A group of dynamic women philanthropists in AIF’s Circle of Hope is committed to improving the lives of India’s underprivileged girls and women. Through the catalytic support from these women, AIF’s learning And Migration Program (LAMP) is creating opportunities for 351 adolescent girls and nearly 3000 children in 25 rural and migration-prone villages in Sindhari block of Barmer district of Rajasthan.
Dhapu Kumari, a 16 years old Grade 10 student in Galanadi village of Barmer, is a student mentor to 18 children in her village. She is one of the 43 student mentors, who reached out to 1005 primary school children (Grades 1 to 5) and engaged with them to ensure that these children continue to learn during COVID19 induced nationwide lockdown. An achievement for these mentors, who themselves are secondary school students in a challenging social-economic environment.
Dhapu Kumari, herself is the first in her family to reach secondary school. One of her elder sisters was married off after completing elementary school and the other didn’t get the opportunity to enroll in school. But Dhapu’s life is different, so are her goals!
Dhapu, a beneficiary of AIF’s LAMP program for the past 2 years wants to become an engineer. In the past 2 years. She has transformed from a tongue-tied teenager who was disinterested in academics to a confident student mentor who now teachers Hindi and Mathematics. As an active member of the Adolescent Girls Group, she spearheaded the COVID19 awareness campaign in her village- Galanadi.
Dhapu is one of very few girls who are taking tentative steps towards achieving their dreams and have the support of their parents.
Barmer is one of the largest and most backward of the arid western desert districts of Rajasthan and has large clusters of villages with women-headed households. This is a paradox in a society with a patriarchal orientation where, traditionally, women have no say in either their family’s or their well-being. The emergence of such women-headed households is due to a very high rate of distress seasonal or annual migration by males, which as per a study by Ajeevika is 64.91% for the Barmer district, because of the socio-ecological changes. Thus, this has transformed the highly evolved pastoral communities into migrant workers undertaking inter-district or inter-state migration.
Left behind, women become responsible for running the household, the well-being of their children and elderly, agriculture, and cattle rearing, and sundry wage work to meet the day-to-day basic needs of their family. This single male migration pattern has not only negatively impacted the access of women to the government’s provisions and welfare schemes/programs, but also has adversely affected the education of children, especially girls, who drop out to support their mother. This accentuates gaps in the transition of girls to secondary school and rampant child marriages. “In Govt. schools of Barmer, boys’ enrolment accounts for 52.96 percent and girls enrolment is 47.04 percent”. Moreover, the education of children is a fairly new phenomenon, and some communities (particularly the Meghwals) have only started sending their children to school in the last 10 – 15 years.
Mothers, the key stakeholders themselves are illiterate and under-resourced schools, particularly in terms of subject teachers for specific subjects like science and mathematics aggravates the situation further. Therefore, in the absence of any alternative mechanism for guidance, children’s education is compromised.
It is in this context that the LAMP for Girls’ Secondary Education project, focuses on working with adolescent girls and children, by supporting them academically as well as through awareness of essential life skills to enable them to complete schooling. Working with this target group specifically entails engagement with the diverse stakeholders like the community, school management, Panchayati raj institutions, to create support group and agency for behavior change within the community, as well as inside schools, that increasingly places value on education, especially for girls and that is aware of education rights under the Right to Education Act (RTE). Unnati is AIF’s implementing partner in Rajasthan.
Intervention leverages government infrastructures like schools and Panchayat office buildings to set up well-equipped Learning resource centers, which have supplemented educational resources and have also enhanced their access to technology. In addition to this, awareness on critical health and social issues through Adolescent Girls Groups provides essential peer-support, not only to facilitate academic pursuits, but also to inform and educate girls on nutrition, diet-diversity, menstrual hygiene, and life skills which will help them to negotiate for their rights and opportunities.
Pivoting during the Pandemic
Pandemic triggered reverse migration in source geographies like Barmer and a created socio-economic situation requiring a multi-pronged approach of facilitating access to necessities, awareness on COVID19, and continuity of education of children. During this time, the support from Circle of Hope played a critical role in addressing all 3 simultaneously by:
- keeping the team together, leveraged our presence and connections at Panchayat, block, and district levels, and facilitate documentation required to access food and health provisions for households in rural areas, with no access to information.
- Mobilized and empowered 43 Adolescent Girls’ groups and youth groups in creating awareness regarding COVID19 and became student mentors in their respective villages. Altogether, they are supporting 1005 children in primary grades.
- Supplementing non-tech measures by introducing and embedding technology for the continuity of learning of more than 2,000 children. This also facilitated linking the intervention with the Government’s digital learning initiative “SMILE”.
- Scattered households (called Dhanis) within a village required a different approach of clustering of children to the nearest point.
- Weekly monitoring and guidance from the program team and partnerships with the Edtech like Byju’s and Mastercard’s Girls4tech, helped aligning the intervention in a drastically changed scenario.
- Village level awareness campaign to send children, particularly girls to schools, when schools reopened, in January 2021, for children in grades 6 to 12.
- Increased engagement with Education Department officials
Despite these efforts, certain social and educational challenges persist. During the last 1 year, around 99 child marriages were reported from very remote villages. This necessitates more intense engagement in villages, where the practice of child marriages persists. In terms of schools, the distance to schools, and the absence of any public transport between villages is a major deterrent. In addition to this, and non-availability of teachers (for certain critical subjects like science, mathematics and English demotivate children, leading to high absenteeism in schools. Not having a female teacher in school is also a key factor, which discourages girls and their parents.
However, these challenges are being addressed through intensive engagement at each village level. The community has provided space for these student mentors in homes, despite space constraints. Government School teachers have been involved in monitoring and mentoring student mentors, as schools for primary grade students are still not open. This is building bridges between schools and communities.
To sustain the gains made to date, the intervention needs to be long-term and requires resource support. Support from the Circle of Hope for one more year will enable us to ensure continuity of momentum gained and also explore additional funding so that the model achieves the goal of creating a model of bridging the educational divide for adolescent girls across Rajasthan and similar context across India.
 Western desert districts are Jaisalmer, Barmer, Ganganagar, Hanumangarh, Bikaner, Churu
 Seasonal migration to mines and agricultural farms in neighbouring districts and annual migration to other states, mainly Gujarat or southern states of India