Child reporters from villages in Orissa advocate and monitor social and environmental changes
by Lalatendu Acharya
August 2005 - Anupama is an eight-year old tribal girl. Of slight built, a rather thin figure in her ill fitting school dress, she scampers barefoot down the village road. As she approaches us, she whips out a pen and pad. The questions fly thick and fast. “Who are you? What are you doing in our village? Are you from the government? Which department are you working for?” Looking closer, one finds an earnest face with a determination and sense of authority. And with a proud gesture, she shows an identification badge – Ankur Child Reporter.
“The roof of our school leaks in the rainy season. There is no toilet or playground in our school. We face problems”, Anupama writes in the child reporters' newsletter published every month.
“There are many children in our village. But half of them do not go to school. Parents send them to guard the cattle. Children are punished if they do not obey them”, writes Kumar Muduli of Murkar village.
“People in our village do not use mosquito net. They also suffer as there is no hospital in the village”, writes Sibaram Pangi of Deopottangi village
There are numerous reports from the “Ankur” child reporters on what they see, their experience and the process of development in their villages.
The children came in groups of fifty to the initial training and orientation at the district headquarters in Koraput. Most of them had never ventured anywhere outside of their village except maybe to the adjoining jungles and mountains to gather wood or berries. Staying in a hotel, eating sufficient and tasty food regularly at breakfast, lunch and dinner and seeing, touching and riding the locomotive train were all novel and unforgettable experiences for them. For two days, they observed, wrote, presented, spoke and were listened to, one of the most important moments in their lives.
The media and the officials were pleasantly surprised at what they saw in their interaction with these children. The school children, ranging from eight to thirteen years of age, were all students of Grades III to VIII. Days later, the children wrote their own first monthly newsletter. The children first write down their daily reports in a diary provided to them by UNICEF and collate them at the end of the month and publish it in the newsletter. Six hundred copies of the newsletter are distributed to the policy makers, decision makers and media of Orissa every month.
The Collector and the District Magistrate of Koraput, Mrs. Subha Sharma lauds the child reporters, “The world when seen through the eyes of a child, looks entirely different”, she says. “Children are able to see everything in stark reality, without the biases and prejudices which all human beings acquire with age”.
The Governor of Orissa impressed by the children’s efforts has said in his congratulatory message, “The novel concept of involving children to observe, react and report on their surrounding is commendable because what the children do is based on truthfulness and honesty. The process will not only inculcate in the children a spirit of fearlessness and truthfulness, but will also help them grow as responsible and concerned citizens.”
The reports have created a stir. The Engineer in charge of sanitation asks the children to report on the progress, if any, in the subsequent bulletins. The Commissioner and Secretary of Rural Development department calls them the eyes and ears of the village. Some call them police, some monitors.
Some of the children are also doers. Chinmayee Subudhi, a fearless girl child reporter of Murkar village helped avert a big fire in the village by raising an early warning. Manaswini Bagh, with her friends from the child reporters' team from village Padabagri, cleaned the dirt near their tube well. The children, while reporting are also getting aware and concerned about various social issues such as child marriage, food habits, sanitary habits of people and the high consumption of liquor in the villages. They have also understood that into write a single sentence they have to read many more and it has raised their interest in studying their text books. Realising the value of reading, they are also trying to convince out-of-school children to join and attend school regularly.
Recently, a group of child reporters travelled to the state capital Bhuvaneshwar to make a presentation on the water and sanitation issues in their villages to a group of 100 senior officials of Government of India, DFID, CIDA and UNICEF gathered together for the Mid Term Review of UNICEF Child Environment Programme in India. Their reports and outspokenness impressed the gathering and made an impact.
As UNICEF’s state representative for Orissa, Mr. Tom Olsen says, “We have a dream to build a cadre of child reporters, many more like Anupamas - a cadre of children from each of the 1922 villages of Koraput. These children report on the development in their villages, monitor them and act as advocates for girls’ education, school sanitation, child survival – bringing about the desired change”.