February 24, 2007

Pratham: some thoughts

Pratham, Mysore, organized a meeting the other day in a borrowed venue (The Hive school, Yadavagiri) to create awareness and to raise funds. The pretext was the release of the NGOs house magazine – State of Education in Mysore. Managing trustee Mr Ashvini Ranjan was pleased with the turnout, and, possibly, the day’s collection.

“I am overwhelmed by the response,” said Mr Ranjan. He admitted that those at the Pratham, in the last five years of its existence, had been accustomed to seeing empty halls and vacant chairs. As it turned out, Mr Ranjan, was unwittingly responsible for creating awareness of the wrong kind. Something he said on the Cauvery verdict didn’t please some people. They stormed Pratham office, smashed furniture and windows, shouting slogans.

Pratham, for the unfamiliar, is an NGO involved in educating children from weaker sections through non-formal home intervention and in training those volunteering to teach slum children. Mr Ranjan and his team would like to see wider public involvement in the work Pratham is doing.

Convening meetings like the one held at The Hive is okay. Besides, the core group at Pratham would need to do some homework, to reach out to specific interest groups with concrete proposals on how they can help the Pratham cause. My reference is to teachers and student volunteers, young professionals, clubs of all kinds, NGOs involved related spheres, and, notably, the local builders association. Mr Ranjan and his team of resource persons would need to take time to hold meetings with various interest groups to secure their involvement.

I thought of the builders association after hearing Dr T Padmini about her interaction with families of watchmen employed on building sites. Construction workers move from one site to another, with no fixed address or ration card or any other documentary proof that would enable their children to get admission in regular schools. Dr Padmini could discuss with the builders association and explore ways of helping the workers and their children to get primary education. The education department could be persuaded to accept an undertaking by the builders (endorsed by their association) in lieu of proof of residence or other requirements. Dr Padmini would have heard of Mrs Mahadevan’s initiative in opening mobile crèche for nursing mothers among construction workers in New Delhi some decades back. Local builders could be talked into extending facilities for a Pratham type initiative in building sites, if they are not already there.

Findings of Dr Padmini’s survey on the dismal state of primary education among slum children need to be taken to various schools. Those involved in the survey could hold seminars with teachers and senior students at selected schools. The idea is to educate them on the plight of the less advantaged children; and to involve public spirited teachers and students in educating their neighbourhood children.

Pratham could think in terms of networking with orphanages and child welfare institutions. I know of a well-run children’s orphanage – Chamundi Children’s Home – that could benefit from Pratham initiative, to supplement education of the boys and girls of the home who attend regular school. This apart, periodical interaction among children from the home and those who have benefited from Pratham would help in personality development. Pratham could take their children, in manageable groups to visit old people’s homes to spend a day with people there. Such interaction can only be mutually beneficial for the children and the aged alike.

With its website in place Pratham could develop online networking with like-minded individuals and agencies. Speaking of involvement of others, Pratham could look out for online contact with young professionals with volunteer spirit. I know of Mr S L Manjunath and his Infosys team involved in SOFTEN initiative. Others can come up with lots of other contacts worth making.

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