Imagine if the language you speak to your friends, think your funniest thoughts in and dream your bravest dreams in, is hardly known in your own country, and might even reach an early death in two decades. To ward off this isolation acutely felt by Kora and Santali, tribal languages spoken in communities across West Bengal and Odisha, Suchana has been working towards their preservation with quiet determination fuelled by their love for literacy and a zeal for preserving adivasi languages.
Suchana, a 10 year old community group, works in Birbhum, W. Bengal towards the education of pre-school to class 10 children from Santal and Kora adivasi communities. Suchana knows that when education knocks at your door, it must come in a language that you understand. Entering a school room can be daunting for a child from an adivasi background as she or he is expected to know a state-language that they or their family have never learnt, or have been denied access to. Our education system is missing out on a huge cultural opportunity here by not being inclusive of more languages, and thus not reaching out to children who need education the most. This tragedy of education not benefitting children who are trying to break centuries-old shackles of being looked down upon as an adivasi is profound.
This is where Suchana steps in to ensure ‘Right to Education’. They have made it their mission to make sure that Kora and Santali are looked upon as legitimate, literacy-inducing languages, and that ‘adivasi school going kids’ can just be school going kids. They aim to sustain cultural identities and promote literacy among the tribal and underprivileged communities through their education programs. As far as they know, they are the first organization to have created children’s books, or in fact any books at all, in Kora.
One of their key educational initiatives, Mobile Library, was started in 2011 with children of 6 villages. Today, the library travels in two vehicles, covers 25 villages and has 1135 members. It consists of books that are written in multiple languages, especially in the tribal languages (Kora and Santali) that children can relate to and learn in. Children who have never held story books in their hands or understood their importance now have access to joyful reading material that’s related to their education and growth, along with creativity and imagination.
Kirsty Milward, Founder of Suchana, says, “In Santali and Kora – and other adivasi languages – there is no children’s literature at all. This is at least partly because until the current generation, most adivasi children did not go to school. Among the (still quite young) mothers of Suchana’s current adivasi students, for example, 80% never went to school at all. So where was the need for children’s books in those languages?”
We are proud of our association with Suchana. The organisation’s teacher-translators have been able to develop supplementary reading materials in Kora and Santali at a much faster and prominent way through StoryWeaver. Currently, 27 Kora books and 19 Santali, both in Bengali script are on StoryWeaver. Suchana has printed 10,000 copies of these books for their mobile library and are exploring loading e-books onto SD cards to disseminate stories on low cost mobile phones.
It’s a huge step for languages that were near obscurity and oblivion, to be suddenly sailing the digital waves and ready to be accessed by the whole world in the form of beautiful stories. Read these stories in Bengali script in the tribal languages of Kora and Santali.
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A quiet, young boy begins to visit his school library every day after classes are over. At first, he goes to just look at the colourful illustrations in the books brought to the school by smiling didis and bhaiyyas. When asked why he stays back, he replies, “This is the world I want to stay in. This makes me happy.” He slowly begins interacting with his fellow students who came to the library abd begins to make friends. The books have opened up his world; at school and beyond. The didis and bhaiyyas who stocked the library are from the NGO, Mantra4Change.
The idea for Mantra4Change took shape in the minds of Khushboo Awasthi and her partner Santosh More in 2010. “Deep inside us was the strong belief that if there is anything that can change the future, it is education. When children don’t have access to quality education their life choices shrink. It was these beliefs that triggered the concept for Mantra4Change.” Khushboo elaborated. At the time, Santosh was a Teach For India (TFI) fellow while Khushboo was pursuing a Masters programme. But they both knew that they wanted to start something of their own in the development sector.
It was 2013 when Khushboo and Santosh founded Mantra4Change and started working on their education project in part-time capacity. In 2014, Santosh joined Mantra4Change full-time and in 2015, Khushboo did the same. They began formally recruiting members through the TFI career portal and Azim Premji University campus recruitment process. In a span of a few years, Mantra4Change has grown from a 2 member team to a small organisation of 12 passionate individuals.
Mantra4Change’s key initiative is ‘STEP’: School Transformation and Empowerment Project. Through STEP and a two-year partnership to ensure its efficacy, Mantra4Change has till date had a positive impact on over 9000 students and 350 teachers in 13 schools. Most of the schools they work with cater to underserved children in the not-so-popular narrow alleys of urban and peri-urban Bengaluru.
A trickle down effect
To effectively implement STEP, the organisation first contacts the head of the school and then works down from there, connecting with each part of the school team on a personal level to understand their needs and challenges. In one of the schools, teachers in the primary school mentioned the need for better books for children to read. Mantra4Change reached out to Pratham Books and helped acquire Library in a Classroom kits. This kind of rapport building, ensures that within 4-6 months 70% of staff are onboard with the programme.
Khushboo and her team believe that students must be empowered and encouraged to step out of their comfort zone. She shared a story of how 12 students from Mantra4Change partner schools attended an International Geography Youth Summit.
“We had to convince the teachers that the children were indeed ready to take the stage. At the conference, to the surprise and delight of the children, two of their groups got standing ovations from the audience. When they came back, you could see the confidence in them. They came up to the team and their teachers, and said, ‘thank you so much, ma’am, for giving us this opportunity. We would never have experienced this.’ We saw an an opportunity and took it to our students and they grabbed onto it. It’s their hard work at the end of the day.” remembers Khushboo.
Joyful reading material in their mother tongue
Under STEP, Mantra4Change is also implementing a library programme in which they set up libraries to make books more accessible to children. Mantra4Change has teamed up with Pratham Books to provide the children colourfully illustrated, multilingual stories. Describing the books and the library programme, one student told us, “The illustrations are very nice, the story is funny!” adding that she had begun reading at home more after the library had been set up.
In addition to the libraries, content from StoryWeaver is downloaded onto computers in the library for children to read and enjoy. There is an added excitement when the children get to read the e-books on the computers. Mrs. Morris, a librarian who conducts weekly storytelling sessions at the Citizen’s School, Bengaluru said, "The e-books work like a reward. The kids love operating the computer because they do not get a lot of opportunities to do so otherwise. I use the e-books for partner reading and it is working great. Children read, then discuss what they read. This helps develop their comprehension and communication abilities.”
“The whole atmosphere in the library when the children come is magical! Even those who can’t read fluently yet like to come and touch the books, see the pictures and make up their own stories using their imagination. It’s beautiful to see.” Khushboo added.
Mantra4Change’s passionate team is determined to make a difference in the lives and learning of the children in the schools they work with “Our team is here because they really want to make a change and affect education at the school level.” Mantra4Change hopes to double the number of schools they work with as well as the team’s size by May 2017. We’re sure they’ll get there, one step at a time!Be the first to comment.