This is the third in a series of posts about the development work of People's Rural Education Movement (PREM) in Orissa, India.
The majority of the 8 million Adivasi people of Orissa live in remote, inaccessible villages situated deep in the hilly, interior forests, where a lack of communication as well as other basic facilities are stumbling blocks for development.
Government outreach in education and health care is negligible in most of these areas. Not surprisingly, Orissa’s Adivasi people continue to lag behind the rest of India on socio-economic indexes.
30% of Adivasi children will never spend even one day in primary school, and only 1 in 4 will complete the sixth grade. Half of the population is illiterate. School attendance rates and dropout rates among Adivasis in Orissa are among the worst in the country. Teacher absenteeism, government neglect, poor infrastructure, lack of consideration for tribal culture and language, and lack of awareness among Adivasi of their rights, are among the proximate causes of these problems and only exacerbate the desperate condition in which these communities live.
A few years ago, PREM partnered with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to pilot a program to reach Adivasis in some of the most remote parts of Orissa. Through this partnership, PREM helped build Village Resource Centres (VRC) in eight different rural communities, while ISRO outfitted each centre with computer and broadcasting hardware to connect each VRC via satellite to a studio in PREM's headquarters near Berhampur.
Each Monday and Friday from its studio, PREM hosts a two-hour interactive broadcast on a scheduled topic or issue that simultaneously reaches audiences in all eight VRCs. The broadcasts usually feature one of PREM's ongoing initiatives in, e.g., pre-school education, malaria prevention, youth-club development, agro-forestry livelihood, early childhood and maternal care, eco-sanitation, positive discipline, and others.
PREM's role is to help train those community representatives who will in turn be developing these inititatives in the home community. Audiences of village leaders, parents, teachers, and youth ask questions on camera in real time and can also submit queries by email before and after the broadcast.
More often than not, in PREM's studio sits a small panel of experts and program leaders, presenting to the camera and taking questions from the participants at the VRCs. But frequently these twice-weekly broadcasts feature other, livelier acts: Adivasi singers, dancers and stage performers who present the material in a culturally contextualized fashion.
The two Adivasi men in the photo are presenting a song-and-spoken-word routine on the subject of eye care and preventing eye-related diseases. This is going to have the audience on the edge of their seats!