|The Summer of 2007…….. 'the best days of our lives'|
Shefali Jain, Ankita Jain, Prathiba Jain, Suman and Kusum belong to Singodi, a as winding pathways with plastic bags and garbage strewn around, with open drains emitting a stinking smell all year long and every year there is an outbreak of water-borne diseases and malaria right after the monsoons.
The girls are students of the local Aastha High School; were very unhappy with the unhygienic conditions and worried about the dangerous consequence of such conditions on the village children and elders. Shefali says, “The issue of Sanitation and Hygiene in our village has been on our minds but we have not been able to convey the message effectively to the village elders”.
To this Prathiba adds, “We once tried to spread awareness about environment conservation, appropriate sanitation and the dangers of open drains by conducting a door-to-door campaign. But the door-to-door campaign upset our parents, the boys used to tease us and most damagingly the village elders scoffed at the idea of girls campaigning for a cause’.
Chubby Ankita added, “It was extremely difficult to walk through the village lanes with stinking water overflowing from the open drains. The situation worsens during the monsoon season, as the dirty water almost reaches our houses.”
ILP Program – magic wand?
In the summer of 2007, Mr. Amit Mishra, the computer teacher from the nearby JNV visited the village to campaign for the Intel Learn Program. He spoke at length about the aim and goal of the Program and mentioned that JNV Chindwara would be conducting the Intel Learn Program for free for the children from nearby villages.
“The children were very enthuastic to be a part of the program especially since, most of them had never touched a computer before”, says Amit Mishra.
As planned the program was conducted as an out of school, community based program during the summer vacation and a total of 79 children from nearby villages and schools were trained for fifteen days. The children were exposed to project-based learning, where they learnt about collaboration, critical thinking, written and oral communication, and the values of work ethics. At the end of the Training program the learners worked on relevant projects and showcased it to the community members.
‘ILP showcasing also gave us a perfect platform to rework on the issue of Sanitation and Hygiene in our village and to effectively convey the message to the community – chorused the girls
‘ILP helped us to acquire new skills like planning, collaboration, problem solving and thinking skills, and made us aware of the various sources of information besides our school books’, says Kusum.
Hard work followed…
The five girls worked day and night in gathering the necessary information on the various causes, the consequences and the course to address the issue. They collected information through various sources like internet, books, from peer learners, the facilitators etc. They also conducted a village survey.
‘Internet is one of the best sources of information. We gathered as much information as we could on various topics within this limited period”, says Suman the third member of the group. “Even though, the English language was a big barrier, we did not give up. We took the help of our school teachers to understand the English and the information’
By now famous, the five girls put together a project on Hygiene and Sanitation and on the D-day they showcased it to the Panchayat President, the parents and to the community. They talked about the existing conditions and the deadly consequences that can take place if the surroundings were not cleaned up.
“Almost everyone in the audience was visibly moved by the presentation. It was an eye-opener for the villagers of Singodi. They failed to comprehend how they could have been so ignorant on such an important issue.” says the computer teacher of JNV Chindwara, Amit Mishra.
Suddenly everyone in the audience burst into discussions. After some brainstorming, the Panchayat president declared, “We will from a group that will look after the construction of drains, toilets and take forward the village cleanliness drive (safai abhyan). I am proud to announce that Shefali Jain, Ankita Jain, Prathiba Jain, Suman and Kusum will be a part of this group and help us with the movement. I thank the children for highlighting the issue and urging us to take sustainable action”.
Shefali however had the last word as she summed up the revolutionary change that had taken place, “I shall never forget the summer of 2007. It was one of the most memorable summers of our lives. It is only because we underwent the training in ILP that we could achieve this much. We are now going to ensure that the village is cleaned up with proper drainage systems in place. The next time you visit Singodi, you will see the difference”.
Well this story is not just about cleanliness. It is about deeper issues of awakening the youth to take action, it is about girls and women being acknowledged as valuable members of the community and it is indeed about bringing the community together to work on common issues.