Beautiful drive to Nimalo off Salepur in Cuttack district tough road took three and a half hours from Bhubaneswar. My colleagues and me were on our way to visit Madrasa to learn their way of functioning. From Cuttack, moved along the flow of the majestic Mahanadi, sand bank, canals and scanty livelihood of meager living. Poverty was glaring in a rich landscape.
‘Nimalo’ we reached! our destination, a small town. After several stops and asking the passersby, reached the location with a final powerful guidance by 6-7 year old boy cutting a climber with a knife pointing towards the exact location. A friendly woman in a petty shop realizing our search for something like a school (Madrasa) gave the entry into through an unassuming path. Our visit was with the purpose of gathering data for a research with permission from the authorities. Clear surrounding, fresh smell of boiling rice welcome us to the joy of learning inside.
The head teacher came running humbly, we put his awe to ease by explaining our purpose and requesting their cooperation. Entered the first room after the initial pleasantries with teachers. That was class three with four girls, sitting on the floor, with colorless Urdu books reading with a matching rhythm of the body. Each face was bright, eyes full of aspirations. As my colleagues started with the check list and questionnaires, I engaged those curious minds for 30-40 minutes. They read the book, taught me ‘alim, thhe, phe, …….’ ……’ . I tried writing it on the blackboard, as they observed with happiness the difficulty of an adult to write what is child’s play for them.
After a brief tint of learning Urdu, to put me to comfort asked if they know A, B, C, D, ……. They all said ‘yes’ and started with writing letter dictation – ‘X’, ‘T’ ‘P’….. Began another activity of identifying first letter of their names. Ayesha, ‘A’., Resham ‘R’, Sonia ‘S’, Sania ‘S’ (the identical twins), each one telling a word and write the first letter of the word , ‘Lion’ ‘L’, Apple ‘A’ and so on. I gave Cuttack all said ‘K’, compared with C of words like cut and cake, soon responded enthusiastically saying C. Slowly moved to word writing. Each one saying one word from flower, fruits, vegetables, birds, animals, 20 words were written. When the new words came, played with syllables and they created their own spelling, almost correct like ba/na/na, Jas/mi/ne. it was full time fun. Their teachers also came around and participated in the learning process.
Did not find anyone with visual perceptual difficulty or anyone struggling to identify letters and write words. One girl Reshma wrote D in reverse pattern while writing the word Dog. Allowed her to correct by herself which she could do. No writing difficulty though the writing facility was very non-conducive. They were using very thin, hard tipped cheaper pen, heavy/ long note books, leaning to the floor posture. The class room was clean, well ventilated with a comfortable blackboard which I could use as a supporting material to my spelling class. All the children had sound letter association almost perfect, handwriting legible and readable. Listening comprehension was age appropriate, behavior excellent. Teachers very happy to spend time, watch us as we interacted with children, listening to them, reading and writing with them, singing and dancing with them.
Next we went to the adjacent room that had two groups of students class two and 4-5 as one group in a same room, sitting back to back with two blackboards on the opposite walls. In class 4 and 5 group, some children read Urdu lesson, one boy aspiring to be teacher, read a poem and explained to us in hindi and odiya. Very confidant and he was happy to make us understand the poem. Class two children danced and sang songs. Next room was of class one, some as young as below five years were also there. Some shy, some smart, some outspoken, some different. They all could identify A-Z any letter while asked to recognize in a chart.
The toilet was kept very clean with a tank, bucket, mug, foot ware and a stable door that has a latch both outside and inside. The school has a fence made of laterally opened bamboo shoots covered with plastic bags here and there. One portion similar to the fence opens as gate. A bore-well is located that gives plenty of water throughout the year. The kitchen is open with a metal sheet on the top where a cook and a helper were preparing lunch for the mid day. Boiled eggs, dhall and rice were prepared and covered neatly.
Left the school with bye to the children and teaches by the time all had gathered to see us off. Elders of the village and teachers bid us alwida with ‘phir se ayiyega’ ‘hamare saath khaana khayiye’. Both sides knew pretty well that day does not come, we gave assurance, exchanged telephone numbers despite knowing we will not use it again. But for sure the teachers will cherish the exposure, children will remember the visit of the aliens that might have given some prick to some one to study further. A lady teacher choked with emotion said from your visit our children have learnt a lot, looking at people like you is highly motivating for our girls, where will they get this kind of opportunity and similar feelings. Was our visit so strong, just two hours of interaction in the school could bring tears of joy and gratitude??? We must do much more of these visits to give wings to the aspiration of the under privileged section of society. Two youngsters among the teachers continuously telling us to increase their salary, the two older ones continuously showing their gratitude for taking trouble to travel and reach their remote school was striking. Treated us with frooti/ mazaa and aam swad toffee, I consumed both, though I never drink preserved water/ juice and toffees. It is their warmth and the need to have it after the drive of the desperate need to drink something. Enjoyed frooti/mazaa for the first time.
Stopped our vehicle on the picturesque road side under the shade of a huge tree. Had our packed lunch in the serene spot. Could not resist a brief stop in Salepur Bikalo Gharo to relish the original taste of rasgolla. Headed back with rich experience preparing ourselves to work with more rigor towards the mission.
The return journey was not the same as the visit had churned my conscience deep. Village schools and teachers are suffering from identity crisis. Teachers knew their role is crucial for the future and well being of their neglected community. They want to work to bring change in the lives of youngsters in their community. There are lots of policies, programmes and schemes for the benefit of education of minority community in our country. Is it really benefiting the target? Lots of work needs to be taken up to bring the Government initiatives to the ground. I realized what is required is giving our time to be with them, listen to them, connecting with them. Spending some happy time with them, listening to their experiences would contribute much more than the schemes and programmes could. Contribution to education is not only developing material, not conducting research and publishing in journals but also giving a bit of our time and expertise through personal interaction.
As a practice with me when I visit any school I asked a teacher if there were any children with disability in the school. She narrated her story to say that the community does not recognize the right of the child with disability to be getting any facility. Her only son has an intellectual disability is being taken care at home by her mother while her husband works in another country. One day when the child was groaning with pain she took him to a doctor who refused to give any medicine saying ‘this kind of children should not live’. Probably the doctor could not diagnose the cause of pain. After returning home mother found that one of his teeth was decaying and she took him to a dentist and got it extracted to relive him of pain. Child is a child, mother is a mother. We need to reaffirm that we have to provide the facility / opportunity to them. How much they can empower given the opportunity is not our concern. Giving relief from pain, pleasure of being with other children of their age, leaning one word, one behavior cannot be restricted due to our ignorance.