Children at an Anganwadi in Bangalore
The new academic year 2012-13 began in June 2012 with some changes. Akshara Foundation has been working in the pre-school space, with the Government Anganwadis for the last three years in Bangalore. The results of the programs so far speaks unequivocally of large-scale gains:
The importance of preschool education was underscored and brought to the forefront in long-neglected, government-run anganwadis and their tired energies revitalized.Community support structures like Bal Vikas Samithis and Friends of Anganwadis, failing or defunct in many places, were resuscitated.
Along with working with all the 1770 Anganwadi (pre-school) centers, the team decided to choose 333 centers to groom and nurture them in Model Anganwadi centers. The focus for the year is to train the Anganwadi workers on effective classroom management and TLM arragements in a way that it is easily accessible to children. Another important aim for the year is to engage the community effectively and involve the Bal Vikas Samithi members to participate in the day-to-day Anganwadi activities.
12 Supervisors and 333 Anganwadi workers were trained under the Model Anganwadi concept. The training spanned over 2 days and focussed on Classroom Management, TLM seggregation, grouping of children according to their age and classroom rules.
An upgraded TLM was given to each center to replenish broken / damaged materials and provide additional and new learning materials for children. As a part of a tie up with LEGO Foundation, this year, a curriculum based around LEGO Duplo blocks was also introduced in the centers.
Children were assessed in the beginning of the year to get a feel of their current learning levels. The assessments focussed on 7 sets of competencies using 56 indicators:
When the anganwadi workers conducted the assessment for the children, the mothers also showed interest in conducting some activities for the children. This is a good sign of the community taking ownership of their children’s education and also at the same time they are supporting the anganwadi worker in her work. The post- programme assessment will take place in the month of March 2013 and then the results will be compared to measure the impact of the programme.
As a part of the community initiatives, we organized the following activities:
Friends of Anganwadis – To get the active participation of the parents in preschool activities, Akshara Foundation introduced the concept called Friends of Anganwadi (FOA) in each centre. The members of the FOA are the primary stakeholders of anganwadi, i.e parents. This group consists of mothers who interact and engage with the children in the anganwadis. There are about 3-5 mothers per anganwadi who visit the centres and interact and teach the children.
House-hold visits - Akshara staff visited over 12,000 households to meet parents and discuss with them about the importance of pre-school education, sending their children regularly to the Anganwadis, their child's learning outcomes amongst many other topics.
Story of Lakshmi's Transformation
A Picture of Lakshmi
Lakshmi is four and a half years old. There is cautious anticipation in her eyes as she gazes into the camera - a look that conceals more than it says. Still and obedient she stands, a neat, folded, white handkerchief pinned fastidiously to her shirt, well-groomed, and perhaps tall for her age. This strikes a bit of a contrary picture because Lakshmi is known to jump and clap her hands with abandon, even write, hesitantly but with relish. In the backdrop are the children of Anganwadi III, Girani Chawl, Hubli, Lakshmi’s friends, with whom she mixes and mingles.
Abandoned in a Public Toilet
But Lakshmi has a speech impairment that hinders her ability to learn. What she says is incoherent. She is a trier though, and makes spirited attempts to speak and sing. Her story has a long history. It began in 2008 when Lakshmi was discovered by Sushila Narayankar in the toilet of a Hubli bus stand, abandoned and crying. She was a little over six months old and had suffered a grave injury to her head. Sushila had been waiting for a bus and the sound of an infant crying wrenched her. She picked up Lakshmi and went around asking people if the child was theirs. No one knew anything about her.
Lakshmi was an unknown entity, already forgotten, already written off. Someone suggested that Sushila take her to the police station and file a complaint. There, the police advised Sushila and her husband, Mariyappa, to keep the child with them till they could locate her parents or relatives.
Till today, no one has come forward to claim Lakshmi, and so she stayed with Sushila and Mariyappa who happily took care of her. For the childless couple, married for twenty five years, this was God’s gift, an answer to their fervent prayers, and they named her Lakshmi. Their recriminations had been endless all those years, directed at a God who had failed them. Now, they believed their Tirupati deity had heard their pleas, a little late in life – Mariyappa is forty eight, Sushila, thirty nine.
At the Anganwadi
Lakshmi’s faltering development was a big blow to Sushila and Mariyappa but the initial shock, the alienation they felt from their child, soon transmuted to a generosity of spirit and a steely resolve. They began exploring alternative avenues for Lakshmi, in keeping with their means. They noticed that the girl was a friendly child, eager for company her age, with a pronounced interest in school life. Anganwadi III in Girani Chawl, close to where they live, seemed a viable option. Sushila and Mariyappa admitted her there in early 2011 and Lakshmi seemed happy.
Trouble soon cropped up. It had always been difficult to toilet-train Lakshmi and now at the anganwadi the problem became acute. There were behavioral disturbances as well. Neither Hema Kamble, the anganwadi worker, nor the anganwadi helper were equipped to deal effectively with Lakshmi. Hema would often call Sushila and recommend that they take Lakshmi to a school for children with special needs. Helpless, the foster parents pleaded with Hema to keep Lakshmi in the anganwadi for a while longer.
Ratna Arrives on the Scene
It is then that Akshara’s Field Coordinator, Ratna, who is in charge of 26 anganwadis in Hubli, appeared on the scene. Ratna had qualifications that gave her a competent edge in managing Lakshmi – a three-month course in handling children with special needs, a two-year tenure with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), taking care of such children.
Ratna had been observing Lakshmi every time she visited the anganwadi. She saw Hema’s fraught attempts at coping, the helper’s helplessness, the lack of positivism in the whole engagement. Being one of the 109 anganwadis in Akshara North Karnataka’s preschool programme in Hubli-Dharwad, Ratna had access and acceptability. She began training Hema in how best to tackle Lakshmi.
It took time. And then everything changed. The transformation in Lakshmi is nothing short of a minor miracle. She is today toilet-trained. Her socialization processes with her peer group are well-cemented. Her speech has cleared to some extent. Lakshmi asks her teacher for toys to play with and the words are legible, though there is a long way to go yet.
Lakshmi is happy, never happier, though, than when she is playing with the toys that are a part of Akshara’s preschool programme kit. But there is a special warmth that Lakshmi reserves for Ratna. She is overjoyed when Ratna makes her frequent visits, jumping and clapping with joy, her face wreathed in smiles.
What will Lakshmi’s future be like? Sushila and Mariyappa contemplate it with some disquiet, even as they acknowledge with deep gratitude the efforts Ratna and Hema have put in to restore their child to near-normalcy. “We worry if Lakshmi will speak properly,” say Sushila and Mariyappa. “We would like her to be a teacher. It is a noble profession.”
Akshara North Karnataka – Part of this Change
As for the Akshara North Karnataka team there is a sense of quite achievement. "This is a great story for us. I feel very happy to have been part of this change", says Angelina, District facilitator. This anganwadi is in our preschool programme. Thay is why we could do so much".
As for Ratna she is receiving affirmations for her work with Lakshmi. The Child Development Project Officer (CDPO) told her she was doing a wonderful job, while the Department of Women and Child Welfare commended her for triggering change in Anganwadi III, Girani Chawl, and asked if she would join as their Resource Person.
Children using the TLM at an Anganwadi
Training of Anganwadi workers
Mothers meeting in progress at an Anganwadi