At a grand mela organized by UNICEF and the district administration in Sangareddy as part of the children’s day celebrations, 2010, a child reporter from Medak district describes the content of the wall newsletter that she and her team has created.
By Vikas Verma
SANGAREDDY, Medak, 15 December 2010 -Thirteen-year old Divya and her friend Shanthi, are proud protagonists of a success story. They have spearheaded an initiative to secure clean drinking water, toilets and taps for their school at Nancharpalli in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh.
The children achieved this by making a small public appeal through self written and designed wall newspapers.
Ten-year-old Sunil’s story is similar to Divya’s. He and his team of child reporter friends, hailing from the Indra Nagar area in Siddipet district, wanted a make-over for their school.
The children drew attention of the officials to construct a room for kitchen; a compound wall to keep stray animals away; extra space in class rooms to accommodate around 285 children and taps for their water tank.
Recently, the village sarpanch has sanctioned a compound wall, construction is underway for a parapet wall on the roof and the water is snow readily available through the new and shiny taps.
Divya and Sunil are one among the 5000 child reporters in 1066 villages in Medak district. The Child reporters are trained to document and draw the attention of the village administration to the various issues surrounding them under the UNICEF’s Child Reporters Initiative being conducted in association with the district administration of Medak.
Making a difference
These changes though small have contributed to a silent revolution being pioneered by UNICEF through the Child reporters program. Launched in 2006 in Medak district, the objective of this initiative is to teach children to identify issues in the villages, to encourage peer education and learning, to promote child advocacy and child monitoring.
Concurs Sunil’s school principal, Varunamma, “The child reporters express their own issues very well. And we have succeeded in getting all this done in our school.”
Today child reporters act as documenters of a plethora of issues surrounding girl’s education, school sanitation, violence against women, tobacco and alcohol abuse, poverty, water and sanitation, child marriage, superstition, poverty and many more.
Enthusiastic Administrative Support
The child reporter’s initiative has come a long way from where it began since 2006. It has found good support from the state minister for Women and Children, Ms.Sunitha Lakshmi Reddy, who hails from in district Medak.
“When one reads the wall newsletters in villages, the awareness among children is evident. It has created an impact in society. For community members, politicians and district authorities, these wall newsletters are a rich source of information from the ground level,” says the minister.
The district administration led by District Collector Suresh Kumar, earnestly reacts to these children’s voices and says, “There is more clarity in school children about their problems. The children are talking to district officials and when children come up with issues we know they will be more realistic. I found it personally very useful because I am getting an actual account of the ground situation.”
Village authorities have been instructed to take the children seriously and fulfill the needs expressed by them.
No wonder these child reporters are now being looked at as harbingers of social change by the administration. In addition to being local journalists, children now act as peer group supporters in a child labour eradication program alongside the district administration.
As part of this program, representatives of political parties, policy makers and the district authorities along with child reporters took a pledge to work hand in hand in advocating eradication of child labour and identifying the perpetrators.
The launch of this program was a grand celebration on Children’s day – 14 November, 2010 held at the district headquarters. It was a gala show put together to mark the conclusion of week-long child reporter’s mela organized in ten different parts of the district.
Support from community
What was once met with hostility from elders and stiff opposition, has now converted to acceptance to a certain extent. This is evident by the fact that when the children paste their news letters, many senior members in the community pause to read them and deliberate about them. That itself is sweet victory for these kids.
Gangaiah, an elderly villager says, “Initially we did not know what these kids were up to. But we gradually realized that they are expressing their needs and it is our responsibility as village elders to fulfill them. It is nice to see them putting up something colourful on the walls.”
The program has evolved step by step into a full-blown movement over many years. But all the stake holders are aware that the time to rejoice has not come yet. As state minister Sunitha Lakshmi Reddy points out, this is just the beginning. “We can’t say change has come already. There is a lot that needs to be done. But the awareness created among these children is very encouraging,” she says.
Many challenges still remain in training children and converting this Child Reporters program into a medium of social change. Till now this innovative initiative, spearheaded by the BCC cell, was limited to the community workers and was not implemented within schools.
But now as the chronicles of impact are gradually rising, the need has been felt to institutionalize the program. The 170 odd high schools in Medak district will now implement the child reporters programs as part of their school system.
These young children have donned the hats of being agents of positive change, and today, they have indeed become catalysts of change. Their influence and enthusiasm is infectious, their example stimulating. Their voices might be little, but the change is surely meaningful.
With on-site report by Ms Durga Nandini