Child Reporters Take Up Social Issues in Rajasthan Villages
Nitin Jugran Bahuguna, Tonk, Rajasthan
The hand pump in front of the grain storage at Chanpura village in Tonk district of Rajasthan had not been working for four months and the villagers were at a loss how to get it repaired. It was only after 13-year-old Savitri Sharma from the village made a written representation to her Sarpanch (Village Council Chief) and fired off a news write-up which was carried in the local newspaper that the authorities sat up and took notice.
Similarly, in Mendwas village in the same district, it was the collective journalistic efforts of cousins Suman and Anand Yadav, both 16, which highlighted the sorry health plight of the village women and children due to no primary health centre or other medical facilities nearby. “I have brought this issue to the notice of our Health Minister as well as the local Legislative Assembly member and will continue to pressure them through my articles to start a primary health centre near our village”, states Anand.
These enterprising young grassroots reporters are part of a child participation initiative launched by UNICEF in collaboration with the Government of Rajasthan to involve youth in village planning and development and their maiden efforts have already stirred an apathetic district administration into re-examining the many ills which plague its villages.
The project, entitled “Gram Shakti”, uses an integrated village-based approach and was launched in May 2007 in all the 1,030 villages in Tonk district, situated about 120 km from the state capital Jaipur. It is being implemented by six NGOs in the six blocks of the district and is overseen by the national-level NGO, Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK).
As part of the village planning process, 54 child reporters were nominated by the community as volunteers to create awareness leading to community mobilization for social, physical and economic development.
The 54 child reporters in the age group 11-18 years were selected out of 27 schools from two blocks after a rigorous examination involving essay writing, oration and extempore speech, explains Mahesh Kumar Sharma, NYK’s District Youth Coordinator. They were then enrolled into an extensive training programme aimed at enhancing their writing and reporting skills to present various problems in order to find subsequent solutions.
Points out Shikha Wadhwa, Communication Specialist at UNICEF’s state office in Jaipur, “Susceptible to exploitation and abuse, children are most affected by the actions and decisions taken by adults. They deserve to have their voices heard on issues that affect them and they can speak on things that adults do not know or feel, or perhaps, overtime, have forgotten”, she observes.
Armed with identity badges, the young reporters returned to their villages and interacted with Panchayati Raj representatives, school principal and health functionaries and brought to their notice various problems being faced by the community regarding routine immunization, education, agriculture, electricity and water supplies.
“Every day the child reporters bring out a newsletter which they put up on the notice board of the Gram Panchayat Headquarters. They also send these to the local newspapers and many of their articles have appeared in print on a regular basis”, says Mr Bharat Lal Meena, Block Coordinator of the Rajasthan Public School Sanstha (RPS), one of the NGOs implementing the project.
Despite initial hindrances, the children are determined to carry on. Kamal Kumar Meena, 15, of Badibarthal village says: “Our village faces a severe water crisis as there are only three hand pumps catering to a population of 750. I have written so many articles on this issue and several have appeared in our local newspaper, but the authorities remain indifferent to our plight”. Undeterred, Kamal is planning to meet his Sarpanch and other stakeholders to mobilize support for installation of more hand pumps in the village.