I am writing to you from Ananthaiahgaripalli, where I have been living for the past three months. Unfortunately, my visa will only allow me to stay another three months, so I will be leaving in March.
The trip has been fascinating and quite the learning experience thus far. One extremely important undertaking we are currently working on is the renovation of the elementary government school. Some might wonder why this is necessary if we plan to run an entirely separate school. Our organization believes in education for all, not just for some. Whether the children here are poor or relatively well-off, each one deserves a fair chance at a proper education. The students who receive the best education here are, of course, the children who attend the private schools in towns/cities. The students who receive little to no education (our main focus) are those who attend the government schools. While we may be planning a separate infrastructure altogether, it is vital not to neglect those who will continue at this government school. Another important reason to renovate the government school is to increase trust in the villagers. Thus far, I have been more of an observer, engaging in various conversations with individuals and teaching the local children English and Dance. The village meetings have been eye-opening for me, and have made me understand the importance of empowering the individuals in the village. Here is an excerpt from my blog about the first village meeting that was held:
I knew the meeting wasn’t going as well as I had hoped, especially when at one point, a man told me – “You have been here for over a month. You fix what you think should be fixed and we’ll all be happy.” To that, I responded with a bit of frustration-
“You have a national, state, mandal, AND village government who is supposedly helping your situation, yet I have spoken to so many of you individually and have learned of many of the issues you face in the village, and I know that you do not believe the government is doing much to help improve your situation. If you acknowledge this fact, you must realize that the first person who needs to be helping this village is YOU. If YOU don’t take action and open up to each other about your collective problems, then you will never come up with solutions.”
Immediately afterward, I thought – I’ve lost them - since I spoke out a bit harshly, and with lack of patience. It truly was a sort of a tipping point for me- after a month and a half of watching certain people being mistreated, and after my visit to the Mandal office where I gathered information alluding to corruption and a general lack of personal responsibility – I couldn’t understand why people were acting so helpless. Of course, outside of that moment, I knew better than to wonder why they thought there was no point in this discussion – rewind back to my first post, where I wrote about personal agency, and it is simple to understand why there was no desire to discuss these matters in front of those who weren’t family.
…and then someone spoke. The father of one of my students rattled off a list of issues he faced with the government school here – about its lack of proper teaching and facilities – and immediately, I forgot my frustration. His announcement motivated others to speak up, and soon we had a long laundry list of collective issues in the village, some of which I had already witnessed.
Since then, we have experienced small successes in empowering the community. For example, while discussing the issue of teacher absenteeism, one villager's suggestion in a recent meeting was to round up all the parents so we could collectively speak to the teachers about the issue.
It is our opinion that the quickest method to build trust and personal agency in the community is by showing, not just telling, them their words matter. The parents of the government school have been complaining since the first village meeting about the school's poor infrastructure, so we decided to work with the community to immediately begin solving the issue. After identifying exactly what the infrastructural issues were (broken toilet, no safe grounds on which to play, no lights or fan, no desks, etc) , we discussed who could contribute their services to improve the government school. The manpower currently consists only of the local community, and the equipment needed (tractors, etc) are generously being provided free of charge by the wealthier members of the community.
The repairs are scheduled to be completed in one month, after which I will update you all with pictures!
Thank you all again for your continued support to the Sanjeevani Project. On behalf of our organization, I wish you all a prosperous New Year!