Ajay Goes To School

Ajay Goes To School

Ajay*, a class four student, lives in Thudibahal village in Odisha’s Balangir district. His father, is a migrant labourer who goes every year, for a few months, to work in the brick kilns of Telangana. The family migrates every year in search of livelihood; they own a small piece of land but that is not enough for subsistence.
 
Distress-driven seasonal migration is not only prevalent in the KBK (Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput) region but has also been happening for decades. According to data on district level estimate of poverty, released in 2017 by the Directorate of Economic and Statistics, the incidence of poverty is much higher in Balangir than the overall state; Odisha’s Poverty headcount ratio stood at 35% while Balangir was 4th highest with 67%. Tribals and Dalit families are particularly worse off with debts and drought taking a toll on their livelihood. Thus, migration remains their only solution. As they do so with their entire families, children’s education is often put on the backburner. 

Like everyone else, Ajay's father too migrated with his entire family and Ajay was pulled out of school in the peak academic session. Despite the RTE Act making elementary education compulsory, children such as Ajay often fall through the cracks. Every year they lose six months of their school days to migration and suffer a huge setback. 

In 2018, however, Ajay did not have to leave school to travel with his parents to the worksite. He stayed back with his grandparents and continued with his classes while his parents left for the brick kilns. This was made possible by Oxfam India and its partner ADHAR (a Balangir-based NGO), which ran a project for children of migrant labourers based on the Kinship Care Model. The model promotes children to stay back in their village, under the care of their family such as grandparents and uncles and aunts or other caregivers of the community, and continue school while their parents migrate. 

Under the project, community mobilizers were trained to counsel children about their rights to go to school and about the Right to Education Act. This helped them form child collectives; these empowered children were then able to negotiate with their parents to let them stay back and continue with school. Ajay first spoke to his parents individually and then tried to convince them through the collective. They finally agreed to let him stay back with his grandparents. 

PROMOTING MULTI LINGUAL EDUCATION IN ODISHA'S ADIVASI BELT

Oxfam India and ADHAR is promoting the kinship care model as an alternative to the seasonal hostels —promoted by the Odisha government in migrant-prone districts of Odisha such as Balangir—which has its limitation of accommodating all children. 

Not only has Oxfam India helped Ajay continue with his education, it has also created young mobilisers such as himself who now regularly visit households and mobilize parents and convince them of the importance of education and the role kinship care model plays in ensuring children don’t lose out on education. Besides working with parents, the child collectives are closely working with School Management Committees (SMC), Panchayati raj Institutions (PRIs), ADHAR, and Oxfam India to push their demands for more seasonal hostels for children of migrating communities. 

STRENGTHENING EDUCATION QUALITY IN UTTAR PRADESH

*Name changed to protect identity.


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