April 2002 News

Ladakh children demand development as a right

2 April 2002
The Hindu

New Delhi: In the cold and barren deserts of Ladakh where time seems to standstill, teenaged children have set themselves the task of seeking better education and infrastructure to catch up with the rest of the world. Organised into Children`s Committees for Village Development (CCVDs), an initiative of Save the Children UK conceived in 1997, the youngsters have been successfully involved in seeking an improvement in the education system as also better roads and health facilities that have remained a dream for them. In Tukia Village of Leh district, young children raised nearly Rs 5000 through dramas conveying social messages to pay the winter tuition course and buy stationary for needy children. In Kargil recently, the Children`s Committees for Village Development (CCVDs) got together and organised a march in the Kargil town, forcing the attention of the district education authorities to their low pass percentage and seeking a review of the system. In yet another village Kungyam, the children of the CCVD took up with the teacher of the school a matter of beating a child for not wearing a uniform. "The child could did not afford the uniform and did not want to attend school. "The children said they planned to talk to the teacher, to convince him not to beat the child," says M Sharif Bhat, programme coordinator in a report "our voices, are you listening" on the experience of the Children`s Development` Committees. In Thang, a remote village not connected with the main road, the Children`s Committee has addressed education, environment and health issues. In education, the children persuaded the parents to send even their drop out children back to school by going to them in groups. Today there is no child above six years in the village who does not attend school. Explaining the idea behind the project, Vijaylaxmi Arora, Head of the Programme Support Unit, Save the Children UK, says "we have always believed in involving children in decision making process and that they have a right to participate in issues concerning them." "Our experience has taught us that adults can gain a lot by listening to them and seeking suggestions," she says, observing that "they were really creative in finding solutions." Today there are about 77 CCVDs in Ladakh, 38 in Leh and 39 in Kargil district, where children are taking a lead role in Initiating and raising key development issues of concern and succeeding in getting their grievances addressed with the authorities concerned. Describing their activities, Nawaz Ali, president of the CCVD of Skamboo village, explained in the report that their`s was a thoroughly democratic set-up with the members electing an smaller executive committee which represented them in the village and at other external platforms, where their issues were to be taken up. Involvement in the committees has not only imbued in them confidence, but inculcated in the children, some positive qualities of leadership, confidence and ability to work in a team, says Bhat in the report, which is to be released shortly. Education is the most sensitive issue for children and adults in the region. And rightly so. With the pass percentage hovering at an appalling three per cent, little doubt, that the children have taken it up on a priority basis and are demanding a review of the system on the part of the authorities, observes Ms. Arora. With schools dosing every year for five months for winter, the vacations are too long to sustain children`s interest in education. By the time they resume studies he children have forgotten the previous course and are at a loss to carry on further. "It is this aspect and concern for seeking continuity in education that Impressed me very much," says Ms. Arora about the role played by the children`s bodies in searching solutions by raising money to provide for tuition fee in the winter months. Buoyed by such significant achievements, the children have also fought stereotypes to initiate cleanliness drives in their villages and, are also stressing on planting trees and forcing elders to participate in immunisation drives for children. A key feature ensuring the success of the children`s committees is the role of adult social workers from local NGOs who have mobilised children and convinced the adults to give consent for the formation of such bodies, says Ms. Arora noting that her organisation provides the technical as well as financial support for the committees to get going. Nonetheless, she stresses, the thrust is to motivate and encourage the groups to raise their own resources instead of looking towards international NGOs for aid perpetually. "The whole effort is to make the children socially responsible citizens," says Ms. Arora adding that the success of Ladakh has encouraged them to replicate the experience even among the children in Kashmir Valley. The efforts have only just begun in the Valley, where about half a dozen such village level committees have been constituted a few months ago in Srinagar and Badgam district. However, in .the valley the Save the Children had studied the prospects of including children who were involved in the carpet making and automobile industry (garage mechanics), she says hoping that the venture in the valley proves to be equally promising.


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