Although the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has meant that many of their regular meetings, campaigns and activities have been paused, the 10 Children’s Parliaments in Patna have quickly adapted to become an instrumental part of helping their communities through the crisis.
When we think of distance learning during lockdown, the images that often spring to mind are interactive whiteboards, back-to-back digital lessons and a variety of personalised online programmes. In the situations where we work, there are many distinctive barriers to simply protecting and connecting with children during lockdown, let alone delivering effective learning opportunities, but our partners are rising to the challenge.
My name is Nisha. I am 14 years old and I live with my parents, two sisters and one brother in a village in Patna. My father is a daily wage earner and mother is a sweeper in a private hospital. I was learning in a local fee paying school, but due to financial problems my parents had to stop my studies. When my schooling was stopped, I used to get bored sitting at home, but myself and my started going attending the NESWSD Learning Centre supported by Children on the Edge in my village. It is free and myself and my sisters have been going for the last two years.
Because of this, we are able to continue our learning. Visiting the school library I have learned to use my free time reading books and getting more knowledge in various subjects which will help me for higher studies. I also participated in a Storytelling Contest and I won the second prize! Now I am not bored at home. I don’t just gossip with friends now, I have very many good things to discuss with them and I feel that they value me.
All the children had to stop studies and be at home for the whole time. For two or three days this was okay for us. We were hopeful that the situation would change and things would become normal. But things got worse day by day and we had nothing to eat. Even though my father went out in search of food items; the prices of everything had gone up and he had very little money to spend. Whatever money he did have was gone within a few days and we had nowhere to go. We were so worried and fearful about how to live without any earnings.
Then I heard from the teacher of my Centre that they were preparing a list of students and families like ours who were in need of food. I asked my teacher to include our family in the list. Within two days they gave me a food coupon and I went to the place where the ration distribution was taking place. I was given a parcel including rice, dal, oil, soya baris, sugar, salt, soap and masala. Our family is very thankful for the support we received. Otherwise we would have starved during this lockdown.
Sahil lives in a persecuted Dalit community in Bihar State, India. Through the education and encouragement of his teacher at one of the Learning Centres we support here, he has not only realised his rights, but those of his wider community. Now he has become a teacher himself and is ‘paying it forward’ helping younger children to know their self worth and access vital services.
Through ten Children’s Parliaments, children are learning about their rights and responsibilities, developing leadership skills, learning about the political system and election process of their country and how to campaign about the issues that matter to them. Here are some of the highlights, from the Children's Parliaments over the past few months.
Bebe lives in Ambedkar Nagar Digha, with her husband and their children. She has been through unimaginable challenges as a mother, and the Women's Group she is part of has helped her at every step; brightening her life and supporting her to become a successful shop keeper.
Nisha comes from an especially marginalised Musahar community in Patna. She stopped going to school after class six because she suffered abuse from the teachers there.
She says, “My teacher would ask me to read in front of the class. As I was not able to read properly, he used to beat me, so I stopped going to school. Actually, I was punished every day. It was getting tougher for me to continue. Later I started coming to the Learning Centre and have now been attending for the last one and half years”.
Since we started working with Dalit communities in Bihar State, one of the main requests from the children has been to set up some computer training, alongside the Learning Centres and Women’s Groups. Consequently, our partners have set up a Computer Centre, open to all children at the Centres. In two shifts, 20 students come and learn basic computer skills each day.
At the start of July we visited a number of Dalit communities in Patna, India to learn from many of the inspiring people who live there. One of these communities was Bintoli, home to one of the 27 Learning Centres we support here for Dalit children.
All the Dalit groups we work with in Patna face discrimination, exclusion and violence, but Bintoli also has to cope with regular flooding. The village is situated in the middle of the river, and becomes an island for about two months a year during rainy season. Over this time the 500 people who live here are completely isolated. They were forced to move to Bintoli from another area when the government built a railway, then half the community lost their land in floods. All the people here now have to rent off the land mafia.
Read below as we introduce a group of resourceful, dedicated people, who against all odds are making a difference for others around them.
Despite the fact that discrimination based on caste was outlawed by India’s constitution in 1950, the practice of ‘untouchability’ still dictates the order of modern life for millions here.