In Chattisgarh’s Tribal Villages, Kids Affected By Naxal Violence Now Strive To Be Doctors & Teachers

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Four years ago, 53 children in the Naxal-affected district of Sukma, Chhattisgarh were handed over blank papers and asked to draw anything that comes to their mind. The children, all around 9 or 10 years of age, poured their heart out with pencils and crayons. The volunteer teachers, most of whom hailed from urban parts of India, expected to see the quintessential villages, rivers, hills, birds and trees coming alive on the sheets. Little did they know that they were in for a shock. Seven of the 53 students depicted scenes from their village fairs and folk festivals. And all of the remaining 47 students had painted scenes of violence, dead bodies, explosions, combat and what not.

For decades, Sukma has been notorious for heavy Naxalite infestation. In 2012, nearly 40,000 kids were out of school, spending a childhood filled with fear of violence, chaos and poverty.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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Fast forward today, nearly 25,000 of them are receiving a regular and proper education, all credits to a young engineer who quit his corporate job to be beside these helpless children, in one of the most inaccessible and underdeveloped parts of the country.

Forsaking the comfort of a cushy job

Shiksharth, an NGO working with thousands of conflict-affected children in the remotest districts Sukma and Bijapur in Chattisgarh, was founded by Ashish Shrivastava around four years ago.

Ashish, who hails from a predominantly urban background, decided to leave his cushy job in Delhi about a decade ago. “I always wanted to teach young kids. Besides, the Delhi lifestyle was not appealing to me. So, I quit my job and started travelling across the remotest districts of India,” shares Ashish, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.

It was Ashish’s visit to Dantewada, one of the most infamous Naxal-affected zones, that shook him to the core. The tribal population in these forested hinterlands were in a way completely isolated from modern facets of the society.

The poverty & lawlessness turned kids to violence

Nestled in the lap of nature, their shabby huts and cold hearths spoke of abject poverty. They lived their days in terror, anticipating violent attacks or combat between the extremists and military forces.

Amidst all this turmoil, the education of the kids suffered drastically. Schools were closed down. The ones which were still active had very few teachers. Most children would grow up illiterate and they were easily contrived into militancy, taking up guns and bombs at an age when they should have been holding pens and textbooks.

“I felt a dire need for an intervention. Something, however little it might be, that can change the future scenario,” recalls Ashish now.

It wasn’t a warm welcome from the tribal community

He was well aware that the local community was quite averse to outsiders. Still, overcoming his fear and hesitation, Ashish embarked on a door-to-door mission in Sukma, to find out the actual situation.

“I saw orphaned children whose parents were victims of Naxalite violence. Parents were sending their five or six-year-olds to shelter homes to protect them. The kids had little idea of how beautiful childhood can be,” reveals Ashish.

“I had endless roadblocks to convince myself to go back to the usual life and leave these children the way they are. The villagers were quite reluctant to interact with city folks like me. In addition, the language barrier made communication almost impossible. Still, I persisted. I desperately wanted to save those kids from drowning into an abyss of uncertainty. I wanted to educate and mentor them into ideal future citizens. So, I stayed back,” he narrates.

Starting Shiksharth & changing lives

Armed with the motto to provide a service with solution, Ashish started Shiksharth – an academic foundation which intervenes in the existing government schools in the area to restructure their curriculums as well as improve the pedagogy.

Presently, Shiksharth is directly involved with over 3000 children and indirectly, with assistance from regional bureaucrats, they have reached out to around 25,000 more children all over Sukma and Bijapur. In these past three years, the organisation has helped reopen 85 primary schools in the area and are hoping to take the number to 100 by the end of 2019.

The unique pedagogy at Shiksharth

In a place where internet is a luxury, Ashish had to resort to old school methods to spread the word about his initiative. The children became their ambassadors with uninitiated families, unwilling to send their kids to school out of fear.

The way Shiksharth functions is indeed interesting as their focus lies on making any subject or topic contextually relevant. Ashish explains, “In our childhood, we learnt A for Aeroplane, B for Ball etc. Kids here have not even seen a highway in their life, let alone an aeroplane. So, if their textbooks teach A for Aeroplane, how will they relate? We have changed that to A for Arrow, a common equipment in their community.”

Shiksharth has introduced numerous contextual alterations which now kindle the kids’ interest in education. They are asked to pen essays on the local festivals and natural wonders, rather than an abrupt essay on, perhaps, the Qutb Minar. In Maths, we teach them basic addition and subtraction with local Mahua fruits. For senior students, the sales profits of the same fruit are used to teach arithmetic. Science for them means conducting physics and chemistry experiments with local resources or observing the plants and animals around them.

Shiksharth Fellowship

The Shiksharth fellowship invites young changemakers from all over India to devote a year to teach the kids in Sukma and Bijapur. Right now, 15 dedicated volunteers are involved in the 2019 fellowship programme.

For Ashish, it has been no cakewalk to work in these core conflict zones. In fact, he himself had seen quite a few dangerous encounters from close quarters. Initially, as an outsider, his identity was recorded and his activities were monitored by the Naxalites.

Roadblocks and achievements

He admits to have received gracious support from senior government officials, however, funding still continues to be his main struggle. Unlike other NGOs operational in villages, unfortunately, most CSRs are unwilling to involve themselves with these conflict-affected communities.

Ashish Shrivastava’s work is little known, but his tireless and fearless endeavours should indeed be lauded far and wide. For him, development is not concrete roads or skyscrapers, but food, medicine and education – the basic tenets of survival with dignity. And he has sacrificed his privileges to achieve the same. Efforts For Good wishes Ashish continue to inspire and transform more lives.

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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