By Padmavathi. S and Sumathi Sivam
In light of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, we take this opportunity to take a closer look at children’s rights and the importance of education. We also reflect on some of Sehgal Foundation’s work, deeply rooted in children’s rights. The second Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education promotes basic education for every child, irrespective of gender. It states the value that children everywhere, boys and girls alike, should be able to complete their primary education. In India, increasing numbers of children enjoy the benefits of primary education, but the school dropout rate among children is still high, especially in the rural parts of the country.
Quality education, sturdy infrastructure, and access to clean water are some factors that are imperative for maintaining attendance and ensuring the empowerment of children. Our focus at Sehgal Foundation is to improve school infrastructure with the aim of improving student enrollment and retention. We also work with communities to increase access to water and this helps female students stay in school. Girls, especially, are known to have to stay at home to help with procuring water for the family. Additionally, the absence of toilets is particularly detrimental to the girl child attending school.
Sehgal Foundation works in the semi-arid area of Mewat where access to clean water for consumption, sanitation, and agriculture is still a concern.
It is an established fact that access to a safe and convenient water supply and toilets help to reduce poverty in multiple ways; it frees up time to focus on livelihood and agricultural activities, and prevents people from losing critical days from work and livelihood activities due to ill health.
Poor sanitation facilities in schools prevent girls from attending school, especially during menstruation. Girls are also overburdened by time-consuming water collection activities. In this context, Sehgal Foundation has been working on water issues by setting up rooftop rainwater harvesting structures in schools. This has helped in improving attendance of children who earlier did not have access to water inside the school.
The harvested water is also used for preparing midday meal. Additionally water literacy sessions are conducted in these schools, which focus on building awareness on basic hygiene issues, which we believe will pave the way for children to lead a healthy life.
Sehgal Foundation’s governance program known as Good Governance Now! focuses on improving the implementation of government schemes and policies, such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Mid Day Meal (MDM). Citizen leaders are made aware of key provisions of government programs, community monitoring, and appropriate grievance redressal mechanisms in the ‘Village Leadership Schools.’ For instance, in the tiny village of Udaka, frequent absenteeism of workers and teachers in the anganwadi (childcare) center and schools respectively had jeopardized their functioning. The citizen leaders complained to the block education officer, and he took a strict action against the head teacher of the primary school and transferred him. Teachers are now on time to school and conduct classes in a disciplined manner. Similarly, during informal interactions between anganwadi workers and citizen leaders on the poor functioning of day care centers, citizen leaders warned the workers to improve day care centers, or else they would file a complaint. Students now receive proper quality and quantity of food items for lunch, as prescribed under the Mid Day Meal program and in daycare centers. There is also proper distribution of ration as per the stipulated menu and preschool educational activities run properly.
At this point in time, where the need for securing the rights of the child and educating girls is receiving the undivided attention of the global community, it is imperative that we work collectively to provide sustainable solutions to these problems.