People First Educational Charitable Trust

People First aims to work closely with oppressed and disadvantaged communities and vulnerable individuals in breaking the centuries - old cycle of ignorance and oppression by providing opportunities for education. The trust believes the best way to achieve long - term positive social change is through education and we work in the areas of greatest need where no other education is available to the poor and oppressed. Our mission is the bringing of educational opportunity and to promote health and social rights to those to whom such opportunities have previously been denied due to poverty family circumstances or oppression. The Trust aims to work with the most marginalized me...
Apr 26, 2012

Help us Help GIrls LIke Pramilla

Staff with Children at he Centre
Staff with Children at he Centre

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Firstly thank you for your donations to date for this very important project.

If I may here is just one case history is from when this initiative started.

Obviously we have changed the name and we will not be publishing photographs which identify children in circumstances like this.

Pramilla who is 15 yeas of age arrived recently deeply traumatised. She was in such a state of shock despite the very intense care and support she was given it was three days before she could slowly begin to  describe her terrible ordeal.

She was going for shopping when four boys came from a car and sprayed her face with some substance.  She became unconscious. Her memories are not clear but she was kept chained in a dark room for a period she does not remember. After some time she was unchained, but not allowed to leave the room.  What happened next is not clear but when the door opened to drug her once again she screamed so loud and so long and kicked and punched her kidnappers injuring herself in the process that so alarmed by the noise her kidnappers fled. She collapsed from exhaustion but later in dazed and shocked state found her way out to the streets of Gaya where she wandered before finally a woman took some care and accompanied her to the nearest police station, who immediately referred her to us. Subsequent medical examinations proved she had been repeatedly raped, and had been subjected to other sexual assaults.

I am very sad to say cases like Pramilla are not an isolated occurrence, but this level of abuse and crime is exceptional. Pramilla is responding to care and is already undertaking craft training which is a great therapeutic aid to her recovery, and all efforts are on to locate her family and in time retrace her steps that fateful day and gather evidence which will result in a secure prosecution. A criminal case has of course been lodged.

I want you to know we do not have any other source of funding for the SIGNAL Project specifically so every cent you donate goes towards this important initiative.

Thank you for your help in enabling us to start this work.

With your help we can and will put Pramilla back together again.

Sunita

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Apr 23, 2012

Serving Communities where we are most needed

The Joy of Education!
The Joy of Education!

Greetings- to all our supporters from Bihar, here in India.

I wanted to say in this report how much we welcome any progress in the field of education, and indeed there has been some here in Bihar and the government deserves credit. As an NGO we do not wish to justify our own existence and where significant improvements have been made in the villages regarding education we have discontinued our work because with our very limited resources we can only work in the areas of very real and greatest need. That said claims of close to 100% attendance by children to government schools are in our experience to be taken with a pinch of salt, or perhaps as the following article illustrates perhaps a truckload,

CALCUTTA TELEGRAPH

Patna, Feb. 11: The detection of fraudulent enrollments in government schools in Bihar appears to have put a brake on welfare schemes.

The much-flaunted bicycles, uniforms and mid-day meals seem to have disappeared from many schools. The number of students attending school has also slumped. “The actual number of fraudulent enrollment cases will be very small. There are a larger number of children who have taken admission but are not coming to school. They may be called dropouts,” said principal secretary, education, Anjani Kumar Singh.

The district education officers have been directed to check the attendance of students for at least six months before the cycles and uniforms are distributed. The attendance for mid-day meals monitored by the headquarters shows 55 per cent of the enrollment number. “We are hoping to increase the attendance to at least 70 per cent,” Singh added.

However, the impact of the “enrollment scam”, which the state government is trying to underplay, is being felt at the grassroots.

In Bhagalpur for example, Arun Kumar (name changed), who promised two friends he would get them bicycles from a government school, failed to keep his pledge after the education department sounded the alarm following detection of fake enrollments in the institution. The bicycle has now become a scarce commodity.

A native of Aliganj locality in the city and a former student of Jaglal High School, Bhagalpur, Arun (17) said he took admission in the Zilla School in 2008 in Class IX and obtained Rs 2,000 from the institution for purchasing a bicycle. “Some of my friends helped me as I had to spend Rs 250 for taking admission and preparing some fake documents,” he revealed.

Ravi, 20, (name changed), a friend of Arun, said his father “managed” two bicycles for his sister, Anita, one from the local Mokshada Girls’ High School and another from the Government Girls’ School, Bhagalpur, in 2009, after simultaneously enrolling her name in both institutions. In reality, Anita never attended either school. “My father sold the cycles and spent the money drinking,” Ravi disclosed.

Sources in the education department said more than 1,500 students, like Bhagalpur’s Arun, who became the beneficiaries of “Nitish Kumar’s free bicycle scheme”, have stopped coming to schools after getting the bicycles.

This startling fact came to light about a month ago when the local education department authorities scanned admission lists for classes IX and X on the basis of the transfer certificates issued by high schools in Bhagalpur. “At that time we had 500 such cases where by virtue of the fake transfer certificates, the students enrolled in schools just to become beneficiaries of the bicycle scheme,” an officer of the education department said.

Till now, 1,144 cases of fake enrolments have been scanned by the education department in 85 of 110 government high schools in Bhagalpur district. The newly established Zilla School (set up at Khirnighat in 2006 to counter the rush of students at the Zilla School in Bhagalpur) wears a deserted look. “The school has 39 rooms and 39 students. After instructions from the education department to verify the school transfer certificates properly for admission-seekers, the students have virtually stopped coming for taking admission,” said headmaster Hari Jha.

Of the 170 students enrolled in this school (2009-10), 141 were found to have submitted fake certificates.

Jai Chandra Srivastava, district education officer, Bhagalpur, who suspects that such fraudulent practices started from 2007 onwards, said the department has started scanning students who enrolled themselves from 2007 and dropped out after taking the bicycles.

The situation is the same in other districts. Khamzadpur Primary School, located in Minapur block of Muzaffarpur district, is in the news for the past three to four months. Villagers of Khamzadpur are up in arms against the teachers who, they alleged, played truant and denied mid-day meals to the students. “For the last three months, the students have not been served a single meal,” said villager Mohammad Mustafa Rahi, who alleged that the teachers regularly remained absent from school. The school has 155 students. However, after the mid-day meals stopped, less than a third of the students attend school.

Headmaster Harendra Ram admitted that mid-day meals were not being served to students because of non-availability of funds. “It is difficult to prepare meals for students in a sleepy hamlet,” Ram said, adding that he has written to the department concerned to allocate funds in view of the agitation of the villagers.

Fake admission, forged attendances and above all anomalies in plundering government benefits in a tacit understanding of teachers with villagers and officials of the education department, including members of Panchayati Raj Institution, go side by side in the district. This came to the fore when a high-level team of the human resource department headed by the district education officer, R.N. Sharma, stumbled upon the racket of fake admissions during a month-long investigation.

Muzaffarpur district magistrate Santosh Kumar Mall told The Telegraph that investigations were on to purge the schools of fake admissions and other anomalies. The district administration has so far detected 33,730 fake admissions in primary, middle and secondary schools.

The primary school at Billound Harijan tola under Arama panchayat of Wazirganj block, Gaya, around 30km from the district headquarters, is a glaring example of the irregularities in government-sponsored schemes like mid-day meals and the money being provided to the students for school uniforms. Till November 2011, 303 students were enrolled in the school, which at present has been reduced to only 152.

Names of as many as 151 students, almost 50 per cent of the earlier strength of enrollment, have been deleted from the attendance register. The teachers present at the school said the students have migrated elsewhere. The parents of these children have moved to other states to work in brick kilns, the teachers said. The names of students have been deleted from the attendance register following a direction by the authorities of the district education department

 We have included this article in this progress report to illustrate that we will continue to help children receive an education they would otherwise not receive for as long as we are needed. As you know this appeal directly helps the most academically gifted youngsters from our village schools achieve the highest education possible, something which without your help is totally out of their reach and beyond their wildest dreams. We will return to personal inspiring stories in the students own words in our next update. In the meantime may we express our thanks for your support and please follow us on Face Book at www.facebook.com/pages/People-First-India/106083302779969

Thank you All,

Naresh

 

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Apr 10, 2012

A very sad story of hunger in Bihar

A Healthy Meal
A Healthy Meal

This is an article by Ashwin Parulkar a researcher at the centre for equity studies a New Delhi think tank that is researching starvation deaths and advocating food policy reform and was published in the Wall Street Journal. Gaya District is our area of work but this village is not in the areas our health team covers otherwise this would not have happened.For all you read about the economic miracle in Bihar , on the ground believe us, not much has changed.

BANWARA, India Gaya District In the fall of 2006, Gita Devi was pregnant with her sixth child when her family fell on hard times. A severe drought made it more difficult than ever to find farm work here in India's northeastern plains. The family couldn't afford food. It was unable to get a government ration card to buy grains and rice at steep discounts, even though it clearly was poor enough to qualify. Eventually, Ms. Devi and her children were going without any food for days at a time. The 42-year-old grew too weak to walk or talk. On Sept. 26, 2006, she delivered a baby girl, Muniya. Villagers recall Ms. Devi losing weight rapidly and say they couldn't help because they didn't have sufficient food either. Her husband, Tulsi Manjhi, recalls laying silently next to her on a khattiya, a cot made of bamboo and coconut fiber. The hours passed. "I was hungry too but she couldn't even get up," Mr. Manjhi recalled. "I tried to feed her jinghi (leaves from trees) once." On Oct. 4, eight days after giving birth, Ms. Devi died. An activist who advises India's Supreme Court on food security issues deemed Gita Devi's a starvation death. I traveled to Banwara, a village in Bihar state, to investigate the matter in September and November 2011 with my colleague Ankita Aggarwal from the Centre for Equity Studies, a New Delhi think tank. It is part of a broad study we are conducting of government responses to starvation deaths as India debates sweeping reforms to its food policies. We wound up uncovering a tragedy even more heartbreaking than we anticipated. Ms. Devi's family is part of the Bhuyia community, a low-caste group that historically was socially and economically marginalized from society. They weren't allowed to intermarry with other castes, were segregated in their own villages and were barred from many work and educational opportunities. Such discrimination is still prevalent today, even though it is illegal under India's Constitution. These days, the Bhuyias are recognized by Bihar's government as among the poorest people in the state. One of Ms. Devi's sons, Vilas, reluctantly opened up to us about his family's story and the horror of his mother's death. The 28-year-old quit school after the fourth grade to help support the family. With a small build, clenched-jaw and vacant eyes, he has the look of a young man who has already withstood too much. In the months leading up to his mother's death, Vilas helped his father, Tulsi Manjhi, on the few farm jobs they could find. They typically earned a daily wage of three kilograms of rice. They would sell a share of it at a local market to buy other items, but could never afford dal (lentils) or atta (flour). Family meals consisted of a small ration of rice and salt. Sometimes, they'd make a dish out of local flora, mixing ninua (a local, wild spinach), jinghi (tree leaves), and mungha, a green sickle-shaped fruit that grows on the trees outside their hut, distinguishing it amid rows of dry fields. Aside from farm labor, Tulsi found some work building houses in neighboring villages throughout June and July, during the monsoon rains, but it was never enough for the family to survive on. In the month leading up to Ms. Devi's death, Vilas and Tulsi couldn't find any work at all. In her final days in October, Ms. Devi complained of chest pain and was losing weight rapidly. Family members gave her water from a grimy well near their house that was full of frogs and flies. Ms. Devi had barely any energy to tend to her newborn. Vilas's story then veered off in a direction that caught us off guard. "My own wife had also given birth to a girl at that time," Vilas said. "While your mother was dying?" I asked. "My mother died in the morning after drinking water," he said. "The same night, my daughter passed away. The next morning, my wife also died of starvation," he added, straight-faced. In my notebook I wrote: "HIS WIFE AND CHILD DIED TOO???" It was too much information to process. Did he really just tell us that three people - two adults and one baby - died in the same family in a 24-hour span? It turned out we were investigating a family catastrophe. Phool Kumari was Vilas's wife. The food shortage compromised her pregnancy as it had Ms. Devi's. Ms. Kumari lost large amounts of blood during childbirth and since she had no food, she was unable to feed her day-old, unnamed daughter, who died the day she was born, Vilas recounted. Despite our attempts, we weren't able to ascertain the official cause of death of the child. Local newspapers reported at the time that local officials concluded the infant died because her mother was too sick to breastfeed. Vilas wasn't done with the surprises. "Now my second wife is ill," he said. "And we don't have enough food to give her." "Where is she?" I asked. "At home," he said. "Can we see her?"

**************************************

Vilas's second wife, Sunita Devi, lay outside their mud-walled house on a khattiya. Waist down, she was covered by a woolen blanket. She wore a red sari. Flies buzzed about her face. Her eyes were liquid. The pupils darted back and forth, but the tears didn't drop. They pooled around the rims. Her mouth stayed open so that her teeth showed. She was moaning. She was bloated at the belly and cheeks but the flesh on her arms had withered to a tight, dry, wrinkled sheet of skin outlining her bones. Every now and then she would rest the back of her hand on her forehead and make a gagging sound. She was trying to breathe. Though she was 24 years old, her swollen face made her look like a child, confused and sad. My God, I thought. It's not clear when Sunita Devi first fell ill, but in August 2011 her condition deteriorated quickly. She went to get checked up at Magadh Medical College in Gaya, the largest city in a district with the same name, about an hour's bus ride from Banwara. An ultrasound revealed an abscess of the liver - a thick, liquefied material filled with blood and micro-organisms that is caused by infection and can result in organ failure. Sunita's parents stayed with her in the hospital as she underwent treatment during an approximately two week stay in late August and early September. Doctors gave her antibiotics, vitamins, and medicines for fungal skin disease, worms, and bronchitis. Tulsi Manjhi says the family paid for its medical expenses by taking out a loan of 15,000 rupees (about $300) from Sanjay Singh, a local sub-contractor who rounds up laborers from Banwara and other neighboring villages to work in brick kilns. Vilas and his three younger brothers, Umesh, Arjun and Sarjun, worked alongside their father Tulsi in the brick kilns to pay off the loans. Vilas and Tulsi told us the doctors discharged Sunita Devi in early September even though she was still ill, because they did not have necessary medicines. They said the doctors told them to seek additional treatment elsewhere, but they didn't have the money. "Bhaiya," Vilas said, addressing me as "brother" in Hindi. "We don't know what to do." According to hospital records, Dr. Rahul Kumar, the physician that supervised Sunita Devi's case, indicated that the family requested her discharge before she was healthy enough to leave. I called Dr. Kumar to confirm that, but he declined to comment. Tulsi Manjhi denies that the family urged her release. "No, no. Why would we ask her to be discharged?" he said. We stood silently with Sunita for ten minutes. Her eyes kept darting back and forth, her mouth open in pain. "Is it okay to talk to her?" I asked. Vilas nodded. A group of curious young men from the village formed a circle just behind us. I got on my knees, dropped my notebook in the dirt, and took her hand in mine. It was cold and dry, her fingers searching my palm, my wrist. Vilas stood nearby, one hand on his hip, looking down. "What do you feed her?" I asked him. "We can only give her this much rice, once in the morning," he said, cupping his empty hand. She started to cry. She was saying something but I couldn't make out what. I put my free hand on her shoulder, then atop her head. "Are you in pain?" I asked. She nodded. She started to cry large tears. "I'm hungry," she said. "Please give me something to eat." I looked up at Vilas. He was broken. I was lost. "When we come back tomorrow," I said, "we'll bring food."

**************************************

India's Supreme Court has ruled that states have a legal responsibility to ensure their people have adequate food. As part of a wide-ranging public interest litigation known as the "right to food" case, the Court in 2002 said that starvation deaths should serve as evidence that something is gravely wrong in the government's food and welfare programs. The state has a duty to address those problems immediately, the Court said, not only to prevent future tragedies but to identify people who are living with chronic hunger and ensure they get the benefits they're entitled to. In Gaya district, where Banwara is located, it was clear the government's safety net had some gaping holes in it. Many benefits the Court says should be guaranteed aren't being provided. Schools are mandated to provide mid-day meals for children, but many still don't. The Integrated Child Development Service, which is supposed to offer supplemental nutrition and care for pregnant women, lactating mothers, and children under the age of six, was closed on a recent visit. Most glaringly, the "public distribution system" - which provides subsidized grains to the poor - was defunct. When the government provided food ration cards to impoverished families in the area in 2002, the landless, share-cropping family of Gita Devi and Tulsi Manjhi surely should have qualified. A "below poverty line" card would have allowed them to buy 35 kilograms of grain per month at half the market price. Indeed, they probably should have qualified for the national Antyodaya Anna Yojana program, which is meant for the poorest of the poor and ensures the same amount of grains at even lower prices. But they didn't receive a ration card and were shut out of those discounts. Despite our efforts, we weren't able to get a clear explanation from local officials of why the family was overlooked. According to official estimates from a 2004-2005 national survey, half of Indian households who should be eligible for such benefits don't receive them. In Bihar that figure is 80%. The office of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar did not respond to calls and faxes seeking comment for this article. Local officials in Gaya district acknowledged that Gita Devi's family and others had no access to many basic government programs. But they said that doesn't mean Ms. Devi, her daughter-in-law, and the newborn, died of conditions stemming from hunger. Officials said Phool Kumari died due to complications of childbirth. Gita Devi, they said, died from tuberculosis. That struck me as particularly odd, since no medical official had ever diagnosed Ms. Devi with the disease. But it made for a convenient explanation: the disease is rampant in the area. In Banwara alone, about 12 people had it when I was visiting. The Hindi newspaper Dainik Jagran covered Gita Devi's story in the days after her death. The stories detailed the failings of government programs and the destitution of Banwara's low-caste Bhuiya community, of which her family is part. News reports put pressure on government officials to visit the family. Ravi Bhusan, the block-level development officer - a bureaucrat that oversees welfare programs across several villages - gave Tulsi Manjhi 15 kilograms of rice and a check for 10,000 rupees ($200). But according to newspaper reports in Dainik Jagran and my interviews with block officials and journalists, local officials did not investigate whether social welfare programs are working properly, as the Supreme Court's orders in the right to food case say they should do following a starvation death. Ashok Singh, the elected president of the local village council, visited the family two days after the deaths and offered the family 10,000 rupees, 10 kilograms of flour, and 20 kilograms of rice. Mr. Manjhi says the aid was on the condition that he testify that Gita Devi had died of tuberculosis by giving his thumb impression on an official document. (When I later called Mr. Singh and asked for comment on this claim, he hung up the receiver.) Mr. Manjhi told me he complied with that demand and received the money and food, but he says he still believes his wife died from hunger. No postmortem was conducted on any of the bodies since the family had buried Gita Devi, Phool Kumari, and her infant daughter by the time local officials arrived. In 2007, the government did eventually distribute ration cards to Tulsi Manjhi and other households in Banwara. But that didn't resolve the problems the community faced. Many destitute families didn't get the Antyodaya Anna Yojana cards offering the biggest discounts, as they probably should have. Ration shops in the area still only function for six to eight months per year, residents say, and cardholders often don't get their full quota of grains.

**************************************

The morning after we met Sunita Devi and saw her struggling, we went to meet Ashok Singh, the village council leader. About 10 men sat silently around him on the patio outside his home. He was wearing an undershirt and shorts. It was a two story, fully furnished bungalow with a new coat of white paint. There was a tractor in the yard. We presented the facts we had gathered about Ms. Devi, Phool Kumari and the newborn - how there was no food in the house for days, no access to subsidized grains, no work available. "Gita Devi," he said between a gulp of tea and a bite of biscuit, "died of tuberculosis." "These people are poor," he explained. "They drink. So they have health problems. They get sick. And die." We started to ask him about the conditions that made the three victims and others in the area unable to access Court-mandated government entitlements. Mid-question, he got up, walked inside his house, walked back, and placed a piece of paper in our hands. "See," he said. "These people are poor. They get sick. And die." We looked down at the paper. "Sunita Devi?" we said. "We just saw her last night." "She died this morning," he said, "just before you came here." In our hands was a death notice.

**************************************

Sunita Devi was under the woolen blanket now. They were going to bury her soon. We placed bags of grain in the middle of a ring of people. Vilas walked up to us slowly with one hand on his hip. "I am in a lot of pain," Vilas said. I thought, "What if my soul was born in his body?" I imagined lunging for him, hugging him. But I just stood there, watching him condemned. Starvation is a brutal but little-discussed reality in India. The Wall Street Journal's India Real Time is publishing a six-part series on starvation, showcasing the findings of an investigation by the Centre for Equity Studies, a New Delhi think tank that is researching hunger and advocating reforms of India's food policies. The series of essays documents the stories of starvation victims, explores the primary causes of their deaths, and argues fiercely that India must overhaul its broken food security system.

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