Children’s education – An important factor

Archana Vijay Padvi is a tenth-grade student living in Khodsgaon village, Nandurbar. While she studied in the local Zila Parishad school up to the 7th standard, she went on to study in the Kamla Nehru Kanya Shala in Nandurbar town. Her parents have studied only up to the second standard and hence, Archana is the first generation in her community to actually push the boundaries up to high school education. Going beyond her own aspirations, during the last three years, Archana has encouraged, if not pushed, more than 40 families in Nandurbar to ensure that their child’s education doesn’t suffer because of seasonal migration.

More than 70% of the Nandurbar district comprises of tribal populations. With about 2,000 hamlets and more than nine hundred villages, this district still experiences severe systemic failures in the education system. The question goes beyond physical infrastructure- the government has indeed provided education facilities in the villages. If one was to count, there are two thousand schools or more in the district –  Zila Parishad schools, boarding schools, Ashram schools, and Middle schools. However, there aren’t enough means to earn a livelihood, with no big industry in the district. Therefore, agricultural labor is the main source of income.  Locally, wages are extremely low, but if people of Nandurbar migrate, they stand a chance to earn slightly better wages. Therefore, this district has been linked to large scale seasonal migration. Thousands of families in the district migrate to the nearby Gujarat state for a period of six months from Dussehra, and sometimes even to Kolhapur or Solapur in Maharashtra. In order to understand the complexity of the story, one needs to understand the complexity of this distress migration.

A family which doesn’t have enough money will pick up an advanced loan from a money-lender, who also happens to be a labour contractor. This money is raised for marriage, death, and sickness in the home. Owing to abject poverty, this money generally cannot be paid back. The contractor then asks the family to act as agriculture labour for the next six months. There is a condition that their loan’s repayment will be wage compensation. The contractor provides labour for various companies and sugar factories. That’s where these labourers get their jobs – sugar cutting being the largest source of employment. Somehow, there is no written agreement or payment slips and the contractor always claims of even bigger dues. This cycle has been going on for years. Workers and their families migrate for this purpose. These migrant families who travel right after Dussehra also carry children with them. Children miss school and stability for more than six months. Therefore, children do not enjoy education and automatically drop out.

Archana worked to ensure that no child from such a migrant family dropped out of education. In the local context, Archana is one of the most educated girls from this village. It is a village of about three hundred families out of which only two people have studied beyond the twelfth standard. One of them completed their agricultural degree and got a job in the agriculture department. Only one girl has completed twelfth class. With Archana’s intervention, more than forty children are set to go to Nandurbar for completing their ninth and tenth standard, an unprecedented occurrence in this area.

How exactly did this happen? CORO (NGO) and UNICEF worked for hand in hand to dissuade families from taking children with them for migration. District Coordinator Sachin Dada spoke to the children. He took two girls and three boys to Nandurbar for a one-day training. Along with the Gram Panchayat’s cooperation, the children, who acted as local advocacy leaders, led efforts to ensure that the education of the children will continue. Archana took the lead in this. She went from house to house to address families before Dussehra. Being a small village,  everyone knew each other.  She said, ‘You go to Gujarat for employment, but do not take your children with you on the go.’ So who would take the responsibility of the child? She encouraged grandparents to take up this responsibility to ensure that children have maximum attendance in school. She told families, “Let them learn. You have no money in your pocket, so you go. But how long will this work? How will the family go ahead if the children don’t receive their education? You work because you haven’t learned. If they learn, they will be sahibs one day.”

Gradually, her work had a positive impact on the village. Now without exception, children from the class 1st to 10th, all go to school. Forty students are on their way to Nandurbar for post-seventh education. Archana and her friends have also campaigned for a bus service from Nadurbar to Khodasgaon. The bus plies for five days – from Monday to Friday. However, children still miss school on Saturday because there is no means of transport. Efforts are on to find a way out of it.

Archana Padvi has also worked to promote the use of toilets and de-addiction from tobacco and alcohol in her village. Slowly, she’s seeing success in those endeavors too!

Dipak Kulkarni, Maharashtra