tuque /tūk/ n Canadian English, var. toque [19th c. Canadian French, from the French toque, from the Basque tauka] 1 A close-fitting knitted cap, often with a long tapering end or tassel or pompom. 2 fig Something quintessentially Canadian.
souq /sūk/ n from the Arabic سوق var. souk 1 An open-air marketplace. 2 fig A central meeting place for the circulation of news and ideas.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What PREM Does: Networking Grassroots People's Movements

This is the second in a series of posts about the development work of People's Rural Education Movement (PREM) Orissa, India.

PREM is what you might call an intermediary non-governmental organization (NGO); it is less a solitary, issue-based organization than a movement that reflects the direction of hundreds of grassroots people's and community-based organizations (CBOs). The basic idea of PREM is that people build up organizations, not the other way around.

At its inception as an advocate for education of the marginalized people of Orissa, PREM didn't just build schools. It began to build up a culture of education and literacy among those--aboriginal peoples (Adivasis), lower castes (Dalits), fisherfolk, rural villagers and farmers--who hadn't been exposed to the possibilities and rights of formal education. And it lobbied those who would deny these rights--inept or corrupt government, the haves of society--to be a part of changing the prevailing social values.

And after twenty-five years of evolution as a movement toward this value-based change, PREM now nourishes hundreds of small, village-level CBOs that, e.g., operate pre-schools, train and support local teachers, provide vocational training, promote new initiatives for curriculum development, and advocate for education among constituent communities of Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalized groups.

Over the years, PREM has expanded beyond education to facilitating projects and raising awareness about issues of health care (general, immunization, HIV/AIDS, malaria, hygiene, etc), water and sanitation, livelihood, governance, child rights and child protection, disaster relief and rights implementation.

Beyond CBO-level support at the local level, PREM has organized state-level and national-level networks so that these disparate CBOs might federate themselves for strength and unity in advocacy for change. The Orissa Adivasi Manch (lit: "forum") and the National Advocacy Council for Development of Indigenous People (NAC-DIP) are state- and national-level, respectively, federations of Adivasi-development CBOs and NGOs that are facilitated by PREM. There are similar federations formed by PREM for Dalits*, for the fisherfolk**, and for women's groups.***

From a wide-angle view, PREM is situated within an immeasurably extensive web of people, organizations, development initiatives and values that--with PREM's core competencies of knowledge and resource sharing, and its capacity to bring people together for change--is continuously building itself into a stronger and stronger alliance for social justice among the Adivasi, Dalit and other marginalized people of Orissa.

* The Orissa Dalit Manch is a state-level forum for Dalit issues and organizations. It's national counterpart is the Alliance Network of Dalits (AND).
** The Kalinga Fisher People's Union is a state-wide union of 35,000 local fishermen and women in Orissa. The East Coast Fisher People's Forum (ECFPF) is a network of fisherpeople's unions in various Indian States.
*** In 1992 PREM founded Uktal Mahila Sanchaya Bikash (UMSB), a state-level federation of more than 2200 women's self-help groups (SHGs), most of which are small, village-based micro-credit initiatives including seed and grain banks, local arts and crafts commerce, forest-produce and agriculture collectives, etc. All receive training and other organizational support from PREM. Today UMSB has more than 32,000 women members. UMSB is also part of a national network, INFOS (Indian Network of Federations of Microfinance Self-Help Groups).

Photo: Ceremonial planting of a tree at a meeting of various tribal organizations and CBOs with PREM.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What PREM Does: Child Based Community Development

This is the first in a series of posts about the development work of People's Rural Education Movement (PREM) in Orissa, India.

The Adivasis are the aboriginal people of India. There are more than 8 million in the state of Orissa alone, in 62 distinct tribes each with their own language and culture. The characteristics which unite them are unfortunately the least impressive. They live mostly in remote villages, deep in the forests and high in the hilltops, where most government services, such as education, do not reach.

Since 1975, the state government of Orissa has established hundreds of what it calles Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) centres in rural, Adivasi-dominant areas of the state. These centres are supposed to be a kind of multi-purpose daycare for young children (aged 3-5), providing Early Childhood Education (i.e., pre-school), health care and immunization, playground facilities, and nutrition (i.e. a free lunch). Each centre should have a staff of one teacher and one supervisor, be open for at least 4 hours per day, 6 days per week, and be centrally located and well-known in the local area.

Unfortunately, surveys conducted over the years by PREM and other non-governmental organizations have found that these ICDS centres are operating far, far below acceptable standards. Just some of the problems associated with ICDS centres in Orissa include that:
  • Most ICDS centres are located on the outskirts of villages or between villages, requiring foot travel by the young children as much as one kilometre each way;
  • Most ICDS centres are built in relatively large hub villages, around which are clusters of smaller hamlets whose children are not able to access the centres due to distance;
  • Teacher absenteeism (and associated corruption, such as teachers paying bribes to supervisors) is prevalent if not widespread;
  • Many ICDS centres are open only a few hours per week, usually long enough for the teacher to show up, serve lunch, and go home (i.e., there is no actual pre-school at all);
  • The vast majority of ICDS teachers and supervisors are not from the local community, meaning they likely do not speak the local tribal language and have difficulty communicating with children, parents and community leaders;
  • Child abuse in the form of neglect and corporal punishment is reported.
Furthermore, NGO studies have shown that Adivasi children perform better in primary school if they begin pre-school in their mother tongue (i.e. tribal language) and are gradually transitioned to Oriya, the language of instruction they will encounter in primary school. High dropout rates and low performance by Adivasi children in primary school are attributed, in part, to lack of mother-tongue introduction to education in pre-school, and to non-attendance of pre-school. (70% of all Adivasi children will drop out of primary school within one year, due to language barriers, inaccessibility, migration, and lack of priority placed on education by the child's family/community.)

Urged by Adivasi community and people's organizations who are frustrated at the inefficacy of government development, PREM in 2007 launched its CBCD project which has, at present, constructed or renovated more than 350 new community centres in rural Adivasi villages and hamlets. PREM provides training, helps develop Adivasi-focused curricula and materials, and pays initial salary to the staff of two facilitators per centre while initiating a fund for the community members to pay the costs in the long-term. The facilitators are without exception young women from the same tribal community if not the same village. The pre-school education in the CBCD centres is conducted in three languages: Oriya, English and the mother tongue (i.e. tribal language) of the children.

Concurrently, PREM organizes workshops and seminars in the communities for parents and local leaders on child rights, education policy, child-centred health care from pre-natal through adolescense, forming village education committees and parent-teacher committees, and monitoring the implementation and quality of educational provisions.

PREM also lobbies state education officials to take its CBCD project as a model for future ICDS, arranging exposure visits and encouraging local communities to advocate for the program's continued implementation.

Though a relatively young project, it has already yielded positive results. CBCD centres are open an average of four times more per month than ICDS centres. Children who transition from CBCD centres to primary school have a lower dropout rate than children who previously attended ICDS centres or no pre-school at all.

Most importantly, the entire concept of the CBCD centres is constructed from the bottom up, with the participation of village leaders, parents and even children's clubs in every stage from building construction to teacher training to monitoring. As a result, the process is less likely to fail the needs of the children, because the entire community has taken ownership of the program to educate young tribal children.