With an under 30% attendance ratio in Secondary Education of the poorest 20% and with the lack of financial support to education from grade 8 and onwards, children in Maharashtra are deprived of their right to education. We believe that books are the doorway to a world of knowledge and power.
The founder of Touch A Life, Naresh Surana, has taken small steps over the last 20 years to make a difference; through sponsoring children and donating to schools. But over the last few years, he realized that if he wants to ‘make a difference’ he has to do something in long-term, that will shape communities for the betterment of future generations.
Since 2009, with the enactment of the RTE Act (Right of Children to Free and Compulsory education Act), in India there has been progress in the delivery of education and in the rates of enrollment. Yet, the concern around education still persists. The RTE has, to a certain extent, tackled the issue of enrollment, yet, hasn’t been able to tackle the issue of attendance.
Till date, according to UNICEF, 17.7 million children in India remain out of school. 73% of the girls don’t get past 10 years of school, and 33 million children in India are engaged in child labor. This is mainly because they don’t have access to education and are unaware of the importance of literacy. Being able to read and write is essential. Written words are the windows to knowledge and opportunity; that are only accessible to those with the ability to read. Without a strong foundation of literacy skills, these children are more likely to struggle, live in poverty and not reach their potential. We hope that with this initiative we were able to induce the importance of developing strong literacy skills and bring a change in the lives of the underprivileged.
As we visited schools across the 23 villages, we found so many problems that we didn’t know where to begin. First and foremost, the conditions of the schools - the classrooms were old and worn out, no electricity in most of the classrooms, structures were breaking down, and bathrooms lacked sanitation. The lack of resources at the schools seemed to be the most prevalent issue - in fact, in India, even though 42% of the population is under 18, yet only 0.1% of union budget is allocated to child protection. After we communicated with the kids further we also recognized the lack of educational support. Most of the students at the schools are the first generation in their family to attend schools at their age; the students don’t have support systems that make them want to study and pursue a career that is far from what their families do.
The children we are helping are ‘underprivileged’ – they are deprived of their basic rights, most importantly their right to have a voice. These children live in environments that restrict them from indulging into the larger community outside their villages. But we believe that education is a path to raise their voices. Education can provide these children with confidence, knowledge, and an understanding of how they can share their experiences, views, and opinions on topics that affect our large community, regardless of their gender.
We have targetted remote areas rather than outskirts or slums in the border of big cities, as unlike these outskirts, it’s very hard for volunteers to reach these remote villages and thus the disadvantaged children in these areas are often neglected. We started with a few remote villages in Maharashtra. We found out that Beed is one of the most backward districts of Maharashtra, so marked it in our list. Similarly, other villages that we chose were also faced by extreme paucity of natural resources, frequent droughts, lack of sanitation and infrastructure.
Our research showed that the Government of Maharashtra provides mandatory free education to every citizen only until Grade 8. Furthermore, statistics show that the number of children who dropped out of school after Grade 8 are dramatically high due to their family’s economic instability, or in most cases, complete impoverishment.
Recognizing the drop-out rates as a huge problem, Touch A Life decided to provide full set of syllabus based books to Grade 9 and 10 students in Maharashtra’s most destitute and underprivileged villages. The schools we have targeted are all community run schools; small sized with 20-100 students in total, and where teacher wages are paid by the government, but all studernts resources are paid by the students themselves. Each student received a complete set of official books required to study all their subjects for the year and give their exams successfully. We called our project ‘Books for Change’.
As of today, ‘Books for Change’ programme during year 2018 has successfully provided 25,298 books, changing the lives of 2,966 students across 24 schools over 23 villages in Maharashtra.
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