A visit to Grain School

                         A Visit to Grain School  -Guest post by Rahul Nayak 
Almost a year back, I accidentally came in contact with Subrat Goswami. We had a small meeting few days after Diwali and Subrat in his modest style explained about his efforts to form a small group of motivated people who work in suburban villages of Bhopal for betterment of women and children. So I got introduced to Ahambhumika, which Subrat hates to call NGO (he prefers calling it a group of motivated people instead). I guess that was the reason I was able to bypass my immense reluctance towards NGOs and meet Subrat with an open mind.

In the meeting which lasted just a little over half an hour, Subrat proposed to host a photo exhibition, with the aim of gathering public support for Ahambhumika. This eventually kept our extra official hours busy for almost next 6 months. We finally hosted the exhibition in May (2011). Along with many dignitaries who attended the exhibition, I met students of grain school, the women of a small village called Mahabadi in the rural suburbs of Bhopal.

Over the past one year, Subrat and I kept on exchanging our thoughts regularly. Although being in Bangalore I tried to be a part of Ahambhumika as much I can but it was only during my visit to Bhopal this Diwali I got the chance to visit the Grain School.

The School is set up in the village of Mahabadia at local Anganwadi. Ride to village is not a very smooth one as the approach road is quite rough. In the evening when there are no Anganwadi activities, the grain school classes are held from 7 to 8 PM on weekends. Subrat and his sister Kavita are the permanent teachers and occasionally some volunteers visit to take special classes.

We were there well before 6.30 PM and even though the class was supposed to start at 7 PM the attendance was very good soon after we arrived. I saw many familiar faces; I had met these women in the photo exhibition.

Their humble hospitality was the first thing that I noticed. I was greeted by everyone. They all came very well dressed and well prepared for the class. I guess over the past one year, it has become their daily socializing activity and I could see that they cherish it.

It has been a year since the current batch (the first batch) of the school started. The concept was simple, educate women of the village in some basic literacy and provide them with grains as incentive to attend the classes, so they don’t drop out of school in their struggle for basic necessities. Initially the 1st standard CBSE curriculum was adopted. Some books donated by Parham (http://www.pratham.org/) were also added later. Towards the end of it (as I write this) some vocational training was also included in the curriculum. The class which I visited was a knitting class where Kavita Ji was teaching the women how to knit Sweaters and mufflers.

The grains school has a pretty good attendance record. 30kg of grains (wheat and rice) per month is given to every woman attending the school regularly. The grain stock is accumulated entirely by the collection campaigns at the schools of Bhopal and generous donations from Ahambhumika well wishers and supporters. There has been no funding involved in the entire activity.

These women or Mahabadia, are now able to read news paper in Hindi, they read children story books and enjoy them, they can write (and not just their names but much more), they can even do basic arithmetic enough to multiply, add and subtract and understand their applications in real life scenario like basic household accounting. They can also knit sweaters and woolen wears for their dear ones. While I was there, one of the students, Santo, proudly exhibited a woolen cap she just completed in the class. It was no less than a novel invention for her. I also got to look at her notebook. Considering the fact that just a year ago, she was completely illiterate; anybody will be surprised to see her writing.

This batch of grain school is completing its tenure now. A year back, when Ahambhumika started the school, these women were completely illiterate. However their will to learn was strong back then and now even more so. Subrat told me that he was even threatened by a village man against teaching his wife. It was only because of the support of these women, especially Kamala Ji (in whose home the Anganwadi and the grain school is hosted), Ahambhumika was able to continue the school. Over the year, the effort has gathered tremendous respect amongst villagers. The effort has been supported by the Gram Sarpanch as well.

As we were about to leave, Kamala ji insisted that we must have some tea. Before we could say no, it was already served. Generally tea is served with extra sugar near around here but I guess she knew that the city people do not like too much sugar so it was served with exactly the amount of sugar I like. I could not help writing these last few lines. The hospitality of these women of Mahabadia is as warm as their curiosity to learn. I hope the next time I visit Bhopal I will have a chance to learn from them a little bit .
Below are some the photographs taken by me of Grain School.
Rahul Nayak 


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