Breaking the Bihari Stereotype: The Community Mobilizer

Many of today’s youth in Bihar are often said to be “na ghar ka hai, na ghat ka hai” — meaning, neither here, nor there. With over 97% of children now enrolled in school and over 60% of the population attending tuition classes, fewer and fewer children are focused on learning the traditional professions, like agriculture (cf. ASER – Annual Status of Education Report 2018). Yet, the children are not learning enough to join the formal sector in the state, which mainly consists of government employment opportunities. After failing in joining the formal sector, they are not only unable, but also unwilling to go back to the formal sector. As a result, in Bihar, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be unemployed.

So please meet Charan, a young leader from the Adivasi community nearby who is mobilizing the children from his community to Project Potential’s learning center. At this learning center, children are given the opportunity to basic literacy, meditation, activity-based learning, digital literacy and a maker-space to be as creative as they want to be. I had the opportunity to interview Charan: 

Charan defies stereotypes of youth in Bihar, not because he is the most educated in his village but because his potential and his passion to move his community forward speaks volumes. In our interview, Charan speaks about the barriers that his community faces. He explains that in the past, his community held their own lands but due to several circumstances, they had to be sold. Once having sold these lands to tea plantation owners, it began the vicious cycle of depending on them for a livelihood. Many of the women work as tea-pluckers for very low wages. Charan explains that because of the low resources, even though there are many government sponsored initiatives, his village simply does not profit from them. 

Charan then goes on to speak about the illiteracy that plagues his community, hoping that if a mere two other leaders were to become literate, it might change the entire community. From those thoughts, Charan then defines what development and education mean to him and whether or not those things must go hand in hand. He rightfully points out that education alone cannot be enough, but that crucial thinking must also match. Charan is a prime example of looking beyond stereotypes that often keep people back, and to look at the dedication and potential of local change-makers.

This video is apart of the Breaking the Bihari Stereotype series, which focuses on the voice of Charan, our community mobilizer. I hope this video paints a bigger picture of who he is and how he is mobilizing his community with limited resources available.

A first-generation American, born and raised in the South Bronx, New York, Esmeralda is a graduate of Reed College with a Bachelor’s in Linguistics and a minor in International Relations. A recipient of the Princeton in Asia fellowship, the Benjamin Gilman scholarship and the highly competitive Humanity in Action fellowship, Esmeralda has traveled to China for an intense language immersion program and to Amsterdam to study international human rights. Esmeralda recently worked for a social enterprise where she created immersive programs utilizing experiential education theories and activities in order to empower youth leaders of tomorrow in Indonesia, Haiti, Dominican Republic and Vietnam. She utilized her previous work as a Student Support Specialist where she used social work practices and methods to help at-risk youth find different successful life options and improving educational outcomes for diverse communities. She has experience in identifying and implementing community and system improvements, interventions, managing non-profit, and institutional partnerships. Esmeralda spends her time volunteering with numerous organizations by conducting and counseling people through HIV testing, conducting homeless youth advocacy, and tackling the education gap. Esmeralda is a compassionate and thoughtful humanitarian, she is a determined and collaborative leader who believes in justice, equity, respect, community, and hope. She believes in the exchange of ideas in order to connect communities, for growth and most importantly for learning. In her spare time, you can find her dancing, in the gym or hanging out with loved ones.

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