Shivani Rajak: The Volunteer and The Student

Shivani Rajak: The Volunteer and The Student

She keeps a busy schedule. At least it has been so for the last two months. A class 12 student of Science in Dharma Yadav Inter College in Pratapgarh in Uttar Pradesh, Shivani volunteers in a Mohalla Class. She comes to teach the class after her college hours.

From a dalit family, and eldest of four siblings, Shivani is driven by two things—one, the strong belief that children have to study so that they have a better future and two, that she wants to be a teacher and is seeing this as her training to become one.

When she first got back to school and was asked how she spent her days, she told her class about the Mohalla Classes. Her excitement can be gauged from the fact that on the first day to school she took the leaf art work that the children in the Mohalla Classes had made. Her classmates and teachers were very appreciative of the work that she was doing. In fact they wanted her to run similar classes for children in their villages.

31 children—18 girls and 13 boys—attend the Mohalla Classes in Gaukhedi village in Pratapgarh district. Alka, Oxfam India’s community mobiliser runs the classes here. Earlier it was during the day but now with the schools open she now takes the classes 3pm onwards. “There are more children who come and attend the classes but 31 children are regulars,” she says. The classes are a hit.

Students rush to the Mohalla Classes, an open air classroom just outside the house of Kaushalya Devi and her husband, who are more than happy to give the space for the kids. The bright red walls of the house make for a very cheerful classroom. Charts of alphabets and numbers, and innumerable art work by the students adorn the wall. On one end is a library—books hung on ropes tied to bamboo poles. And children take turn to recite the tables, both in English and in Hindi. Alka and Shivani are at the helm of affairs.

During the lockdown and the pandemic when the schools were shut and the government was busy promoting digital education, most rural children with no access to physical education or digital education were falling out of the folds of the education system. Alka first held meetings with parents, SMC members and youth in the village to assess the need for these catch-up classes.

Few mothers from the School Management Committee (SMC) said, “The kids were only roaming around and playing the whole day. They had forgotten everything taught in school. The Mohalla Classes are very useful”. Most parents were eager, there were some who needed some convincing. Alka and Shivani did several meetings to convince them.   

Alka spoke to the youth to suss out interested volunteers who might want to assist her taking the classes. The identifying of volunteers from the village was important so that the classes can continue even on days the community mobilisers aren’t able to come to the village. Among the youth, Shivani volunteered. There were a couple others from the dominant caste but were skeptical of coming to this particular part of the village. “The reason they cited were stray dogs. Anyway, I am more than happy to teach the students here.”

Her mother Manju Devi, sitting close by says, “I am very happy and proud that she is volunteering in the mohalla classes. She plans to continue teaching after completing her graduation.” Credit goes to Manju Devi who in the last two years did not discontinue her children’s education and provided them with the basic facilities, despite the fact that her husband had to return when the lockdown was announced in March 2020 and was without work for several months. She also played a critical role in convincing SMC members and parents of children in the village to send their children to these classes.

The oldest of four siblings, Shivani continued her studies online during the lockdown. She was one of the fortunate ones who had the resources. She helped her two younger sisters and brother at home as well. Even now when she comes to the Mohalla Classes and finds fewer children, she goes to their homes and talks to the parents and brings back the children.

“This is important for their future. I decided to volunteer because I knew I could help. Moreover, we have to put children back to school and if they aren’t able to recollect and understand what was taught to them earlier, they will lost interest and eventually drop out.” Now that schools are opening up, these classes are extremely useful as tuitions and an important opportunity for students to catch up.

Shivani has seen a marked change in the children. “They did not know their parents names, the names of the school they were going to in the past, or the name of the block and district they are in. Now all of them can read and write this basic information apart from the regular alphabets and numbers,” says Shivani.

Shivani teaches science and maths to the kids. The children are as fond of her as they are of Alka. And she is determined to continue the classes.

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