Archive for the ‘Community Engagement’ Category

The Web of Learning

Learning exists all around us. It is a fallacy that learning only exists in classrooms from a teacher who holds the key to knowledge. But we have seen that we can learning something from everyone. This is something that we inculcate early on in RDF schools, where everyone is seen as a learner and a teacher!

Kalyani, helping in her parent’s fields

Class 4 student, Kalyani, who studies in Redlawada School, like many RDF children helps her parents on the farm. She is learning so much from the life of farming with her parents. She is learning about the value of traditional work and agriculture from them – the challenges, the hard work, the vagaries of nature, about soil, water, crop cycles – life in the real world. Kalyani’s parents are teachers too and in turn, Kalyani can teach so much to anyone who has never had exposure to this way of life.

From the same school, come lessons from one of its first alumnus, Swapna. With aspirations to become an Engineer, Swapna is now pursuing B-Tech. She is happy to be following her dreams, after getting a good start in RDF. She returned to her school to give a motivational talk about following one’s goals to Class 10 students. Swapna, the motivational teacher,  emphasized the importance of English and Communication skills. It’s great to see the spectrum of learning that exists – right from one’s parents to ex-students! We are grateful for this web of connection that supports each and every one of our students inch closer to their goals and dreams!

 

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Unlikely Hero!

People have a tendency to salute those to achieve great feats or those walking the halls of fame. But we have many unsung role models who do their work quietly and care for no fame.

Today we would like to celebrate the life of Badavath Kumar, a student of the RDF VAPV Junior College. He belongs to a poor family – his father works on a small farm and his mother is a daily wage labourer. Both parents are illiterate. Badavath has always taken everything he does seriously – be it college studies, helping his parents or pursuing his dreams. He attends college regularly and is always at the top of his class. He helps his mother with house hold working every morning and assists his father in the field in the evenings. He continues with determination and focus even during festivals and holidays!

He has treasured the sacrifices that his parents have been making to help him get an education. See their daily hardship and wanting to help them in every way, he has been helping his father learn new methods of cultivation. For the past one year, he has been cultivating the land and has been able to generate better yields than previous years! He consults role model farmers in order to understand and learn better methods of cultivation and has been passing on this new found knowledge to his father.

With this deep understanding of the issues that besiege the agricultural sector, Badavath has his heart set on becoming an agricultural scientist, so that he can help more people like his father learn better agricultural techniques. With a drive to help poor, rural, agricultural communities; he has already been passing on methods to use and conserve water better, not burn crops and reduce the usage of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. He dreams that he can pass on the torch of advanced agricultural practices to his peers and generations to come, to help farming communities in India.

We applaud quiet leaders and heroes like Badavath, who work tirelessly in remote parts of India and shine a light for struggling, underprivileged communities, empowering them with their zeal and perseverance!

The Spirit of Giving and Volunteering

Volunteers – their spirit of giving, their generosity of time, effort and commitment have been an integral part of RDF’s story since inception. RDF has been progressing for over two decades, not only due to financial support from organizations and individuals, but very importantly, also because of the many individuals who have volunteered their time to support RDF’s work.

Ms. Geeta Nambiar, an educationist from Chennai has volunteered with many NGOs across the world. She recently spent one month based in Matendla School, to offer her services to the students and the school team there. With English being a necessary language and skill in today’s world, she focused her efforts on working with Pre-primary and primary children and teachers to build their English communication skills. She also spent time with the villagers who asked her a very important question – “What is the use of staying for just a month? To make a difference you have to stay for a year.” She was unable to stay longer, but feels that in order to support the school and community’s development, other volunteers should try to stay longer.

She wrote a beautiful note about her stay at the school and her interactions with the local community –

Ms. Nambiar, in a teacher training session in MS

It was a privilege, indeed, to help the teachers with their English, at this school, which started under the trees, nearly 20 years ago and waited for 7 years before it got its beautiful building.
I was deeply moved to hear that every brick was handmade by the parents. These unlettered farmers and shepherds realized the value of education and later, the value of English when they requested for the change of medium.
The villagers were warm and friendly and invited me to their homes and many asked many questions. As first generation learners, educated in the Telegu  medium, the sincere, dedicated teachers truly deserve support .
The school is run with transparency, honesty and integrity and optimum utilization of resources including human resources. Discipline is strict but benevolent and the students happy, healthy, friendly and confident. Congratulations to the RDF and to the staff and students on what has been achieved in Matendla. May you go from strength to strength.”

Ms. Nambiar’s commitment created a wealth of experience for the children, teachers and the extended community. Her stay will be cherished forever in our memory and we are very grateful for her selfless support!

Mr. Kaeding’s note about the 4 schools

Another visitor to the RDF Kalleda School campus recently was Mr. Erik Kaeding, an educationist and attorney from California, USA, who has been supporting RDF’s sister NGO, the India Rural Development Fund (IRDF), for several years, through fundraising efforts and also served on the IRDF board. This was his third visit to RDF and he took the time to visit the four schools. He observed classes, interacting with teachers and students. He appreciated the training the teachers have gone through that enables them to create student friendly teaching and learning techniques that enrich the classes. He provided feedback and suggestion for improvement, including suggesting other child friendly techniques for teaching. He also took a tour of the organic farms and the school labs. He was impressed with the expansion of infrastructure in the four schools that includes more classrooms and school buses. The methodical transition to English medium and the increasing use of English in conversation and in teaching also made a positive impression on him.

Mr. Kaeding, interacting with villagers

He met several parents in each school, taking feedback on the education system and facilities at the schools. He was very happy to learn that the parents are satisfied with the facilities and the quality of education being provided and that the children are also happy and proud to be a part of RDF. He also met several alumni to discuss their careers, giving them tips about furthering their skills and ongoing learning and development on the job.

We are immensely grateful to every volunteer who supports RDF and the advice and help that they extend to the entire community. In their unique ways, the help Educate, Engage and Empower these deserving rural communities!

A Culture of Compassion for Agriculture

Learning from one’s local environment and community is very valuable for school children. While learning from textbooks for a curriculum is important, it is equally important for students to be able to connect textbook knowledge to real life challenges around them.

RDF children belong to financially backward, rural, agrarian communities. Most parents are either small farmers, farm labourers and cattle herders. Learning about challenges in farming is necessary for them, if they are to begin thinking of sustainable solutions – this is the vision RDF has been actualizing – by educating them about the world around them, engaging in deep and meaningful ways with the local communities and empowering them to understand the challenges and find ways to help them in various ways.

In Kalleda School, as part of a Science field trip, students  of Class 8 visited farms in their local village to understand the challenges in a farmer’s life and to observe the use of a Harvester machine. The farmers were happy to interact with the students, demonstrating how the harvester helps them save time and money. The farmers explained how it is getting difficult to retain farm labour and the economic burden of agriculture. Use of technology such as the Harvester machines is helping farmers, but they need more help to make their lives financially sustainable. They also had a productive discussion about paddy and its diseases and methods being employed to ensure good crop year on year.

The Harvester machine

Through this trip, student became much more aware of the difficulties present in eking a living through farming, awareness about how Science and Technology can help farmers and that there is still a long way to go in order to make this more productive and less cost intensive for them. We hope this reality and its inherent challenges will help our students utilize their academic and life skills learnt in RDF, to return and help our farmers – the backbone of India’s economy

Schools of Care

An atmosphere of care and support can work wonders in a child’s life. When children face challenges and constraints in their personal lives, receiving encouragement from people who care about their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing really helps to build some self esteem and confidence in the children. We are very proud that the team at the Mandal Parishad Primary School and Zilla Parishad High School, Bahadurally is doing precisely that. A partnership between RDF and Tech Mahindra Foundation to improve the education quality in the school has led to teacher training for the staff to not only build academic quality, but also understand child behavior and inculcate an atmosphere of nurture and learning.

Sushmita, currently a Class 3 student in the Mandal Parishal Primary School, Bahadurapally, moved from Nepal to India in order to work and make a better life for themselves. Missing her life and friends in Nepal, Susmita felt lonely and cried a lot. She wouldn’t not participate in class or mingle with other children during extracurricular activities. She was unkempt and distressed.

The teachers took special interest in her, treating her with a lot of love, patience and kindness. They helped her mingle with her classmates, encouraged her to play sports and games and hand held her in her studies.

Slowly, everyone noticed a transformation in her. She started smiling, began taking interest in her classes, started to make friends, sharing her lunch with them and offered to help teachers and students. Susmita continues to need support and her teachers and classmates give a lot of attention and affection to her, thus helping her to develop herself.

Simhachalam, a student of Class 6 in ZPHS lost his parents as a child and was put in the care of the orphanage ‘Kutumbam’ in Bahadurapally village. He loves sports and has an innate athleticism. This ability was noticed by the Physical Education Teacher at ZPHS who took him under his wing to train him. He has been participating at the school level and is being groomed to participate in the Mandal level games. The orphanage also has a sports trainer, so Simhachalam is really enjoying all this time spent playing his favourite sports of Kabaddi and Kho-Kho. “I love to play and look forward to our sports period. When we play, everyone is treated equally and only our talent in playing the sport is considered by our PET”, he says. His ambition is to join the Army. “I workout daily to keep myself physically fit. I run, walk and do exercises everyday because I know that to be in the Army, I need to be fit and have mental and physical stamina.” The school provides special snacks to students who are training in sports and he feels that the snacks and meals provided by the school give him the required stamina and health as they are high in nutrition and healthy. We really hope that Simhachalam realizes his dream of becoming a good sportsperson and join the Army when he is older.

We are very proud of the efforts of all the teachers who understand students’ situations and are able to make a difference in their lives. Thank you to the MPPS and ZPHS team, for once again caring for all the children, allowing them to blossom in their own, unique way.

Empowered Student Leaders

Rural underprivileged children studying in RDF schools are not just given academic instruction in order to pass exams, so that they may get jobs in the future.  There is cognizance of the fact that they need more than their marksheet in order to do well in their life and prospective careers. Therefore, their all round development is nurtured carefully by the staff and management in each school.

Leadership skills are an area that is developed through assigning activities specific to the students. In Matendla School, the Head Boy, Head Girl, Assistant Head Boy and Assistant Head Girl conducted a meeting for students of Class 6 to 10, in the presence of the High School teachers, Assistant Headmaster and Headmaster of the school. The purpose was to understand things that are going well and challenges being faced by the students in school. The Head Boy and Head Girl gathered information from each Class Leader and presented the information to the staff and management. The students freely expressed their views and opinions and with suggestions from teachers and in-charges, they formulated a plan of action to improve academic input and output, discipline and school neatness.

The student leaders take on the onus of such tasks seriously and take a tremendous level of responsibility in planning and executing their tasks. It is also great to see students and teachers freely discussing values and what’s the best course of action for the students and the school. There are many such areas through which the school promotes a sense of leadership and responsibility among students. Good leaders take responsibility and work towards finding solutions to challenges, disseminate facts and information clearly and work as a team. These are life skills that are essential to living in today’s world.

The school in-charges recognise how crucial these skills are and help students to develop themselves, in order to prepare them for their future. This level of educating them and engaging with them in various activities eventually empowers them to take charge of their lives. It’s an invaluable skill that cannot be learnt through academic work only. We are very proud of the empowered community of teachers and students – empowered citizens  that we are building in each RDF school!

Community Care for the Children

In this digital era, the ramifications of being in an interconnected, digital world are not confined to just urban children. It easily reaches rural children too as technology has penetrated all parts of India. Therefore, it is not unusual, even in rural India to find children spending time on their cell phones, browsing the internet, spending time on Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter or watch serials on television. The hold of such digital media and content is so strong that it has been creating concern among parents and educational institutions, as students spend more time in the digital world than the real world.

A discussion with teachers & parents

The team at the RDF VAPV Junior College also had similar concerns. They decided to enlist the support of the parents and also spoke to the students to come up with ways through which students also focused on their education, rather than whiling away time on their phones and the internet. The college now send the homework requirements and project work via SMS to each parent. They are also informed if the student is absent, especially an absence of 3 days or more. They also exhorted parents to participate more in their children’s lives and take an interest in what they are doing.

Getting suggestions from parents & students

These initiatives have led to parent’s paying more attention to their children, helping them with their projects and homework, which is having a positive effect on their attitude and their academics too! The lecturers are also spending time engaging more deeply with the children, discussing education, life skills, careers and handling challenges in life. Undertaking such social responsibility together is what makes the RDF environment a dynamic one!

The parent community feels very motivated at the support and care that their children are receiving from the Junior College. Since all RDF institutions believe in transparency of processes, they also feel free to offer suggestions to the college management in handling everyday challenges. This is an empowered community at its best!