DE Exposure Trip Part 2: Engaging with the Children of Ganjam

“The proud mission of those who have been able to receive education must be to serve, in seen and unseen ways, the lives of those who have not had this opportunity.”

Daisaku Ikeda

Education plays an important role in building future leaders who are not only innovative, well-versed with life skills and knowledgeable but also ingrained with democratic values of equity, justice and liberty. During my AIF Clinton Fellowship, I was privileged to travel from my host site in Kalahandi, Odisha to the coastal district of Ganjam to see first-hand how AIF’s Digital Equalizer (DE) project is implemented. In part 1 of my DE Exposure Trip series, we closely looked at its operations and what makes it stand out. In part 2, we will meet the DE team, then delve into my engagement with the children through participatory methods. In the final instalment of this series, we shall go in-depth with a comparative study between Delhi government schools and Odisha government schools with a focus on Ganjam.

Integrating Participatory Methods with DE

When I heard that a field visit to an AIF vertical is possible, I did not visualize myself passively viewing the state of affairs. Instead, I wanted to actively initiate ways to interact, engage and give back something as small as food for thought, to the people I meet! With the support of AIF Fellowship Team, I collaborated with the on-ground team of AIF Digital Equalizer in Ganjam comprising Mr. Sanjay Biswal, Mr. Kirtis Rout and Mr. Santosh Kumar Jena, and  visited five government schools in Behramur (Ganjam district) where we met the respective AIF Tutors:

  1. GUPS* Kalipalli – Mr. K Keshab

  2. UGHS* Nolia Nuagam – Mr. Lingaraj Nanda

  3. GUPS Kumarbegpalli – Mr. Tejaswini Maharana

  4. GUPS Kanamana – Ms. Rinki Behera

  5. GUPS Arjyapalli – Ms. W Umma

AIF Project Coordinator and Anushri pose with school faculty.
AIF Project Coordinator Mr. Kirtis Rout accompany Anushri at GUPS Arjyapalli while meeting the faculty members to get their feedback.

As I was meeting these students for the very first time, engaging with them was going to be a challenge. With collective efforts, we organized participatory activities with children. I knew a few words and phrases from Telugu, like ‘chala bagundi’ for ‘excellent’ and ‘cheppandi’ for ‘please speak’, but that was not enough. DE Tutors helped me overcome the language barrier while interacting with children. I tried to break the ice by asking the children their likes and dislikes, moving on to their favourite film stars. Gradually they began to share their favourites from Tollywood and Bollywood  – Allu Arjun, Akhil, Nani, Sai Pallavi, Tamannaah and Sushant Singh Rajput as well.

Ansuhri and AIF tutor posing class students.
“Who is your favourite film star?”, Anushri building rapport and posing with AIF Tutor Ms. W Umma at GUPS Arjyapalli.


Classroom, Anushri meets children and tutor
Anushri meeting the children and AIF Tutor Rinki Behera at GUPS Kanamana.


Anushri as referee for kabaddi game of students
To build rapport so that the students can be comfortable with her, Anushri served as a referee for their favourite game on the beach – Kabaddi! Photo by AIF.


Students drawing ambitions at Nolia Nuagam school.
Students drawing their ambitions at Nolia Nuagam school. Photo by Anushri Saxena.

Then we provided them with drawing sheets and colours to draw what they dream to do in future. Belonging to the fishing community, some made bigger mechanized boats and chose to be a fishing person to take their family legacy ahead. I could see aspiring doctors, teachers, army personnel, lawyers, government officials, vets and also one ‘good human being’.

Girl drawing doctor
“I want to make people healthy again as a Doctor”


Ambition Drawings by children
Drawings of Ambition by the children of Nolia Nuagam. Photos by Mr. Lingaraj Nanda

In the end, we cheered on all of their dreams, encouraged them to ask their teachers what kind of educational and vocational path they would require to fulfil their goals. At Nolia Nuagam, we carried out a Dream Mapping exercise with the students. We gave them a chart and crayons, then asked them to draw a map of their school and village and add new places and things of importance to them. This tells us the vision of students and a peek into their felt needs.

Group of girls making Dream Map.
A group of students from Nolia Nuagam school working on their Dream Map. Photo by AIF.


Anushri with students making dream maps.
Ansuhri nudging the students to ask themselves and draw what more they want in the school and the village. The activity also focuses on finding solutions through democratic means.


Dream Mapping
Dream Maps by students of Nolia Nuagam. Photos by AIF Tutor, Lingaraj Nanda.

Telugu-medium schools may improve learning outcomes

I observed a learning gap that can be overcome at the policy level in the longer run. The New Education Policy 2020 (NEP, 2020) recommends, “Wherever possible, students till Class V in schools should be taught in mother tongue/regional language/local language.” On these lines, I felt a gap between the Odia-medium schools for students whose mother-tongue is Telugu. From my conversation with a colleague at my Host Organisation, Seba Jagat, I learnt that in southern Odisha which borders Andhra Pradesh, districts like Rayagada, have a considerable number of Telugu speaking people and thus, Telugu-medium government schools are operational there. Odia is also taught as a subject. Maybe if such a model is implemented in parts of Ganjam, it can improve the learning outcomes of students. 

Group of girls with Anushri showing their drawings.
Exhibiting the outcome of our drawing activity: dream professions. AIF Tutor Lingaraj Nanda and Anushri posing with the students.

Seeing the schools in Ganjam I could not help but observe similarities and differences between them and my experience in Delhi government schools during my fieldwork as social work trainee under the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi. Head straight to part 3 of this series to learn more about my observations, suggestions, and useful resources. I shall also reveal the inspirational teacher I met in Ganjam who makes learning fun through songs and dramatized story-telling methods.


GUPS – Government Upper Primary schools

UGHS – Upper-Grade High School


Ministry of Human Resource Development Government of India. National Education Policy 2020.

Anushri is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Seba Jagat in Kalahandi, Odisha. For her fellowship project, she is developing a case study to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the community by identifying innovative practices and traditional health related practices, documenting processes, analyzing qualitative and quantitative data, and measuring indicators. Anushri is a passionate development professional who has completed her double Masters in Social Work and Political Science from the University of Delhi. She is excited to serve as an AIF Clinton Fellow with Seba Jagat in one of the most underdeveloped districts of India - Kalahandi, Odisha. For her fellowship project, she will be engaging in project management of their ongoing effort to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the community and in the implementation of the Sampurna and rural sanitation programme aiming to reduce infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate in the area. Anushri has interned at the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Plastic Waste Management Programme where she worked on the Financial Inclusion of the waste picker community. During the COVID-19 lockdown, she registered domestic workers in the Public Distribution System to receive rations guaranteed by the government. She also made video-stories for Delhi-based and Rajasthan-based Community based Organisations to generate awareness about their work and to raise resources to continue their work. As an AIF Clinton Fellow, she will be venturing into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of working at a place with immense scope to learn and bring about change. She hopes to be an asset to her host organization and achieve their objectives through dedicated efforts. She envisions building skills in project planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation by the completion of her fellowship.

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