In Jharkhand, Anita Marande firmly told the Divisional Commissioner, “If children are given proper opportunities, we can do anything!” Any guesses as to where Anita is from? No, she is not from a plush, urban school.
Anita was 13, and comes from the Baikaria tribe. She lives with an old tribal person from a remote village of Jharkhand, India. Till a few years back, the 22 families living in the village did not even know that the empty structure that stood outside their village since 1972 was a primary school. No one attended it. There was not even a teacher assigned there.
Since the hamlet was poor, it was easy for the administration to forget that it existed. But with Anita around, the government had no choice but to sit up and take notice
What gave Anita the confidence to face the divisional commissioner? It was the three years of her being part of the children’s group initiated by SATHEE, a CRY supported NGO. Thirteen year old Anita with a spark, inescapable even to the most unobservant eye, became the undisputed leader. The non functioning school was discussed by the children’s group. 500 post cards about the non functional school were sent to the Divisional Commissioner and the district education officials. No response was received for two months – so Anita led a children’s rally to meet the DM and top education officials. This propelled the DM to take immediate action, assigning a teacher to the school.
The school teacher arrived, but he was not serious and was often drunk. This was not acceptable to the community, including the children. The children started keeping a daily diary which recorded the day’s proceedings in the school, including information about the teacher. They met the block education officials and shared the data from their daily diary with them. They received no response. They did not give up - they waited all day at the office of the officials. Finally at 3pm, the teacher was called. He arrived drunk. The officials were embarrassed and immediately suspended the teacher. Two new teachers were appointed.Anita supported the teachers by disseminating information to parents and students about exam dates, distribution of school books etc. She also reported child health problems to health workers and the village council. She influenced other children (specially working children) to join and remain in school.
The Baikaria children’s group meets every month to discuss issues like education quality, basic infrastructure at school, enrolment and retention issues and review data that they have recorded in their school daily diary. With the commitment of this group of youngsters, the Barakaira village school is functioning well and a majority of the children go to school. Mid day meals are provided to the tribal children. Drinking water and toilets still need to be addressed.
Anita became the leader of the Boarijore Gram Panchayat level children’s parliament which meets every quarter and monitors the functioning of nine primary schools. Data from the daily diaries of these schools are consolidated, reviewed and given to the block level education officials. The government officials give written receipts for the data received and are forced to address issues with the schools.
A16, preparing for her Class 10 exams, Anita's eyes sparkle as she dreams to do a teachers training course. Currently she is the leader of the district level children’s parliament, in addition to her rigorous studies, she continues to discuss education, health and child labour issues with other children, multitasking with an easy and efficacy difficult for most adults. She’s lived her words proving without doubt that “Children can turn the world upside down (in the right direction that is!)”