By Lalatendu Acharya
Two child reporters, Sunita Gemel and Anupama Nayak, from Koraput, a disadvantaged district in the Indian state of Orissa have been selected to represent India at the First International Forum on Children’s Development to be held in Beijing, China, from 27 - 31 October 2005. The two reporters are part of a UNICEF-initiated project that now has 200 children in 2 disadvantaged districts of Orissa, reporting on issues affecting them, their parents, their community, and their village.
The project “Child Reporters reporting on children’s issues” ensures the participation of children from marginalized groups or families or children in difficult circumstances.
The project “Child Reporters reporting on children’s issues” is being implemented under the Advocacy and Partnerships programme of UNICEF Office for Orissa in the districts of Koraput and Dhenkanal with a mostly tribal population and some of the lowest development indicators in Orissa. The project has, so far, trained 200 children to observe, question, relate, draw inferences and report. In each district the child reporters are spread over 10 villages and 10 primary schools. Their age group ranges from 8 to 14 years and they are generally students of Grade III to VII. Over time, these children have become effective communicators on issues affecting them and their micro-environment.
The project was first initiated in the integrated district of Koraput, where the UNICEF Village Based Planning initiative is being implemented. Koraput with its 4605 habitations is a remote district and inhabited mainly by under-privileged, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, mostly tribal. This particular project ensures the genuine participation of children from marginalized groups or families or children in difficult circumstances as the poorest children are most likely to be denied the right and opportunity to make their views heard.
Sunita Gemel's father has worked as a labourer on daily wages with a contractor for the last 25 years. None of her family members are educated. They do not have any land of their own. Her mother and elder brother work as agricultural labourers. Despite the hard living conditions Sunita, a student of Grade VI, is confident of pursuing her education.
Anupama’s father is a teacher in a government primary school near Sunki village in Koraput district. Due to the geographically disadvantaged location of the village she lives in, Anupama, a student of Grade VII, does not have any exposure to the outside world other than her text books. She is a confident girl and wishes to be a journalist.
The project has already seen success at ground level. Child reporters in Sunki Primary school of Koraput district persuaded a girl to resume her schooling after a gap of two years. They have been just as effective in their own homes, propagating the use of trash containers, which they made from old newspapers.
The child reporters also document the process of Village Based Planning and monitor and report on the process of development or lack of it. Immense value is placed on their reports as they provide invaluable feedback to the government, non-government and the international agencies on their development schemes and activities in these districts.
The project has already seen success at ground level. Child reporters in Sunki Primary school of Koraput district persuaded a girl to resume her schooling after a gap of two years. Pollama had left school after her father died, to help her mother at home with the household work. Over time she forgot what she had learnt and did not want to return to school. The child reporters of Sunki talked with her, convinced her and her mother and ensured that she attended school again.
The child reporters have been just as effective in their own homes, propagating the use of trash containers, which they made from old newspapers.
Field evaluation of the project reveals that the child reporters have improved in the following areas: regularity in school attendance, handwriting, interest in studies, outlook, knowledge of the outside world, speaking skills, curiosity regarding their environment, and initiative-skills.
The best writings are put together in the form of a monthly newsletter titled “Ankurodgam”, one thousand copies of which are circulated to the top decision makers in the state and district, media, and key NGO people. The newsletter has been welcomed at all levels and is being used as a monitoring tool by the district authorities who have remarked that the child reporters’ bulletin gives them not only a first hand account of the outcome of their schemes and work at the village level but also provides the opportunity to take corrective actions.
The administrative heads of Koraput have requested UNICEF to expand the child reporters’ initiative to the entire district.