Understanding the Community: Life at a Seasonal Hostel

Every year, seasonal hostels are opened with the onset of migration across different villages of Nuapada blocks in Odisha. These hostels are run by Samagra Shiksha in collaboration with Lokadrusti, an implementation partner of AIF’s Learning and Migration Program (LAMP). These hostels provide accommodation to the children whose parents leave for seasonal migration. In the villages of Nuapada district, migration is a common phenomenon. Every year, financial constraints and the need for money pushes families to move to different states to seek out livelihoods. This year, the drought increased the number of migrant families. The seasonal hostels ensure the safe stay and accommodation of children whose parents need to leave for work. The idea is to support and sustain the education of every child coming from a migrant family. These hostels help in retaining the children’s education during their parents’ migration period and prevent school dropout. The mechanism is devised to address the challenges and most problematic aspects which a child coming from migration family faces. Their parents remain away from the village for a period of more than six months which starts from the beginning of October/November to the beginning of June/July. 

A bullock cart carrying paddy crop from field in magurpani, Nuapada Block [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

A Home Away from Home

The alarming phenomenon of seasonal migration across the villages is tracked every year. The LAMP field staff undertakers migration mapping to identify the families who are about to or planning to migrate. Every possible measure is undertaken to ensure to help the children of these distressed migration families. Earlier there was a rise in the number of children who used to migrate with their parents to the migration destination in the neighboring states of Odisha. The seasonal migration expends for the period of six months and hence if a child accompanying their parents, it suffers a lot. The consequences of a migrating child direct affect their education. Many of them never get enrolled due to regular migration, fail to cope up with the study, and thus remain educationally backward. To address this issue, a step undertaken is opening seasonal hostels to make sure the children can stay behind to continue their education while their parents migrate for work. These hostels are opened in the school premises in different villages. Accommodation is provided to all children whose parents are migrating in order to prevent child migration and child labor. Children staying in these hostels continue their schooling without dropping out. Getting all support and amenities for the period of six months, for them, it’s a home away from home.

Magurpani Seasonal Hostel premises, Nuapada Block  [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

In Nuapada block, this year 16 hostels have been opened. As a AIF Clinton Fellow, I am working closely with the seasonal hostel team coordinators. I visits these hostels regularly and spend time with the children staying in the hostel. The life at a seasonal hostel is centered around the children staying together within the premises of the school. Every visit reminded me of my own experience of my college days as hosteler, sharing accommodations with other students. However, the difference here in this context is that I had a choice to stay, whereas to these children, there is little choice. At this early age of 6 years, how many of them manage their other needs (such as emotional support, parents’ love and care), keeping aside the daily needs which are provided at the hostel. How it feels when one would be seeing and meeting their parents after six months. The only mode of knowing each other’s well-being is weekly telephonic conversation only. Many of the children stay in their own native villages, but in a different home away from home. Managing both the school and hostel life, the same building turns into school during school hours and after school, it turns into a home. Over these six months while their parents are away, a few classmates and village friends would turn into family, support systems, and formed their own small world. 

Life at a Seasonal Hostel

How does the day start? Dinesh Majhi, a resident of Magurpani Seasonal Hostel, says “Har din subah ka routine hai hamara, subha uthna, nahana aur nasta kar ke school ke liye tayaar ho jate hai. School ke time padhai karte hai, lunch me saath kahate hai sab log. Aur fir school ke baad hum hostel wale yahi rahte hai aur baaki sab apne ghar chale jate hai.” (Every day we start our day with daily routine schedule, getting up at early morning, after morning activities we have breakfast and we get ready for school. During school hours we study with our classmates, have lunch (mid day meal) together. After school in the evening we are back to our hostel life, our classmates who are not staying here go back to their home and we stay at ours.)

Both sisters Manita and Sunita are studying in class 7th, residents of Magurpani Seasonal Hostel since the last two years. Both sisters share a good relationship with the all juniors. Manita proudly says “Mai ense badi hoon, sab ka khyaal rakhte hai, ek saath khalete hai, gana gatein hai aur saam ko alag alag khel khelte hai sab mil ke.” (I am senior among them, I take care of the younger one, keeping them together. During the evening we play games, physical activities, singing and other recreational activities.)

Children Playing carrom board game at Magurpani Seasonal Hostel, Nuapada Block [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

A child playing with Rangometry mathematical shapes Game at Magurpani Seasonal Hostel, Nuapada Block  [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

These interactions and visits, evening snacks, and tea with the children are the best part. Many share how they have fun and an exciting time of talking, playing, or watching television together. “Many times there is small conflict in selection of the TV channel,” shared Kiran Naik, a resident of Ratipali Seasonal Hostel, “but we make a consensus together though I like watching Odia movie, we go with Bollywood for all.”

There is culture of collective care and support for all, since for these six months, these children are the families for each other. They might come from different age groups, class, or community, but they have one thing in common: their parents are far away from them. They sometime have the same angst or curious hopes of getting new gifts from their parents. They share the longest waiting period looking forward to spending their next six month together with their parents under their love and care.

Children participating in activity game at Ratipali Seasonal hostel, Nuapada Block [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

Padma Majhi, a resident of Ratipali seasonal hostel says ” Har din ka khane ka menu hai, hostel me sabko har mahine sabun, surf, tel, brush aur paste milta hai. Malaria se bachne ke liye machardani bhi mila hai sabko. Aur sunday ko special khane me kukra milta hai”.  We have a food menu for the week, we do get our daily needs material viz. soap, oil, toothbrush and paste, washing powder, mosquito net to protect us from malaria, blanket and off course special chicken dinner and lunch weekly.

There is a small kitchen garden within the premise, fresh vegetables are served once they are ready. I personally liked the idea of utilization of the available space within the school campus. In most of the hostels I visited I saw small kitchen garden with papaya, green vegetables, pumpkin, lemon and herbs plants. The best part is the maintenance children take care of these gardens together.

Vegetable planted at Seasonal Hostel [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

Kitchen Garden at Ratipali Seasonal Hostel, Nuapada Block [Picture Courtesy: Niket]

Participation and Action

For child participation and collective action, these hostels and school have a well-functioning child cabinet or Mina Manch. Children are encouraged to take leadership role as mantri or parisad. It helps in putting their demands, issues, and concerns forward to the school management committee. 

In the proper functioning of these hostels, the participation of the community plays a major part. The school management committee takes the lead of assigning roles and responsibilities. Two caretakers (one male and female) and two cooks are selected from the village. The responsibility of running the hostel is given to one of the school teachers or school principals. There is collective monitoring and management in collaboration with community and the school management committee. 

 

Niket has completed his education from Jamia Millia Islamia. He has done his graduation from the Cluster Innovation Centre at the University of Delhi. In pursuance of his interest to work with marginalized communities, he completed Masters in Social Work from the University of Delhi. It is one of his goals to work for an equitable and accessible public education system. Niket has worked closely with rural communities under State Rural Livelihood Mission in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. He has undertaken academic research work with the forest and mountain communities of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. As an AIF Clinton Fellow, Niket served with Lokadrusti, an organisation working with the distressed migration population of western Odisha district under AIF's Learning and Migration Program (LAMP).

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