Pravah ICS volunteers in Nosal village, Ajmer, Rajasthan, initiated a women’s night class in the Reggar community in October 2016. The need for a night class arose when women themselves demanded it during one of the meetings regarding their health. They shared that there are other things that impact their lives more than health. For example, one woman said – “Yes, we can talk about health issues but we have problems reading what is written on the forms when we go to a hospital, we want to learn reading and writing first, start with our names! If we do not know how to sign our medical bills or to understand what we are really going through, how will we really take care of our health?” Hence, these classes focused on basic reading and writing as demanded by women (writing their names, reading their identity card, writing numbers) but gradually, it became a space where women could talk about their lives and issues. It became a ‘safe space’ for them to raise their views.
They also realized the potential ‘THEY’ (women) as a community had which led to peer to peer learning- daughters teaching their mothers, friends teaching each other, sisters teaching sisters, and so on. Every other night, Bhawri came with a huge smile already reciting what she remembered from the last class- “My name is Bhawri, yours?” The women had their own jokes going on all the time, and eventually, the learning was not only writing their names, it was more about sharing their lives, a place where they could laugh out loud and support each other simply through conversations. Topics like government schemes and vocational training came up organically. Supported by Manthan Sansthan, Kotri, Ajmer, this night class that started in a narrow lane under a solar light became the ‘Sustainable School for Development’, or the ‘bridge school’ as it is popularly called.
The rationale behind making it a school, which Manthan hopes to replicate in other villages, is that even if women and girls are aware of their needs they are not able to articulate it enough to achieve it. Hence women’s education at the village level is not only about attaining basic literacy but being empowered politically, socially and economically to enable them to make decisions that affect their households and community. The Sustainable Development Goals on ‘Gender Equality’ and ‘Quality Education’ aims to provide women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes to fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.
The ‘School for Sustainable Development’ aims to bring about this form of gender equality by empowering and educating women and girls at the village level about the diverse changes taking place around them and help them to make choices and take decisions that will impact their households and society. It also aims to create open spaces for women to come together and discuss issues they face as individuals and as a community. The classes have not been limited to reading and writing but also to issues of development like water, dams, and awareness of their rights.
Manthan Sansthan ran a crowd-sourcing campaign supported by Pravah ICS volunteers who volunteered at Manthan, and Denise Fernandes, an AIF Clinton fellow placed at Manthan who played a pivotal role in conceptualization and project management of the school. All the stakeholders advocated for and supported in raising INR 1,50,000, sufficient to run the pilot programme. Two of the women from the village (in the process of completing their graduation) were trained to take the classes. They also became Pravah ICS volunteers in the third batch for their own leadership journey. To make it a space of co-learning, the classes run in innovative and creative ways, for example, interactions with local government officials, external experts, Manthan staff, and exposure visits. To run the school, a school committee is formed which also consists of 5 women from the Dalit (so-called lower caste) hamlet of the village. On a regular basis, 15 women attend the school, and 5 other attend it as and when they can. The syllabus has also been designed keeping in mind the lives of those who study in the school, through their own suggestions. Over the last year with three Pravah ICS batches that have closely worked with the school, volunteers have also supported in creating teaching aids and producing a film to support advocating for the school. In addition to the fact that women have started to read and write, and have shared feeling more empowered about their own lives, the women from other nearby villages have also expressed an interest to have bridge schools in their own communities.
Contribution by Pravah ICS volunteer, Denise Fernandes, former AIF Clinton Fellow (2016-17) and a current PhD student and freelancing development practitioner and compiled by Astha Agarwal, Programme Coordinator at Pravah ICS
Pravah International Citizen Service (ICS) is a 3-month volunteering program, fully funded by DFID (Department for International Development), UK Government, led by Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) in partnership with Pravah.