel Ministry get the entire school campus, including the hostels, cleaned every single day and ensure availability of basic facilities on campus. Health Ministers regularly check the children for diseases and injuries, and work with the school nurse to keep all students healthy and free from common diseases like malaria and scabies, which are quite prevalent in Odisha. Bell Ministers, as the name would suggest, ring the bell at appropriate times and keep the school clock ticking.

Ministers very often share responsibilities and take on the load of other ministerial work whenever the occasion calls for it. Each ministry is counselled by a teacher, under whose guidance ministers discharge their duties. Recently, a monthly public meeting of the Cabinet has been proposed, in which each ministry will report its achievements and issues to the school citizenry at large. Accountability is most important, much as it is elsewhere in Gram Vikas.

gram-vikas-school-1-2
The Cabinet at Gram Vikas High School.

For someone experiencing this sort of a system for the first time, as I have over the last few weeks, it is nothing less than a revelation. Normally, in residential schools, one finds problems related to lack of discipline and unfair distribution of resources. However, here at Gram Vikas High School, I am convinced that the Cabinet would run the school quite efficiently and smoothly even if no teacher was present for a day. They might just cancel homework, that’s all.

All Round Development

Rationality is the cornerstone of school education in Gram Vikas. Children take an active part in all activities, be it sports, cultural programmes, or agriculture. Yes, there is a specific time allotted for agriculture during which students are taught the basics of farming and its best practices. The school has its own compost pit as well. Most of the vegetables used in school meals, such as brinjals, raw banana, chillies, radish, etc. are grown on campus.

Both boys and girls are encouraged to participate in all activities. The school has an enviable record at district and state levels in various sports such as volleyball, kho-kho, athletics and weightlifting. Many students have even won laurels at the national level.

girls-kho-kho
Girls’ kho kho team at practice.

At present, the school has extended hostel facilities to some youngsters who have finished school and want to continue pursuing sports. Necessary infrastructure and proper diet are being provided by the school to enable these young sportsmen and women to pursue their dreams.

Volleyball is a big hit among the students and there are fiercely competitive matches every evening. Occasionally, matches between teachers and students are organised, which end up being rather one-sided, and in which students regularly thrash the teachers soundly.

Kalpanadham

Kalpanadham is a very special, wonderful initiative started by Ms Shalini Krishnan, a former SBI Youth for India Fellow during her Fellowship. It is a separate space, brightly coloured, and painted by the children themselves, located a little away from the hustle and bustle of the main school where imagination is let free. A creativity studio, if you will, for visual arts like painting and drawing; performing arts like theatre, singing and dancing and handicrafts. Everything has a space in Kalpanadham. Workshops are conducted by well-known artists every now and then to bring more out-of-the-box ideas to children.

There is much more that can be said about the school and it will still be enough only to encompass a fraction of the sense of wonder I feel. It is such a privilege to be here, and when I think of the school, the following words of Lao Tzu, which form an integral part of the philosophical bedrock of Gram Vikas, have never seemed truer: “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say ‘We have done this ourselves’.”

_
Image provided by author
You must be to comment.

More from sharbani chattoraj

Similar Posts

By Namrata Vijay

By Sneha Banerjee

By Silca

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below