Belgaum district in Karnataka is a panoply of villages. But, sadly, many students from these villages are struggling to survive the cut-throat competition of the current market of employability due to lack of proper education and opportunities. The villages are surrounded by farmlands of sugarcane and corns and the common occupation for the majority population is that of daily wage labour. As a daily wage labourer, the pay is not enough to support the entire educational expenses of the kids. Many villages have a school that only accommodates students till grade 10th. Moreover, for further education, the students have to travel to nearby villages. The travel time is long and at times students have to wait for hours for the buses. Marred with undeniable problems like these, more often than not, students find it difficult to score on a higher spectrum in board and competitive exams.
CEO of Mass (Mahila Abhivrudhi Mattu Samrakshana Samasthe), Padmashree Ms. Sitavva Jodatti, recognised this problem. In association with the EveryChild organisation based in the UK, they decided to open centers in various villages in Raybag Taluka. In 2006, they inaugurated about 47 child activity centres in the villages. EveryChild funded this program till 2015. The initiative proved to be very helpful for the children. The legal support officer of MASS Ms. Irawati Mang visited London for training. This project came with the employment opportunities for the youngsters who were willing to volunteer to teach in these centres. Today they continue to run the centres even though their partnership with EveryChild ended in 2015. Several parents and local authorities have recognised the importance of the program and hence want to make sure that the project continues. They have decided to raise the funds with the help of community members so that they can help MASS continue the operations.
Currently MASS is looking after 55 active centers, 25 Raybag, 15 in Athani and 15 in Chikodi. They plan to add 15 more in the Hukkeri Taluka. The centres are monitored on the regular basis. The volunteers who teach are these centres are known as ‘Preraka’ (for boys) and ‘Preraki’ (for girls). The tuitions are taken every day in the evening from 5 to 7 pm. Apart from coaching students for various competitive exams, they also conduct many activities for personality development. MASS conducts student parliaments at taluka level and district level. The winners are sent to participate at the state level student parliaments. Every year, a girl and a boy participate at the state level from Belgaum district. Apart from this, they also conduct cultural programs annually where students are encouraged to perform. Volunteers also conduct parent meetings every month to discuss and solve any issue faced by either parents or the child. The centres have helped the children broaden their horizons.
In Southern and parts of Western India, a devadasi is a girl ‘dedicated’ to worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life. This regressive practice still has a firm grasp on the contemporary society. MASS tries to provide employment opportunities to Devdasi children through this project.
Also, anyone who has studied till 12th grade is eligible to teach at these centres. This helps them financially, as most of the volunteers are students themselves who dream to continue their studies. Almost all the volunteers attend college in the day and teach at the centre in the evening.
I visited two such centres. One in the Savasuddi village and one in Bekkeri Village. The centre in the Savasuddi village is managed by Kamala who has finished her 12th grade. She is known for her easy and creative way of teaching. Her classroom is full of arts and crafts. Kamala wants to continue her education and study B.Ed. Due to financial difficulty at home, she decided to take up this job so that she can save for her college fees. The centre in Bekkeri is managed by Geeta who is a meticulous teacher. She makes sure every child in her class gets equal attention. The students were extremely disciplined and energetic. When I interviewed Geeta she said, “I am happy to help the kids of my village. I hope my guidance helps them clear their exams with good marks. And makes it easy for them.”
MASS initiative has changed lives of many students. But it’s was not easy road to walk. Often at times, the student had to study in the dark due to the intermittent supply of electricity in the villages. In some villages they found rooms to conduct the classes but in others, they have to use the common hall in the village. MASS is running the centres with help of money raised from various communities in Belgaum. This can go on as long as they get funds to continue this venture.
Apart from this project, MASS has done many projects to help the Devadasis and Dalits living in Belgaum district. They have a legal advisory program where they help families settle their disputes regarding land or martial issues outside the court. They also provide death relief fund to the family of a deceased. They also help members access various subsidy schemes of the Government and provide information regarding the same. MASS has been working with Milaap since 2013 to help provide micro loans to the members. All the project by MASS have helped large number of people in Belgaum district. A complete eradication of Devdasi system was possible all thanks to continuous efforts of MASS. With more than 4000 members, 17 permanent staff and 55 part-time volunteers, MASS has grown into huge family since its foundation in 1997. And they definitely deserve an A+ on their report cards for undying passion and strive for change.