Social and Environment Photography – Child Rights and You
[This essay (created for Child Rights and You) was first published in ‘The Alternative’ on 15 April, 2013 – http://thealternative.in/inclusivity/photo-story-cry/]
Sometime in the month of March 2013, I travelled with the CRY (Child Rights and You) team to Raichur, a town in northern Karnataka. We were going there to capture the work of an NGO (Sneha Jeevi Samsthe) CRY had partnered with to impact the basic rights of the children in these parts. The villages and districts of Raichur are one of the poorest and most backward in the country. And as poverty manifests itself in myriad ways, it has created a deep and adverse impact on the well-being of children. Lack of education and malnutrition are arguably the biggest challenges that the NGO deals with. Over two days that I spent visiting the various villages, I was both aghast and amazed. Aghast at coming face to face with the other India which is often nothing more than a news headline, an India which presents its harsh realities so starkly that one starts feeling guilty of the comforts accustomed to. And amazed, on how a bunch of committed people can influence and change what years of governance and administration have not, how human determination to succeed is able to move the clogged wheels of development, and how slowly but surely, in spite of the corruption and abject apathy of the people in power, things have started changing for the better.
Here are a just a few glimpses of the exceptional accomplishments of CRY and SJS. I could have focused this essay on the underwhelming living conditions of the place, of how India’s much publicized shine is so lop sided, of how petty regional politics have led to certain regions just falling off the radar of progress, but instead, what will be a greater story is the drive, commitment and determination to change status quo, and that is what this story is all about…
Access to schools is an acute problem; poor parents cannot afford to send their children to schools and in the absence of any support, are left with no option but to have their children work in cotton and chilly plantations as daily wage labourers. Each morning, one sees numerous tempos ferrying children, packed like sardines, to the farms for work.
The few schools that do exist are woefully below standards – dilapidated structures, shortage of classrooms, shortage of teachers and sometimes, even devoid of drinking water and sanitation facilities.
Through numerous education and school enrolment campaigns, SJS has been instrumental in getting more than 300 children in the districts enrolled in schools. Of these, 26 were drop outs who have been re enrolled.
What is unique is the way in which SJS has fostered child collectives in these areas to advocate child rights. These collectives have been a true agent of change in moving the authorities to act.
One remarkable story was of the children of Mandakal village, who had to walk a tedious 6 kilometres each way every day to attend their school. They influenced the transport department to start a government bus from the village to the school.
Another encouraging trend is the enrollment of girl children in schools, one almost sees an equal proportion of girl children in classrooms, and needless to say, this will have far reaching consequences.
Increasing school enrollment is also leading to a multiplier effect, the children are influencing other parents to send their children to school. Shruthi (picture below), is just one example. A bright vivacious girl, she has been responsible for getting Jyothi, a school dropout, back to school.
Shruthi’s school has also just moved to a new high building. The sanction of this school building is a result of the persistent efforts of CRY and SJS. Erstwhile, the high school children had to study in the small primary school building, which meant that the junior classes were held out in the open with the young children braving extreme heat conditions.
Of late, there is a lot of hue and cry about the alarming levels of malnutrition in India. The statistics are alarming. 50% of the children in India are malnourished, and we contribute a staggering 45% to the world total. CRY and SJS’s efforts towards alleviating malnutrition in the villages of Raichur have been in the forefront, and consequently attracted significant media coverage.
There is a lot of focus on ensuring malnourished children in the areas are identified and provided access to the health facilities. The aanganwadis play a critical role here. Aanganwadis were set up by the government as local channels for providing basic nutrition and health check ups for young children as well as pregnant women/ lactating mothers. A lot of aanganwadis in the villages were (and still are) in deplorable conditions -lacking hygiene, proper building and food provisions. In fact, in some places, zero nutrition value food such as chips and inferior powdered milk was being provided (another example of how corruption gnaws our development budgets). CRY and SJS have focused on enrolling more and more children as well as improving the state of these aanganwadis. Again, child collectives have been instrumental in getting budgets sanctioned for construction of new aanganwadi buildings with better facilities. Effective March this year, the government authorities have discarded the low/ no nutrition food provisions, and have committed to providing one egg and 200 ml of milk for every child. CRY and SJS have also monitored the immunization programme, with as many as 550 children being immunized. There are also efforts being made in ensuring identity certificates are issued, 155 children have been issued birth certificates and 198 children have been issued caste certificates.
The child collective of Gabbur village, which influenced the authorities to sanction a new aanganwadi building, is a shining example of the change influenced. The earlier aanganwadi structure, seen below, had dismal infrastructure.
Not only are the malnourished children getting access to more nutrition through the aanganwadi, the serious cases are also being referred to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres as well as the local health centers. Once again, there are numerous success stories of children who have seen an improvement in their health thanks to the efforts. 1507 malnourished children were identified, among which 1039 in grade 2 and 468 in grade 3 were seriously deficient. 1278 families of malnourished children were visited, and 99 malnourished children were provided access to health facilities.
These are just a few of the many achievements of SJS and CRY. But there is still a long way to go. One hopes that there are more and more of these stories across India, and the government as well as individuals becomes an enabler for this change.
All photos are (c) Child Rights and You/ Gitika Saksena