American India Foundation supporters often go way beyond just writing a check to support our poverty-fighting mission. The post below is adapted from a trip report written by Sudnya Shroff, a supporter in northern California, after her visit to Odisha in summer 2015 to learn about and assist AIF’s LAMP program that ensures low-cost but high quality education for the children of migrant laborers who otherwise have a high probability of dropping out of school or never going in the first place.
My intention to visit Odisha was rooted in the desire to understand the local context and to identify areas within LAMP where I might be able to make a meaningful contribution. With [AIF Deputy Director of Education] Arjun Sanyal as regional expert and guide, I enjoyed a completely immersive experience with illuminating insights about this specific community and of AIF’s extensive impact in the region.
When my flight landed in Raipur, I remember thinking that this could just as well be Pune or Chandigarh. The homogeneity of the spanking new airports in these second tier Indian cities is in stark contrast to their otherwise diverse culture, language and landscape. Arjun started my rapid familiarization and uptake of LAMP’s setup, structure and programs on the road as we made the four and a half hour trip from Raipur to Khariar, the capital of Nuapada district.
For the most part, I tried to be a fly on the wall – observing, absorbing, familiarizing and digesting the flood of information pouring out of my walking-talking encyclopedia that was Arjun. The cultural, socio-political and climactic influences on the economy of these communities quickly started becoming evident as Arjun meticulously highlighted the challenges facing migrant workers, including government apathy and the ongoing Naxalite insurgency.
Despite such difficult conditions, it was heartening to learn that LAMP had successfully penetrated the Nuapada district with its multifold interventions: reaching 600 of 640 villages in Nuapada with community outreach on the Right to Education Act, 122 villages with before-and-after-school learning enrichment and remediation programs, and equipping 20 villages with Learning Resource Centers, each with their own dedicated education facilitator.
After visiting multiple villages over three days and sitting through several complete lessons at the resource centers where the facilitators used kits and materials provided by AIF to creatively explain concepts spanning topics like units of measurements, the physics of sound, and the properties of air, I made several observations.
On the positive side, the children in all the classrooms were promisingly engaged. The facilitators demonstrated enthusiasm and good preparation before class, ensuring a relatively smooth learning experience for these eager learners. The learning spaces were decorated with pride and their art, prominently displayed, reflected very interesting and unique perspectives of these burgeoning little artists.
I felt that the program could use some help in the areas of sanitation and hygiene, lighting, ventilation, and organization and optimum usage of the available space. I came to believe that curriculum additions incorporating safety, sanitation and hygiene would have a positive impact not just on these children, but also through them on their communities.
Another unique experience that I witnessed was a School Management Committee (SMC) meeting at the Khariar Public School. Under the guidance and facilitation from the LAMP block leaders, who are all well respected by the community, it became evident that the community participation in both voicing their needs and volunteering themselves wherever needed has enabled them to make tremendous progress in elevating the quality of education in their school district by holding teachers, parents and the Gram Panchayat collectively accountable.
For example, during the meeting a male student representative presented a problem: The mid-day meal distribution was taking so long that the younger children weren’t getting sufficient time to eat their food during their forty-five minute lunch break. The mothers on the SMC immediately offered a solution and volunteered their time to help the three-member kitchen staff serve the school’s 220 children.
Interacting directly with all twenty facilitators was another highlight, where together we not only deep-cleaned the field office headquarters, but also came up with a more efficient filing system and rearranged the space to optimize for ventilation and light. It turned out to be a great team building exercise while giving Arjun and me an interactive platform to impart some basic lessons in sanitation and hygiene for the facilitators to take back to their classrooms.
I would like to note that I was especially pleased with the efficacy of the model employed by AIF of enlisting and collaborating with the local NGO Lokadrusti. This avoids the trap of AIF being seen as imposing solutions as an outsider. This alliance has brilliantly bridged that gap and successfully ensured rapid impact on children’s learning.
My visit to the LAMP program was a profound, even life-changing experience. I am grateful to all the AIF staff and volunteers who made it possible. I continue to tell the story of my visit everywhere I go. This work is so important!
Created with flickr slideshow.