In July, our Learning Centres in India were able to open their doors to students again after months of strict lockdown. The children are delighted to be back and learning again.
After months of restrictions, our Learning Centres in India are now open again and the children are attending classes every other day. We’ve been speaking with our partners in India who shared countless videos and pictures of the students talking about how happy they were to be back at school.
Students chanting "Chase away Corona and go back to school"
At the moment, 27 of our 31 Learning Centres are open. Two in Bind Toli and two in Hazipur had to close suddenly after reopening in July due to severe flooding, which submerged and damaged four of the buildings. The two Learning Centres in Hazipur will be able to open once the flood water recedes. But those in Bind Toli will need rebuilding. Benches and equipment were saved from the schools in Bind Toli, so the children can learn in another shelter for the time being.
Dalit communities face almost continuous adversity in trying to access education; the flooding being the latest. The Dalit families we support have been the hardest hit from prolonged lockdowns, and many have been pushed into spiralling starvation and desperation. They have had little to protect them from the virus.
We have been supporting these families with emergency food parcels, but the children have really suffered at home throughout the pandemic without access to education. They have been fearful and anxious, with little to occupy them. Many have been forced to work and without schools being open, they have become more vulnerable to trafficking, child marriage and abuse.
Our partners have worked incredibly hard since the start of the pandemic to ensure learning continued but it has been difficult to reach every child. Last year we were able to run small group classes for the children from the Learning Centres. But in the latest lockdown, the government ordered every child to remain at home with no exceptions so group classes weren’t possible.
We continued to offer online classes, but most of the children enrolled at our Learning Centres do not have access to smartphones, so these classes only benefited a small number of the 990 children we support. 500 children did receive notebooks and writing materials and were given tasks for each day, aimed at improving their handwriting.
Our focus now is to support the children as they transition back to school and help them process what they have been through over the past year. Teachers will be helping them to catch up on the learning that they have missed throughout the pandemic. But more importantly, many children will need support and a safe place to talk about what they have experienced, so teachers will be spending time talking to the students and offering counselling. For the rest of the year, there are a number of celebrations, competitions and festivals planned for the children to help share some joy.
Our team in India are also making home visits to families in the communities where we work in the wake of the pandemic. These meetings are an opportunity to meet and discuss the importance of education and the harm caused by child marriage, to ensure that more children are able to come back to school.