We started out as two clueless interns from Singapore, who were eager to write about the Foundation’s efforts in Mewat, because it was also a chance for us to learn about this part of the world, and the issues it faces. So ten weeks ago we started “Mewat Mondays” as a means to spread awareness about SRF Foundation’s flagship Mewat Rural Education Programme (MREP), and now is the time to conclude it.
As part of our last installment, we’ll summarise the issues; briefly reintroduce the amazing people we’ve met; and share what we hope for Mewat in the future.
Mewat is an undeveloped area where agriculture is the primary source of income. Populated with Meo-Muslims, it remains a traditional and conservative society where family sizes are big; men and women are segregated; education is second to filial responsibilities; and girls are often uneducated and get married in their late teens.
It thus comes as no surprise that their schools are also undeveloped. Some of the things that they are missing include furbished classrooms; a stimulating learning environment; designated kitchen sheds for mid-day meals; and clean and functional toilets.
Through a partnership with GE Capital/Govt., the Foundation has started on the holistic development of the Salambha school complex, to address each of these concerns. We plan to replicate this model of development in all other 18 school complexes in the other villages.
The Foundation’s partnership with IBM and the government has also seen the introduction of the IBM KidSmart programme in 18 villages; a scheme that aims to teach children aged 3-8 years old using educational software provided with the computers.
The Foundation engaged the help of our friends at the World College of Technology and Management (WCTM), who will help us design site plans for all 19 villages. The works have just started, and we can’t wait to see what they have drawn up.
In addition, we’ve submitted several proposals to the government, to obtain support in upgrading the hard infrastructure such as the toilets, promoting sports and games, rewarding the IBM KidSmart volunteers, etc. These are still pending.
We shifted our focus from the problems in Mewat to some of its special personalities, in the course of our series.
We had the great opportunity to speak to Sushila Ma’am, the headmistress of Kherla Boys Government Primary School, a bold woman who wants nothing more than the out-of-school boys in Kherla village to enroll into her school.
Then we met Mr Sunil Kumar, an inspiring teacher in the Rojka Meo Government Primary School, who took the initiative to improve the landscape of his school by planting many trees.
Having spoken to a headmistress and a teacher, we then sought Sabila, a 13-year-old student who is wiser beyond her years. The daughter of Kherla’s imam, she is determined to further her studies despite the conservative mindset in her village, because she believes in her right to education.
Meeting the three of them was heartening – it gave us hope that amidst the difficult situation in Mewat, there are people who remain optimistic about education. We hope that their positivity will infect the rest of their community, so that improving their schools can happen much more effectively and rapidly.
The stars of Mewat also include the children themselves, some of whom we’ve interacted with. Each of our visits to Mewat was a different experience. Among these experiences, we’ve introduced them to the digital camera, played ball games with them, sang English songs with/for them; conducted a quiz where we handed out colour pens to winners; had our hair curiously stroked by them; and received pleas to try out their brand new playground (to which we vehemently protested “aap…choti…mai…nehi choti…”)
Despite the cultural differences, the children in Mewat are just like the ones we know back home: they smile, they laugh, they stare at strangers funny, and they cry when they’re scared of us.
Our hopes for Mewat
Having witnessed the situation and the Foundation’s efforts, here’s what we each wish for Mewat in the future.
I hope that one day, all the children will look forward to coming to school, and not simply for the mid-day meals. I hope that the new furniture, upgraded toilets, sports and games that will soon be introduced will make coming to school a much more comfortable and fun experience. Lastly, I hope that support will be given to the first generation learners, whose parents have not gone to school, so that they do not struggle with their studies and eventually drop out.
I hope that the people in Mewat will slowly change their mindset about education, and that they will realise education’s potential in opening more opportunities. I hope more girls especially will start attending school, because it’s only when they’re educated that their family sizes will eventually get smaller, their incomes get higher, and they break out of the poverty trap.
A drop in the ocean
If you’re reading this online, just like we’ve been writing this online, the fact is we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy relatively comfortable living standards. Seeing the way people live and think in Mewat, although eye opening, also makes us sad that amidst globalisation and economic growth, there are pockets of people who get left behind.
This all sounds textbook-ish, but it wasn’t until we visited them that we truly felt the impact of this perverse reality.
As a small foundation, our efforts are modest, but we believe that we will have a part to play in sharing our resources with Mewat. As our Chairman has rightly said in his recent message in our upcoming annual report,
“Our work as a Foundation could just be a drop in the ocean, but with the collective efforts of other members of our society, I am certain that inclusive growth will someday become the reality that transforms India into a force to be reckoned with.”
To be a part of the change we hope to bring, email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss how you can get involved.
Mewat Mondays is brought to you by our interns, Aisyah and Rafidah, who enjoyed the entire process of researching, writing, and sharing the situation in Mewat. This is the tenth and final edition of Mewat Mondays, for now.