For 6 year old Abraham, happiness is a new shiny pair of shoes… Living in a remote district of Medinipur (West Bengal) and walking barefoot to school most days, it was those little things which make him joyous. Abraham’s father Shukur Murmu is a seasonal farmer and his mother collects and sells forest produce to make ends meet for the 9 member family.
Like books, toys and crayons, shoes are a luxury his family only occasionally indulges and can afford. "Amar Bhalo lagjilo!!” (I am so happy!!) He chirped to his mother after school, when he got a pair of shoes from Goonj under “School To School” initiative. “These shoes look much better with my uniform and I can now run faster than I did wearing the old pair of torn slippers I have been wearing for years …” He trails off adding at last. That day he ran home early to show the shoes to his mother, excitedly asking her how he could keep it clean and well maintained to make it last longer. His mother proudly comments “Abraham is naughty like any kid his age but he is sensible. He knows the value of things and never takes anything for granted”.
Far away from where Abraham lives similar problem was plaguing many children in Bihar. Dangraha is a small village situated 22km away from the district headquarters Purnia (Bihar). In absence of any decent schools in their village, kids often have to commute long distance for their classes. Mr Shivnaranyan Shrivastav, the teacher corresponding with Goonj field team comments “Their parents are mostly daily wagers and spending money on anything apart from immediate needs get difficult for them. So whether it is summer or winters, kids are mostly barefooted”.
“I used to go school in broken slippers. Babuji (father) said new sandals will be bought only after maize harvest season …” little Munni innocently utters those words. Her words are reflection of larger condition where kids her age do not even dream of possessing shoes but a humble pair of unbroken slippers.
Every year a lot of children drop out of school due to lack of basic essentials like books, stationeries, uniforms or a proper classroom to sit in… Something as paltry as a shoe, a uniform or a pencil box might not come off as significant resource but the lack of same ignored basics does a lot of hamper a kid’s confidence, their attendance in school and the larger learning process. For years, Goonj has been identifying such neglected resource gaps in rural schools and addressing it with dignity. The bigger economic impact is that it frees up the meager resources of the parents for other urgent necessities. Abraham’s mother adds, “Many villagers are now willing to send their children to Aanganwadis in the hope of getting new shoes” (Aganwadis are govt. run informal centers of learning in Indian villages). Gauging the impact, Munni’s teacher Ravindra Nath thakur triumphantly adds “The attendance in school dramatically increased by 25 percent!”