HOPING TO CLIMB THE LADDER OF CHANGE- A Residential Project report by the first ever Gold Awardees from St. Mary's School-safdarjung Enclave

An educational system isn't worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn't teach them how to make a life. (Anonymous)

…we couldn’t have agreed to more. As part of the IAYP Gold Award residential project, five students of St. Mary’s School, along with Ms. Saryu Dahra (Social Worker, St. Mary’s School), went on to discover the unexplored village of Azadpura, in the remote area of Orchha, Madhya Pradesh. Our six-day research study (from 12 March 2012 to 17 March 2012) involved taking interviews and focused group discussions with the people of Azadpura. The main objective of our research study was to investigate the needs, challenges, hopes and attitudes of the people of Azadpura village, in the absence of basic facilities and appropriate conditions that are required to meet human rights.
The situation of people at Azadpura village is quite adverse. Where globalization has turned the world into one whole and created a borderless life, its benefits seem to have hardly reached the roots of this Indian village. Adam Smith rightly said – “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.”
Today, the village of Azadpura lacks the basic amenities such as the accessibility to quality education, heath care, safe drinking water and sanitation. Where the majority of men and women in Azadpura village are employed as agricultural laborers and farmers, their adversities can be identified as they are still dependent on monsoons as the major form of irrigation…local irrigation facilities are not up to the mark. Most of the households still use the conventional cooking fuels like firewood, kerosene and cow dung. The village electricity system is more unauthorized than authorized, and within the system, around 90% of the people are found to be stealing electricity. The village doesn’t even have a proper drainage system. The drainage system introduced by the government was far too risky and dangerous for the people as it was 5 feet deep and ill-structured. Eventually the villagers themselves had to close it up. There is no evidence of a proper health care facility in the village as there isn’t any hospital or clinic in the village. The villagers have to travel to Orchha (4 kms) or better still, Jhansi (15 kms), in case of any injury or sickness, and in the absence of any significant mode of transport.
The education status of Azadpura village is far more disappointing. The village school is just like any other small building in the village, where hardly any teaching takes place.  Parents as well as children themselves are not satisfied with the education provided to them. Teachers are often found to be sleeping during the classes and ask students to clean the classrooms using broom sticks.
All, however, is not gloomy. The village does have an anganwadi, which seems to be nominally functioning. The village also consists of some facilities such as a kirana store (General Provision Shop), and has moved up to organizing women’s Self Help Groups  (SHGs). Some government schemes have also been implemented in Azadpura village, such as the Mid-Day Meal Programme and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). A local NGO, TARAGRAM, also provides employment and development opportunities, specifically to the adivasis or the tribal population of Azadpura village. These facilities speak much, but at the same time make us question the quality of services, when we find the people grossly dissatisfied with their plight. A small example can be expressed through the quote of a 12-year-old school-going child about the Mid-Day Meal Programme of the school – “The food that they provide is not at all good. Once I asked my teacher to replace my bowl of pulse as a house fly was found dead in it, but the answer I received was that I should remove and throw the fly out of the bowl and then I should enjoy the meal.”
While we hope to next work towards change and development in this beautiful and heart-rending village of Azadpura, it has been a great first step towards understanding the life and situations of our rural friends. In the process, we have not only learnt about the village, but have also learnt many social work practices and methods like Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA), and professional field research. At the end of our trip, we have identified and strongly held that there is an immediate need of a school or an institution that would tackle majority of problems that are being faced by the people of Azadpura village. Our school’s principal, Mrs. Annie Koshi, has been supportive of our cause and has decided to push it forward with initiating a project to build a school in Azadpura. It is proposed that the school will not only provide quality education to the children, but also employment opportunities to the needy. With constructive steps in line, we wait to see positive results, and many smiles in Azadpura village, in the year of 2012. As the Chilean poet, Gabrriella Mistral said – “For many things we need can wait, the child cannot. To him, we cannot say, ’tomorrow’. His name is today.”
Although the research study took most of the time during the trip, we still got some time to explore the beautiful cultural and historical heritage of Orchha. The Jehangir Mahal, Ram Raja Temple and the Chhatris at Orchha were spectacular sights that transported us back in time! Our trip would not have been complete without the exciting adventure sports that we indulged in. Crossing the Betwa River and hiking across barren tracks of dry Orchha made for the most wonderful experiences. We not only explored these, but further explored the exemplary model village, TARAGRAM, set up by the well-known organization – Development Alternatives. At TARAGRAM, we explored innovative rural programmes (such as the paper recycling unit, green building solutions etc.), and further managed to participate in them. Of specific excitement was the Bundelkhand Community Radio, on which we were featured for the special Women’s Day programme.
Our IAYP residential trip has sure been the most memorable one. While the highlight remains rigorous research work, the learnings and the adventures seemed to have made up for all the sweat!
By Gold AwardeesAbhishek Gupta, Shivani Tokas, Mahima Chopra, Dharmendra Kumar and Charu Satija from St. Mary’s School, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi. They will receive their Gold Awards at The Golden Jubilee Celebrations on 21st April 2012. 

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