Children enjoying the Meena story being enacted by their classmate in Kaprada primary school.
By Gurinder Gulati and Vidya Kulkarni
Panchafula Khandare, an illiterate woman from Parbhani district, Maharashtra, is a daily wage labourer. She travels wherever her work takes her, her young daughter in tow. Her struggle for daily survival compelled Panchafula to ignore her daughter’s education. However, now she is determined to enroll her daughter back in school. How did this transformation happen?
Thanks to the members of Meena Manch, a group of adolescent school girls from the village, who convinced Panchafula on the importance of educating of her daughter. “The girls from Meena Manch visited me frequently and urged me to send my daughter to school. When I saw how confident and well turned out they were, I decided I wanted my daughter to be just like them. Now she regularly attends the classes,” says Panchafula gladly.
Kinjal, Class 7 student of a remotely located Avdha Primary School in Valsad district of Gujarat, was withdrawn from school by her mother because she wanted her to work in the carpet making unit and earn Rs.50 a day for the family.
Kinjal’s return to the school would not have been possible but for the key role played by members of the Meena Manch, set up by young girls from Avdha Primary School. "We went to Kinjal’s house and convinced her widowed mother that not sending Kinjal to school will ruin her future. She listened to us and has now started sending Kinjal to school", said Kinari Jaisingh, a classmate of Kinjal and a member of the Meena Manch.
Meena Manch is a forum of school girls, inspired from the loveable cartoon icon Meena that is produced by UNICEF to promote the values and rights of the girl child. These forums have been formed in all public schools and are engaged in socially meaningful activities within their community. This year the forums took up the issue of out-of-school girls to complement the government’s school enrollment drives in Gujarat and Maharashtra during the second fortnight of June.
Members of the Meena Manch have been entrusted with, among other activities, the responsibility of pursuading village elders and parents to ensure that all the children, especially girls, attend school. They maintain an attendance register to track children who get enrolled but drop-out at a later stage. They also organize street plays and act out Meena stories to build awareness about the importance of educating girls.
School teachers admit that the Meena Campaign has been quite a hit with the village girls who remain ever inspired by her stories of educating girls, practicing good hygiene behaviour like using soap for washing hands, giving ORS to children suffering from diarrhoea, etc. They also agree with one of the Meena stories that both boys and girls need the same type and level of nutrition.
Meena Manch members not only work to improve school enrollment figures, but are also equally concerned about regular attendance of the new entrants. The Manch members regularly monitor and record the attendance of the newly enrolled girls. This helps to identify and solve problems, if any and build confidence of girls who fear that they would lag behind in studies.
According to a recent evaluation study conducted by the Social Research Institute, the Meena Campaign has had a very positive impact on attendance in schools. It had also resulted in improving life skills among children, e.g. 98% of the children interviewed felt that they were feeling more confident and could communicate more freely among their peers as well as with parents and teachers.