Monday, August 22, 2016

Bawana Bal Gurus: Child Leadership Unplugged

On top of a treacherously high terrace, I looked through the camera lens of my student as it panned to capture an overview of JJ Colony, a resettlement colony in Bawana,West Delhi. It made a pretty picture of closely knit innumerable clusters of 3-4 storied pucca houses with a common boundary made of open bricks, colourful walls and roof tops.A variety of freshly hung clothes in the open terraces suggested many people living together.

Film Workshop Participant 

As his camera lens moved further down to ground level, up close, I saw an outgrown slum bursting at its seams attempting to mainstream itself with the rest of the city as if to get out of its misery of ill management, poor sanitation and public amenities. 

JJ Colony, Bawana Resettlement colony
As I walked through the streets of J J Colony, children of all ages were just about, everywhere. Most were loitering and hanging out. Some were working, looking after siblings and washing utensils. Many were playing with marbles others with cricket bats. Some children could be seen with cloth bags and books. 

There were a few who would look straight into the eye: clean, smart and focused. Most greeted me as I passed by them. And there were others, playing around, unaware, unkempt, uncared and almost wasted. This distinction between the two types of children was obvious. Some purposeful, others lost. To me this gap between the children in either side of the spectrum, seemed to be an area which needed intervention. Later I came to know that I was not far from reality. 

An 11 year old girl, neat plaits, long frock, rubber sandals, bright eyes, looks at me straight and tells me, “ I am a Bal Gurukul Faculty. I am a teacher. I teach children. Initially I started with one child and now I teach 12 children. And there are more who want to learn with me.”

Me: So what do you teach?

Girl: Whatever I know, I teach them. It could be English, Hindi, Math or Drawing. Anything.

Me: And where do you teach them?

Girl: In my Kitchen. When mom has finished cooking. I run my Bal Gurukul Class.

Me: When do you find the time? You go to a School yourself, don’t you?

Girl: I come back from school, go to remedial education at Centre. I come back home and run a class with my students.

Me: Why do you do this? Isn’t it strenuous for you?

Girl: I want each and every child of our colony to become literate, go to school and not dropout of school. Also when I teach them, I revise my concepts and both of us benefit.

Me: Do you charge them money for your services as a teacher?

Girl: No, I love teaching. Infact I give incentives to my students when they do exceptionally well. I give them a toffee.

Bal Gurukul Faculty 

I was still coming to terms with this conversation as she guided me through 5 feet wide lane towards her house. A self painted signboard displayed prominently alongside the rust tin door with bold text “Muskan’s Bal Gurukul Class”. Muskan helped me identify similar name boards in various other houses. I came to know that there were Bal Gurukul Classes running in nearly every lane of JJ Colony. 
Bal Gurukul Class Board
This initial conversation with Muskaan was enough for me to get interested in Bal Gurukul. Bal Gurukul is a child leadership movement which started in 2013. School going children who attend Navjyoti Foundation's Remedial Program have got together on a mission to enrol numerous out-of-school children and make them ready-to-school. First they prepare the children and then seek the foundation help to get them admitted to their local Government Schools. Within a span of 2 years, 700 Bal Gurus are reaching out to 7000 non-school going children in Bawana Resettlement Colony. The initiative runs as a university model, with children taking the roles of a registrar, heads of department, faculty, administrative and non-administrative roles. Children are an equal participant in the major decisions regarding their learning and development. To fast forward literacy in their area children have taken upon ambitious targets to make their community members, both kids and adults and especially women literate.

Bal Gurukul Faculty, 9 years, using her door as a blackboard 

The children who comprise the Bal Guru advocacy team conduct home visits and encourage the stay-at-home or out-of-school children to join Bal Gurukul classes. Once they have reached a certain level of school readiness, the Bal Gurukul Faculty gets them admissions in regular Government schools in age appropriate classes.

Bal Gurukul faculty Usmanaz, 8 year old, teaching a 5 year old 
In the words of Dr Kiran Bedi, the visionary behind the concept “Gurukul is the coming together of children who love to learn and then teach. It is a national solution to the removal of illiteracy in the country and also to check dropouts. It is also a vast reservoir of teachers in the making and instills early leadership, confidence and giving, at such a young age”.

Dr Kiran Bedi with Bal Gurukul Children

Bal Gurukul faculty has school going children from Age 8 to Age 21. They emit confidence and have the drive to bring about a positive difference around the quality of life around them. Lack of resources have been converted into opportunities.

Bal Gurukul afternoon class in her kitchen 
Space is not a limiting factor to run classes, whether on the roof top or inside their homes or under a tree. Walls and doors have been converted into blackboards. And the Bal Gurukul brigade are unstoppable. The Bal Gurus of Bawana view literacy and education as gateway for their better tomorrow. They realise that a big reason for a lot of children not going to school is because of societal beliefs and practices have strong inroads due to sheer ignorance. As a result child marriages, child labour and under valuing the potential of the girl child is common and accepted as a way of life.

Bal Gurukul  Evening Class on the road side 

Beyond academics, Bal Gurukul Children are impacting the social fabric of their colony in many ways.

To improve things around them, they conducted sanitation drives to clear their drainage and reclaimed parks and planted saplings.

They have stopped child marriage of their peers. 

Some have even got their fathers and other adult members out of alcoholism.

The work they are doing has gained them a lot of trust amongst the community members who view their efforts with renewed respect.

Before meeting the Bal Gurus of Bawana, I understood 'child leadership' differently. For me leadership that was encouraged within the walls of a school and did not go beyond class monitors, project leaders and other school representatives who took lead in sports, editorial and co-curricular activities. During the film workshop with Bal Gurus, as I entered their lives, saw their daily struggles and negotiations. I saw an uncommon child leadership in action. When I interviewed some of them, they candidly share that a teacher is the leader of a class. And the role of a leader is to serve, give and take everybody along. Constantly improve self and impact society. Bal Gurus practice leadership as a way of life to emerge out of illiteracy, ignorance, neglect so that they could lead a life of productivity and dignity. Literacy for all is the first mission they have accomplish. Education for all will be their next step. 

Film Workshop participants with me while making their film 'Bal Gurukul Selfie'

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