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Street Smart to Life Smart: Adolescents in Guwahati learn to cope with life’s challenges

© UNICEF/ 2009
Talking through issues: Children attend a Life Skills class at a Hard To Reach (HTR) children’s centre in Guwahati

Guwahati, Assam: Practise first and then ask others to follow. This seems to be the mantra which is moving hundreds of under-privileged adolescents in Guwahati, to usher a change in their life and that of their peers and community.

A year ago, Pinki, 14, was into dendrite-sniffing. “I picked up the habit from my brother,” she informs.

Nilima, 13, used to chew tobacco. Much like many of her peers who are domestic helps or work in shops, hotels, or sundry odd jobs in the city.            

“One couldn’t enter the classroom due to the stench from tobacco wrappings strewn all around,” remembers Nurnahar Begum who teaches at  Dakhingaon Jyoti Kendra, an alternative learning centre for Hard to Reach (HTR) children run by Axom Sarba Siksha Abhijan Mission (SSA), the flagship education programme in Assam. 

But that was a year ago. Much has changed since the Life Skills Education (LSE) programme started in 100 Jyoti Kendras (HTR centres) of Guwahati, as a joint initiative of SSA and UNICEF.

Little Shabnam  has become a symbol of courage in her community. She saved herself from being molested by her neighbour.

Pinki has given up dendrite and is helping her brother shake the habit. So has Nilima. She is now addicted to creative arts, remarks her mother, much relieved at the change in her daughter, and immensely grateful to the LSE programme. 

Little Shabnam (name changed), 10, has become a symbol of courage in her community. She saved herself from being molested by her neighbour. “I shouted for help, instead of keeping quiet,” she confides, and “people came to help.” 

Baseeran, 14, spends her free time informing younger kids about HIV. Raju,10, motivated his mother to open a savings account at the post office nearby.

“The LSE programme is charting out a new course for over 2,500 HTR children in some of the most impoverished urban areas of Guwahati,” informs Sarat Gogoi, State Coordinator, SSA - Urban Component.

Three-fourths of these children are below the age of 12 and 60 percent are girls; almost 53 percent of the boys and 37 percent girls are working.

© UNICEF/ 2009
Learn before you teach: SSA functionaries undergo Life Skills Education Training at Guwahati

As first generation learners, these children fight pressure and prejudice from their parents who would rather have them work than `waste time in school.’
Fighting, bullying, abusive language, drugs, sexual abuse and violence figure prominently in their lives. LSE is equipping these vulnerable children with skills and support to cope with life’s challenges – from substance abuse, sexual abuse, HIV AIDS to communication, decision-making, self-esteem and relationship issues.  

UNICEF has pitched in by adapting the LSE training modules into Assamese and developing SSA’s capacity to impart LSE to the HTR children.

UNICEF has pitched in by adapting the LSE training modules into Assamese and developing SSA’s capacity to impart LSE to the HTR children.

One-to-one support by Siksha Karmis (education workers) responsible for the running of the HTR centres, has contributed significantly to improving children’s awareness and attitude and boosting their confidence.  LSE seems to have rubbed off on the facilitators too. “I have learnt to manage my own anger better,” shares Siksha Karmi Bhaswati Das. “We are better teachers now, thanks to LSE” she adds.

With the centres becoming more lively and the lessons more useful, children are becoming more regular in their attendance. Occasionally, children from nearby mainstream schools also join in the interesting LSE classes.  “Life Skills Education should be in all schools,” they say.  “And also for parents,” suggests Keshab Bora, Life Skills Facilitator, SSA.       

Convinced of the benefits of the LSE programme, Mission Director, SSA, Avinash Joshi, is planning to scale up the initiative to over a 1,000 HTR centres  reaching out to some 25,000 urban poor children in the State.

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