Monday, May 15, 2017

Jogio Mela

Bangles for women
 Jogio is a village at about 6000 feet in Chakrata mountains. A dusty unpaved road connects it to Chakrata, 25 km away. In the month of May, a Mela is organised to celebrate a local deity. The deity (Devta) is brought in a palanquin, carried by four men (from families traditionally playing this role) and the palanquin is made to dance..
This year it was on 14th May. On the long brow of a mountain, people gathered in their colorful dresses. Vendors offered colorful sweets and salties- ice-cream too - while everyone waited for the Devta.
I met some children from our SMTA school. All dressed up for mela!

Most fairs in Himalayas are meant to honor some Deity- and offer a chance for women to get out of their villages, away from the daily drudgery. A great time for socializing in the hills where time moves slowly...
Pakodi shop

Crowd  gathers by 12 noon..

SMTA school

Story of a primary school:
This small primary school started in August 1995. First few children belonged to SMTA staff itself and couple of neighbors in this sparsely populated mountain community. Then, nearby villages began to participate and send their children. Class 5 got recognized by state education services around 1997 or so. At that time there was no school on this road from Chakrata to Lakhamandal. Vijay Laxmi, Shanti Karki and Champa Karki, were some of the early teachers - sort of pioneers. The school was affiliated with nearby Tungroli government school initially, to ensure that children would be able to sit for exams and get an acceptable certificate. UNICEF gave some aid and the school was upgraded to class eight.

SMTA was also running primary schools (APNA school) in over 100 villages. This idea was based on couple of stark realities of the last century: The state would not run a school for less than ten children at that time. The mountain villages being small, could not produce more than five children aged 4-10 years. The children being too young, could not walk daily to the bigger villages with a primary school. So, primary education for these children often began very late - and there were many such villages all over Himalayas; it was common to see a ten year old lad sitting in class one! Many children just dropped out of the educational system and were pressed by their families into other tasks: herding animals, helping on farm etc. The other option was for the family to migrate to a city for the sake of child's education. Few families could afford it and when they did migrate, it meant ruining of farm and homestead left behind in the village.
School campus on a beautiful evening
In this scenario, SMTA implemented a new idea: A class eight or ten pass student, was given a basic understanding of caring for and teaching other young children in his/ her own village- and it was called APNA school (our own school). This older child was given frequent refresher trainings, was supported by a network of supervisors and was given regularly provided with excellent Teaching learning aids and books etc.

Apna schools flourished since, those who have been denied the fruits of education for centuries, know its value too well. Decades later, state government adopted the idea as "Shiksha Mitra". APNA schools got absorbed in that government scheme. A time came when, SMTA was left with just one school: the one at Jakhadhar, near Chakrata. SMTA continued to nurture it, since local community found it useful. Many teachers contributed their precious years to this school: Sohan Singh, Satyaprakash Chaudhary, Kesri Chand, Shurvir Singh Chauhan, Hariman Pandey, Mangat Ram, Belam Das, Chain Singh (who has rejoined recently), Dhaneshi, Sultan and others. (Please let me know the names I am missing! And there are MANY, I am sure!).

This is the story of this SMTA school in brief. And some pictures of its current students. If you ever want to volunteer and spend some time with these children, in these mountains, you are welcome to get in touch.

School Meeting at Jakhadhar

Today, we had a staff meeting. The two teachers and two admin staff- myself and Sultan. The two teachers are Shri Chain Singh and Shri Kedar Singh (extreme left). Chain Singh ji is taking the charge of the campus as well as the school, so a little discussion was in order. The total children at present are about 40. A small number. But when I look at a child as this, and think of her parents, I think we are offering a valuable service.  This is Jaunsar Bawar, a tribal area of Uttarakhand. Government subsidy, reservations and confusion of identity has led to apathy and lack of enterprise among the local community. The only hope is children.