“These children are born into a life of misery. From the moment they are born it is as if the whole world is against them. Society doesn’t nurture them, it rejects them, it marginalizes them & discriminates against them. Diksha, a vision born out of the fires of Rajasthan’s rural crisis, provides hope & opportunity for vulnerable children, it puts light into their lives, compassion into their hearts & information into their minds.” says Zach Fell, a dedicated and compassionate volunteer from Australia.
DIKSHA a program initiated by the RCDSSS in 2012 aims to provide private education to vulnerable children who have been born into a life of trauma, whether it be through economic suffering, discrimination & stigmatization, marginalization, family loss, disease or disability.
Why private education? Although government education is free for all, it’s ability to promote educational equality & successful literacy development is a systematic failure. Over 100 million children in India are two or more years behind their recommended literacy level, in some cases children as old as 13, who have been attending school for 4-5 years, are still unable to read. Private education ensures that even those children who are falling behind are catered for, equality is essential & discrimination ceases to exist.
Background: Rajasthan has a current population of 68 million people. Of these 52 million live rurally. Roughly 70% of the population is dependant on agriculture. 39% of rural population is still completely illiterate, when you combine 47 million people who are reliant on agriculture & over-dependence on an unpredictable yearly monsoon, what you get is a social & economic crisis. To accompany all this, it is a rural culture entrenched in tradition. Mothers believe marriage is more beneficial for their 10/yo daughters & fathers earning 150rps/day (U.S.$2.50) supporting a family of 5 would rather prefer their 8/yo son work than be educated.
The current social & economic climate places many family’s on the brink of economic disaster. This situation intensifies when a family’s sole income earner becomes physically incapacitated by injury, or worse passes away. The family who is now without an income becomes dependent on other family members, friends & neighbours. The situation worsens & family members become desperate, exposing themselves to a multitude of practices associated with adverse poverty, prostitution, exploitation, forced migration, child labor, HIV etc.
Amongst all this turmoil are the children. Once children fall prey to poverty it is very hard to rescue them.
Our Criteria: To be deemed eligible for sponsorship one or more life-changing factors must be present in the child’s life & preventing the child’s development. These factors include:
- Child suffering trauma as a result of a family loss
- Child suffering discrimination, stigmatization or ostracism/excommunication as a result of family member being diagnosed or passing away from disease.
- Sole family income is less than 3000 rupees ($50) a month or family is registered with the government for BPL card (Below Poverty Line).
- Family disability preventing income
- Child willingness to want to learn (despite child’s low level of literacy & understanding there has to be desire to learn & possess characteristics akin to learning).
- Both parents deceased as a result child living with grandparents who earn very little or live on a small government pension.
How we identify our children: Our organization RCDSSS conducts a multitude of different programs in 2 rural districts of Rajasthan; Ajmer & Barmer. Our development officers are working with villagers on a daily basis & are exposed to families of all socio-economic status. When they’re exposed to a family that falls into the DIKSHA’s eligibility criteria they contact a program coordinator. Once this contact has been made a program coordinator will then meet the child/family & document the case. If the child demonstrates a willingness to learn & be able to communicate, they will then be placed in a waiting list & how long they wait, depends on how quickly we can find a sponsor.
Our first encounter: In most cases first contact with a child, is made during documentation interview. Child is accompanied with either a parent, relative or neighbor & nine out of ten times the child’s caretaker has no understanding of the importance of education. The first half of the meeting is nearly always based around DIKSHA coordinators trying to break down the culture barrier & persuade the family that education is more beneficial than work or marriage. Once this barrier is finally eroded other issues begin to arise:
- Travel- Living more than 3kms can pose many risks for vulnerable young children.
- Caste- Although legislatively banned in Rajasthan Casteism is still firmly entrenched in rural culture.
- Trust- Many families do not trust our coordinators & believe that after 12 months DIKSHA will stop providing for their child.
- Jealous or disgruntled family members
The children are often in a state of shock. Sitting in a room with all eyes fixated on them & a loving German lady assessing them is not something they have ever experienced. More often than not they’re shy & nervous. On initial contact the child’s reading skill is tested. For the children that have attended government schools their reading ability is often very low & they will have to re-sit those same years when they begin private school.
What private education does for the child:
- Lifts them off the ground
- Gives them opportunity
- Provides hope
- Ends generations of family suffering
- Gives children confidence & promotes equality & status
- Ensures that there will be one less person in the next national poverty survey.
What accommodation does for the child:
- Keeps the child sheltered from the problems at home
- Protects child from abuse & neglect
- Assists growth & development through compassion, care, love & support.
- Provides supportive services such as counselling.
The results: DIKSHA has been running for only 2 years & long-term results are unknown but through observation & interaction we can see that our children as a result of private education have been lifted off the ground. Children have become so comfortable at school that they no longer want to return to their villages. What was a once shy neglected child has since prospered into a an eager & energetic boy/girl who understands that education can help lift their family out of poverty.