Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Educating Girls

Girls and boys line up for registration
It is our policy in Project Mala schools to admit, as far as possible, equal numbers of boys and girls. This is not difficult to achieve in Guria, where there is a large population and, though rural, the communities are strung out along the GT Road and therefore more sophisticated than the villages in the hinterland. The villagers of Guria and its environs are more likely to value the education of girls; they see around them educated women working in professional jobs and can imagine one day that their daughters might do the same. Although marriage and family is still the goal for Guria girls, parents are increasingly happy for them to delay until they have finished their schooling, recognising that an educated girl has more to offer a prospective marriage partner as a wife and mother who will be able to guide her own children as well as bring an income into the household.
Although boys still tend to do better academically, and girls are still taken from their studies to do household tasks, at registration each year we see huge numbers of bright and eager girls brought by their parents who hope that they will gain entry to our Primary department.

It is a very different matter in some of our other Primary schools, in particular Turkahan, Hasra and Mujehra. In these schools the combination of rural isolation, very conservative communities and widespread illiteracy has produced a marked inequality between the prospects of boys and girls. However hard we try, it seems, by the end of Primary school girls are lagging behind their brothers academically, and although there are individual girls who do very well, far fewer of them pass the entrance exam into Middle school. What can be going wrong? Surely once they enter our Primary schools all girls should be able to take advantage of the opportunities offered by education and shine equally with the boys? We know very well that they are born with equal capacities, so what is happening in their early years that renders so many of them already at the age of six lacking in the ability to learn and flourish?
Children and parents gather on registration day

In February this year I was present at the registration days in several of our rural Primary schools and it was then that the full extent of the problem really hit me. On registration day the children come to the school to register their names and have a short entrance interview to decide whether they will benefit from our fairly intensive primary education system (we complete the five years of primary school in three years). At each school there were far more boys brought for registration than girls, sometimes twice as many. What is more, the boys were generally accompanied by a male relative - father, grandfather, uncle - or sometimes all three. Boys were smartly dressed and brushed for the occasion; clearly their educational future was of concern to their families. Many of the girls, however, had come alone to registration, or with one woman acting as chaperone for several girls at once. A large proportion of the girls were shabbily dressed, unwashed and apparently uncared for but what was much more worrying was their performance at interview. Although the teachers interviewing prospective pupils ask children to read, to identify numbers and letters and a little general knowledge - many of the children who come to register with us have already completed one or two years at government Primary school - we are well aware that some children will have had no education at all, or any guidance at home. These children are given simple non-verbal reasoning tests, asked questions that require only an open and curious mind, and judged on the native intelligence they display when confronted with new challenges. Teachers put the children they interview into categories indicating their perceived ability and when we draw up the class lists we try to take as many children as possible from the upper bands, as far as is commensurate with adhering to our other goals; to educate an equal number of boys and girls and to give priority to children from the poorest families.

When we draw up the lists there are usually plenty of boys who were marked A or B at interview and it is fairly easy to fill half the class. Sadly almost no girls figure in the top academic band, and very few even in the second. In order to have enough girls in the class we have to choose the majority from those who do not appear, at interview, to show the requisite ability to cope with an accelerated primary curriculum.
Once they start at school, many of these girls fall very quickly behind the rest of the class. Although we give them extra help and remedial teaching, they lack confidence and are slow to grasp those basics of Hindi and maths needed to move ahead with the rest of the class. It seems as if they have not been given the same start in life as the boys and lack some of the basic building blocks with which to create new learning. And indeed, there is a marked difference in the upbringing of little boys and girls in the traditional rural village. If there is an errand to be run a boy is more likely to be chosen. Male infants accompany their fathers to market and are shown off, their skills praised, questions asked and answered. They see a wider slice of life, are encouraged to be curious and adventurous. Girls are kept mostly at home, engaged in domestic tasks and childcare. Their mothers, aunts and grandmothers often have no experience of life outside the village and are unable to answer questions about the world and it seems possible that many little girls don't receive anything like the same stimulation and encouragement as their brothers.

It was with this possibility in mind that we came up with the idea of starting a pre-school group, for girls only.

To be continued.............................

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A new video for Project Mala

Earlier this year two talented film makers and photographers, Phil James and David Francis from Shadowplay, a creative design studio based in Cheltenham, kindly agreed to spend a week with us filming in and around the Project Mala schools.

On their return to the UK they produced a beautiful video montage of footage shot in the schools and surrounding villages and in nearby Varanasi, and entered it into the Association of Photography awards where it was chosen as one of the top three videos in the Moving Image section.

Now Shadowplay has also given us the gift of a video showing the work that Project Mala is doing to educate children in the poor rural communities in which our schools are based. This video is an excellent introduction to our schools and our children. and we are very pleased with it.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Light to Study By

Anju is a senior pupil at Project Mala school Guria. A shy girl, she is unwilling to push herself forward in school and so I had not had many opportunities to get to know her well. In September, however, when I visited the schools I noticed that Anju was performing particularly well in class, consistently gaining marks in the top 20%. I was particularly impressed when I learned that Anju is one of the pupils who has no electricity at home and therefore cannot study after dark. As a girl, and the eldest of several sisters, she is responsible for helping her mother with domestic chores before and after school and as a result she and her sister, who is in the Middle school, often find that they are unable to revise important school work, complete their homework or study for exams. The only light available to the family is from one kerosene lantern and, as you can see, it does not give enough light to read by.

Studying by the light of a kerosene lamp

In spite of this, both sisters are doing very well at school, but it is a constant battle for them to keep on top of their work.

We had been experimenting with a type of solar powered lantern that we thought might benefit children without electricity. Indeed, so unreliable is the power supply in rural Uttar Pradesh that even homes which have a power supply frequently find themselves without electricity for days at a time and, if they can afford it, rely on battery powered lanterns which they recharge when they do have electricity. So we feel that most of the children in our schools would benefit from solar powered lamps.

 After some research we found what we consider to be the perfect reading lamp, from an interesting company, Observing i. This is a venture that aims to bring practical, affordable solar power solutions to the villages of India and their lighting systems are extremely well thought out. The lamp we have chosen is a good example. While other lanterns shine out horizontally, making it difficult to focus the light on your work, the lamp from Observing i is brilliantly constructed on a stand, with a round headlamp that can be rotated to shine just where it is needed. The light is bright and clear so that the children can study without straining their eyes.
Anju with the new solar light

The headlamp can be detached from the stand and hung up by its strap to give a light anywhere in the house, for cooking or other household tasks as well. The elastic strap is also designed so that the lamp can be worn on the arm or wrist so that it will light your path at night (to the field latrines, for example, or to tend the animals). It is equally useful to alert traffic when the children are walking beside the road and it can be put on a bicycle and used as a cycle lamp.

Anju was one of the first pupils to be given one of the new solar powered lamps and in this video you can see what a difference it has made to her studies.

We have given out 15 lamps to the pupils we feel need and deserve them most, but we hope in future to be able to provide every senior and Middle school pupil with a lamp. Being able to study after school doesn't just improve the academic standards of a single child; the entire class benefits when every pupil is able to keep up with their peers.

There are other benefits though. With solar lamps, a family without electricity is no longer reliant on expensive, dangerous kerosene lamps. Apart from the effect of fumes on the inhabitants of small mud huts, kerosene lamps often cause fires, and of course affect the environment too.

For a donation of £25 you can buy a lamp for a Project Mala pupil.  Click here  to donate and shine a light for a pupil like Anju.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Heading Template 1500 w
August 2012

Dear Robin,
Nanhaki dies from snake bite

Nanhaki joined our new pre-school programme for girls in April. As her photo shows she was a happy child and full of life and would have made it to our primary school. Her life was cut short by a tragic accident after she arrived home from school.
Nanhaki was playing near her house when she was bitten by a snake, probably a
cobra. The snake was in a pile of cow dung cakes and bit her on the foot when she was near. She told her father, who at first did not believe her, but as she became ill he took her to the local medicine man who tried to get her to drink a potion he had made up but she was already too ill and died soon after.

Sadly, you will see from the list below that we lose a child each year from accidents like this. The number who are injured will be ten times this number. It is a hard life for our children in rural India.
List of Mala children who have died
Scholar No Name Class School Date Reason
G0106 Deen Mohamad
Guria 24 August 1992 Brain fever
G0039 Reeta
Guria 18 December 1992 Due to cold
G0388 Surendra Kumar
Guria 11 May 1997 Road accident
A0125 Rajendra Prasad
Amoi 28 March 1998 Burned in house fire
A0298 Ram Sajiwan
Amoi 21 September 1998 Brain fever
G0828 Radhika Devi
Guria 12 February 2000 Road accident
H0488 Shiv Pujan
Hasra 1 April 2003 Accident by tractor
P0314 Ram Kishun
Patehera 30 September 2004 Drowned in pond
G0525 Ajit
Guria 31 May 2005 Road accident
M0439 Pooja
Mujehera 27 June 2006 Rabies from dog bite
P0565 Ashok Kumar
Patehera 6 May 2007 Accidentally shot
T0022 Sabita
Turkahan 31 July 2007 Brain fever
G0990 Parvita Devi
Guria 12 August 2008 Brain fever
G0408 Ashwanai Kumar
Guria 2 November 2009 Rabies from dog bite
A1044 Karan
Amoi 30 May 2011 Fever and stomach ache

Nanhaki Pre school Turkahan 9 August 2012 Bitten by snake

Pre-school girls with teachers and Nanhaki - 2nd row right

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Dush raises over £1,250 for Mala
Dush with his medal

Dush Patel and his family have been sponsoring a child with Project Mala since March 2011.  Dush takes a keen interest in our work in India and wanted to do more to help the project.

He decided to raise some money for us by running in the 2012 Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa.

The race from Pietermarartzberg to Durban is over 56 miles (89 km) and attracts 18,000 competitors.

Dush set himself a training programme that covered over 750 miles in his preparation for this event.  You can see more                        photographs of Dush on our website www.projectmala.org.uk
The new vehicle with
driver Driver Daktar Prasad

Dush covered the 56 mile (89 km) in just 11 hours and 10 minutes and has raised over £1,250, which went towards a replacement for our ten year old vehicle which had done over 200,000 km.

Our grateful thanks go to Dush and his supporters for this welcome contribution.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Virendra finds water

In the part of rural India that Project Mala works, a number of essential items we all take for granted in the west are not available. One such item is running water. All of our schools rely upon hand pumps, but finding water for the hand pumps is a problem.

It has been particularly difficult to find water at Turkahan School where two wells have been dry. When the drilling engineers had no more suggestions, up stepped Virendra, who, using a coconut as a water diviner, detected water and sure enough at 300 ft down water came gushing out.

If you think someone else may be interested in this newsletter please forward it on.

Robin Garland
Project Mala
01904 786880