The children of Umerdha village, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are fighting for the right to quality education.
To make their voices heard they sent their school bags with personal letters to local politicians.
The problems facing Umerdha's children
Low teaching standards, bullying and low social status make it hard for the children of Umerdha village to get a decent education.
Combined with the great distances involved in getting to school, the expectation to work means attaining a quality education is nearly impossible.
And the situation is even worse for girls, who are not accommodated for at school and face the threat of abuse and sexual assault on the long walk to and from the classroom. Many just stop going.
Making themselves heard
Local politicians are inundated with requests. Making their case stand out was vital to make anyone take notice.
So the children, with the help of Pravah ICS volunteers, came up with a unique way to communicate.
They would send them their school bags. In the bags they would send information and a personal letter outlining the problems and that action needs to be taken.
And to strike the emotional chord – drawings and hand paintings accompanied by a photo of them.
The Children’s Manifesto
Each of the 11 bags – one from each child – told their story. Their experiences with education, problems they’ve faced in accessing it and wider issues in their community.
Every bag contained the children’s’ ‘manifesto’: packed with information and stats on education in Umerdha and the state of education in the wider region of Madhya Pradesh.
It laid out problems that restricted the local children’s access and success in school – and presented the children’s solutions to these problems.
Translated into Hindi by Abhinayaa, one of the Indian volunteers working as part of the 20-strong team, the politicians also received an invite to a local event where they could engage with more of the team’s work and meet others from the community.
Delivering the bags
In total school bags were delivered to 11 politicians in the local area – ranging from local village council members to administrative officials. Each with a powerful message about the need for change.
The team then followed this up with individual meetings with five of the politicians.
“They were all very enthusiastic about the project and spoke at length with the children and us about the issues,” said Ruairi Kerrigan, an ICS Pravah volunteer who helped coordinate the petition.
“The MLA (member of the legislative assembly) of the district couldn’t meet us at his office so even invited us to his home. He was very engaged with the campaign.
“He came to our community action day a week later to speak to the crowd.”
Before the team left, they needed to make sure that the project’s impact was sustainable, that the hard work they’d put in during their placement wouldn’t end once they returned home.
“We handed over responsibility of the project to the partner NGO, Synergy Sansthan and they have been continuing this work,” said Ruairi.
“And we thought bigger than Umerdha. We also started an online petition for the Madhya Pradesh State government and national government to debate and take action on issues of rural education.
“Putting the campaign together was no easy task but it was incredibly rewarding, and to have the finished product made up entirely by the children themselves – well, it was just a much more powerful way of delivering our message. Politicians are humans, after all.”