We must have a theme, a goal, a purpose in our lives. If you don’t know where you’re aiming, you don’t have a goal. My goal is to live my life in such a way that when I die, someone can say, he cared.- Mary Kay Ash


I recalled these famous lines that I read a long time back when I first met 22-year-old Sohan Lal Bairwa on my recent field visit to Bhilwara district in Rajasthan. Every morning for the past two years, Sohan leaves his house with the same dream, which is to bring behavioural change in the minds of people in his village towards education. He works day in and day out, helping the community understand the value of education.

Even though Sohan comes from Bachh Khera village where the illiteracy rate is shockingly high at 51%and most parents prefer their children going to farms than schools, he successfully completed his master’s in commerce and later took an additional bachelor’s degree in education. At present, he works as Cluster Coordinator, in Khushi project in Shahpura block.

Sohan has 10 Anganwadi centres under him where he works towards creating awareness in the community regarding pre-school education and ensuring health and wellbeing of all children between the age 0-6.  For Sohan, who himself is a resident of the region, the past two years have not been easy. Largely, people in the block belong to the Schedule Tribe community and do not value education at all. In most cases, no one in their families has ever gone to school. “Establishing a rapport with them ensuring they listen to what one has to offer them for their benefit itself is a difficult task, leave apart influencing them enough to send their children to school”, shared Sohan.

When Sohan joined the project as the cluster coordinator the average attendance in the Anganwadi centre used to be less than 40 per cent. There were multifarious reasons associated with it. People in the region were not aware of Anganwadi centres and what its function was. They had no idea about how they could avail facilities from and at these centres. In cases where people had some idea about the centre, they were still hesitant to send their children, as most of these buildings were in a dismal state. In some cases, the roofs were leaking while in others there were algae growing on walls. There were also cases where parents were aware of the pre-schools but preferred sending their children to private pre-school. These private pre-schools used to take a hefty amount of money from parents every month and had no trained teachers to interact with the children and participate with them in activities that would benefit their mental and physical well-being.  But, as there was no trust in the Anganwadi system parents kept sending their children to private schools.

With support from Khushi initiative and the village administration, Sohan ensured that all Anganwadis in his jurisdiction were repaired after he joined the project. New toys were bought, and centres were painted in bright colours to attract the attention of children and parents. Once the infrastructure was in place he started inviting families to visit the Anganwadi centres and making them understand the importance of preschool education. He ensured that parents start to understand the difference between school and preschool.

The Anganwadi workers and the Asha workers were trained on modules which enabled them to interact with children in ways that helped their overall development.  Sohan made sure that all staff under him was hands-on with new techniques of story-telling and conducting activities that ensured both mental and physical growth of children.  Slowly, his hard work started to bring colours as parents of children in the community had now started noticing the difference between children who used to go to Anganwadi centres whilst others who went to private pre-schools or no school. It was evident that through help from trained workers and assistance from Sohan the children who went to Anganwadi centres were much smarter than the ones who went to private schools.

This was just half of the entire story; the larger part was engaging with parents who did not want to send their children to any school at all. These parents were field workers who left for their farms early morning and came back only late evening. They were fine with sending their children to school but did not want to come back from their farm in the middle to pick up their children at 12 noon when the centre shut down. These parents mostly were both working and did not have in-laws living with them who could take care of their children in their absence. Sohan along with the Anganwadi visitors visited their houses and to their farms many times encouraging them to endure a little pain but ensure that their children do to Anganwadi centres. He took along children who were going to the centre to draw a comparison between their children and the children who were going to the centre. In some cases, where distance was not a big problem he offered help in picking up and dropping the children. Slowly more and more parents started sending their children to the preschools.

As the Government has not budgeted for toilets and electricity in the Anganwadi centre, this was another reason that some parents were not willing to send their children to the centre, despite the good education that was being provided there. But, slowly people in the community started realising the great work that the Anganwadi workers were doing with assistance from Sohan and they came forward to help. People from the community started contributing to the Anganwadi in form of chairs, tables, toys, book etc. Some centres even managed to get RO water purifiers, electricity and toilets built with support from the community.

With what looked like a difficult dream once, slowly started turning into reality. Sohan Lal’s dedication and his never-ending spirit to bring about a change in the village he came from initiated change. In a village where the average attendance of children in Anganwadi centres used to be less 40 per cent, today one can witness a minimum attendance of 80 per cent any given day. The centres are bustling with happiness and joy of change. Sohan is extremely happy about the new face that the village is getting and aspires to do better every day. He is standing tall and now with the villagers having his back.

Can we really say things are changing for better if parents start withdrawing their children from private pre-schools and start sending them to Anganwadi centre? If yes, then I can say, I did witness a significant change under progress and it is the effort of Sohanlal who made sure he would not let his dreams die.


Posted By : Awesta Choudhary
Location : CIHQ