World Children’s Day 2021: Stories of initiatives by children, for children

On World Children’s Day 2021 let’s have a look at the motivated kids and youth of Jharkhand who are helping fellow children catch up on learning

Divya Khanna
Back to learning: Initiatives by children and youth of Jharkhand
20 November 2021

RANCHI, India: For Falak and Diwakar, youths in their early 20s, nothing is better than seeing the excitement with which young children run to greet them when they come to visit their community. These children reside in the slums of Ranchi in Jharkhand and have either dropped out of school due to prolonged closures or because their parents can no longer afford an education for them.

Falak and Diwakar are National Service Scheme (NSS) volunteers, who have been part of the HANSI initiative by UNICEF, which works on identifying slums in Ranchi and providing learning support to the underprivileged children who live there. The initiative recruits 15 volunteers for each of the seven slums identified in Jharkhand. The volunteers go to these slums and conduct classes for children, while also counselling their parents on the importance of continuing education.

“Amongst the poorer families of Jharkhand, alcoholism and domestic abuse have been prevalent for many years. The COVID-19 pandemic has further deteriorated the situation. Lockdowns have resulted in lots of migrant workers returning home with no source of income. The loss of livelihood and long stays at home have increased cases of alcoholism and domestic violence. It has been a very toxic environment for many children who have had to face the brunt of this while staying at home due to school closures,” says Brajesh Kumar, State Nodal Officer, NSS, Jharkhand and a Professor at Ranchi University.

COVID-19 pandemic made things worse

The pandemic also caused fear among children, who were afraid to step out of their homes. “They didn’t want to meet anyone initially. We started helping the communities with the distribution of masks, food and other essentials, and spoke to them about how the virus spreads and what precautions they can take to stay safe,” recalls 20-year-old Falak, who has been an active NSS volunteer for the past three years and has been engaging in webinars organised by UNICEF throughout the pandemic on COVID-19 and related issues.

Falak explains how children completely forgot what they had learnt due to the school closures. “They didn’t know basic alphabets too. Our first challenge was to help children get comfortable with us, after which we focused on helping them regain basic literacy skills. We started with using stones to write on the ground, and then slowly progressed to slates and notebooks. Now after five months, the children are able to write their own names.”

Diwakar enjoys using creative ways to teach these children. For example, he promises an apple to children who can spell the fruit’s name correctly. “It works!” he laughs, surrounded by children who are excited to be on camera with him. “I always wanted to do something for these children. We could see what the problem was, but we didn’t know how to help them. The second wave of COVID-19 was very devastating.  This initiative by UNICEF showed us the way to do something. UNICEF gave us tasks; now we allot learning tasks to these kids.”

Diwakar and Falak, along with their fellow NSS volunteers, started visiting the slum of Sarna Toli in Ranchi soon after the devastating second wave of COVID-19 subsided. As the restrictions lifted, their primary focus has been to counsel parents to continue the education of their children, as many families from this slum could no longer afford school fees, mobile data packs for online learning, or private tuition due to increased unemployment.

Back to learning: Initiatives by children and youth of Jharkhand

Eleven-year-old Sheetal had to study from home when her school closed. “My father started teaching me at home. I love his teaching, but I also want to go back to school as I want to meet my friends and teachers there,” says Sheetal, who loves spending time with Diwakar and Falak and wants them to visit more than just twice a week.

Explaining about the work with NSS, Prasanta Dash, Chief Field Office, UNICEF Jharkhand said, “We have been actively engaging with youth of Jharkhand since the last couple of years. Young people are powerful and very active and when we involve them in civic activities. It not only benefits the community but also the youth. In a state like Jharkhand which is impacted by conflicts, it is important to engage with young girls and boys. Their work during the pandemic is praiseworthy – from teaching children, to providing for oxygen cylinders.”

It’s not just the youth, however, who are helping revive education for children. In another UNICEF initiative, “Bal Patrakars” or “Child Reporters” of Ranchi are also working hard to counsel families and children on the importance of sending children to schools. This initiative by UNICEF in partnership with Nav Bharat Jagriti Kendra (NBJK), has been training children from classes 6 to 8 to become ‘child reporters’ in Jharkhand since 2009.

Fourteen-year-old Vikram Solanki, a student of class 9, is one such brave child reporter. Vikram and his group of fellow reporters had noticed several young children working in brick kilns and approached their parents on the issue. They counselled the parents on the ill-effects of child labour, the repercussions under law, as well as the importance of getting their children educated. “The parents were hesitant initially. They had financial issues and no one to help the sick and elderly at home. So they wanted to send their children to work in the brick kilns. After much effort and with regular counselling, they listened to us and started sending their children to school,” says Vikram.

“The child reporters are trained on the four pillars of child rights – right to survival, development, protection and participation – and are also encouraged to spread awareness on child rights in their communities, including the largely prevalent issues of child marriage and child labour. Till now, over 30,000 children’s capacities have been built so that they are able to express their concerns and speak for their rights,” says Prasanta.

Throughout the pandemic too, these child reporters have been a crucial force in identifying children who dropped out of school and helping them re-enroll. Some reporters have also been conducting classes for younger children in open areas (like under a tree) following social distancing, masking and other safety measures.

(With inputs from Astha Alang)