By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Five months after the launch of ChildFund India’s Books, My Friends campaign, we’re learning more about the children who are getting their first chance to own books and read for pleasure.
This spring, ChildFund India and its campaign partner, Macmillan Education, conducted a baseline assessment of 1,200 children across 15 Indian states, to understand their reading abilities. About 40,000 children have received books and bags since December through the Books, My Friends program.
The analysis showed that reading ability improved with age, although far too many children still can’t read. In the group of 6- to 8-year-olds tested, 66.2 percent were not able to read at all, while 44.8 percent of 11- and 12-year-olds and 29 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds were illiterate. Geography mattered as well, with higher literacy rates in the states of Delhi, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, while Rajasthan, Jharkand and Chhattisgarh had lower rates.
Pooja, 14, who lives in a village in Andhra Pradesh, was able to read at the level of an 8- or 9-year-old when she received her books in December.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to read these books,” she says. Also, most of her time was spent in studying her textbooks or attending classes, so Pooja preferred to get away from books during her leisure time.
But because some of the books she received were in her local language, Telugu, they piqued her interest. Soon, she was enjoying them, and she moved on to the other books in her bag, which were in English. That presented an obstacle, since English is harder for Pooja to read.
With a smile on her face, Pooja says, “My school coordinator has helped me a lot in improving my English reading ability. She would patiently sit with me, make me read these story books and correct me whenever I went wrong. And as soon as I started understanding the stories, I started enjoying them and wanted to read more.”
As a result, Pooja has joined a group of other students who discuss their books.
“This campaign has really helped me make new friends,” she says. “All the students who have received these books have formed a group, and during weekends, all of us sit together to read these books and enjoy chatting with each other. The illustrations in these books make the reading all more interesting. I’m really grateful to ChildFund for giving me these books. Because of this campaign, I’ve made this extra effort to read, and today I can read an entire sentence in English without faltering.”
Reading is an important source of knowledge, happiness, pleasure and even courage. It opens your mind and transports you virtually into newer worlds. It develops your brain and helps in communicating and sharing ideas, and therefore is essential for advancement and development of any society.
Read Rashmi Kulkarni’s first story about Books, My Friends.
By Rashmi Kulkarni, ChildFund India
Last December, ChildFund India launched a nationwide campaign called Books, My Friends to provide bags full of age-appropriate books for 115,000 children ages 6 to 14 across India. The goal of the project is to make reading fun for children while helping them improve their reading, comprehension and learning abilities. We hope to create a love of reading that continues through adulthood.
In India, we work with children who live in rural villages and urban slums, and lack of education is a big concern everywhere. Many children living in poverty can’t read at grade level and often don’t have access to books at home. In rural communities, children are often limited to textbooks printed on poor-quality paper. Many parents are barely literate, so a culture of reading has not yet taken hold. Without strong reading comprehension, children can’t excel in school.
To address this situation, ChildFund India started the Reading Improvement Program, our flagship education initiative, and the Books, My Friends campaign, which encourages students to read for pleasure.
Shreelakshmi, a seventh-grader from the southwestern state of Karnataka, received a reading bag in December during the launch of Books, My Friends. She had a chance to meet Anil Kumble, a world-renowned cricket captain and major sports celebrity in India.
Shreelakshmi recalls the meeting fondly: “The experience of receiving books from Anil Kumble is still fresh in my mind. He and the ChildFund team spoke with us freely and inspired us to read more books. I am very grateful to ChildFund for giving me this opportunity,” she says, a smile spreading across her face.
Shreelakshmi received 17 books, and she’s already read many of them. Her favorite was Kadhakalu Maha Nagara, about a girl who had no one to read a story to her. Finally, she finds one person who starts telling stories to her daily. Slowly, other children start joining her to listen.
“I, too, like stories, and my brother also sometimes reads them to me,” Shreelakshmi says.
Since most of her neighborhood friends also have received reading bags, they enjoy reading and discussing books together.
Parents say it’s great for their children to have something constructive to do with their time, and Shreelakshmi’s teacher adds that the habit of reading appears to be taking hold, just a few months into the project.
Watch this space for another story soon about Books, My Friends and the Reading Improvement Program.
By Saroj Pattnaik for ChildFund India
Pictures often communicate information more efficiently than words do (hence the famous adage), and that holds true in a small classroom in western India, where children are discovering the alphabet, animals, fruits and vegetables through paintings and pictures.
“Earlier, I could not tell the difference between a cabbage and a cauliflower. Now, I know all the fruits and vegetables that we eat,” says 4-year-old Vaishnavi, one of the 30 children enrolled in an Early Childhood Development (ECD) center in the Raigad district of Maharashtra state, where ChildFund works in 43 rural villages. “Cauliflower is my favorite vegetable, and it contains many vitamins,” she adds.
Vaishnavi’s best friend, Ashok, is more interested in animals, particularly lions. He explains that the lion is the king of the jungle. “You know, a lion won’t kill other animals if it is not hungry,” the preschooler says, recalling a story that his teacher told them the other day.
According to Dr. Virendra Kulkarni, program manager of PRIDE India, ChildFund’s local partner organization in this area, young children explore visual art with both a creative and a scientific eye.
“Through art, they not only identify objects and concepts clearly, they try to explore everything related to them,” he explains. “Wall paintings are one of the best ways to make children know many things through visual expression. Our role is to provide them with materials and inspiration, then to stand back and let them go.”
Shanta Ghatge, a tutor at the ECD center, agrees: “Wall paintings, posters and other wall decorations not only make the classrooms look great, but they also make learning easy for children and remind them of concepts.
“We cannot just talk all the time in class,” she adds. “Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.”
Ghatge, who has been an ECD teacher in the area for more than 20 years, says she follows a curriculum adopted by ChildFund to teach the preschoolers, and their routine includes examining paintings, writing, singing, storytelling, drawing and painting.
“Although the children like almost all the activities, the most favorite for them has been creating their own art,” Ghatge says. “I often give out drawing sheets and watercolors to them and ask them to make some art. They just love this activity.”
Children need to be stimulated in their learning, and we need such wall paintings, posters and other teaching aids to make their learning interesting.
Research has shown that participating in art, music and storytelling activities helps children develop language, mathematics and social skills. “These essential activities can help the young brain develop to its fullest capacity,” Dr. Kulkarni says. “In all our ECD centers, we use learning methods that are recognized as best practices for preschoolers.
“One of them is using rhythm to help children develop patterning abilities and make relationships between the rhythm, beat and words,” he explains. “There are a lot of local language rhymes that teachers use to improve children’s patterning ability, while toys and other aids are used to improve their motor skills.”
Ghatge points out that the children also have fun in the classroom. “Amidst all this noise, we certainly know one thing: These children are learning while enjoying their childhoods.”
In this video, Mamta talks about how the Udaan scholarship available through ChildFund India has helped her overcome financial challenges to attend university to become a teacher. Her parents are illiterate, and many of her friends in her village dropped out to get married, so what she is doing is remarkable.
“I want to teach other girls to continue their educations so they’ll be independent, like me, and have a good life,” Mamta says. Video by Jake Lyell.
Reporting by ChildFund India
Last month, former Indian cricket team captain Anil Kumble helped launch a reading campaign with ChildFund India, presenting tote bags filled with books to children in Karnataka, a state in southwestern India. Each bag contained books appropriate for different ages, from 6 to 14, and the program aims to provide books to nearly 115,000 underserved students in 14 Indian states this year, with more to come in the next three years. ChildFund India also has plans to set up 30 community libraries throughout the country.
“If you want to get more knowledge, it is important to read books,” Kumble said. “A culture of reading picked up at this age will continue forever.” The campaign focuses on providing access to literature, creating a supportive environment and removing barriers to reading. To address poor electricity in rural areas, families will receive solar-powered lamps with chargers that can also be used for cell phones and flashlights.
By giving children the opportunity to own books other than school textbooks, it is hoped the “Books, My Friends” program will inspire them to become lifelong readers for fun and enjoyment.
By Saroj Kumar Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Bursts of rain and wind punctuate an otherwise pleasant day in India’s Nagapattinum district. The streets are quiet in the village of Sampathottam, and it’s time for lunch. The scent of a dry fish curry wafts through the air. Govindaraj, though, is impatient and waiting for the rain to stop.
“I don’t like this rain, like the way I hate the sea,” he says, visibly irritated. “Since the morning, I am waiting for this rain to stop. I will get the flowers from the market. Every year, I offer these flowers to my parents on their anniversary.” This isn’t a happy anniversary, though. It’s the 10th anniversary of his parents’ death and the Indian Ocean tsunami, which claimed 230,000 lives in South Asia.
Govindaraj lost his parents, his elder brother and 10 other members of his family in the 2004 tsunami that killed more than 7,000 people in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu alone. He dusts off the photographs of his lost relatives.
“She is my mother, he is my father, and the other one is my elder brother,” he says, pointing to the pictures. “They were among the 13 of my family members who became prey to that devastating tsunami and left me alone to die, every day remembering them. Anita is also an unfortunate child like me.”
Thirteen-year-old Anita is Govindaraj’s cousin, who also lost her parents in the tsunami and is now being taken care of by Govindaraj and his wife Malakodi.
“I am lucky to have survived nature’s fury,” Govindaraj says. “Actually, I was at my uncle’s place where my wife and Anita were, when that killer tsunami hit our village. It destroyed everything, killed my entire family and that of Anita’s,” he says, turning his face toward the door to hide his tears.
Comforting him in her arms, Malakodi says,“It’s God’s decision. What can we do?
“We were fortunate enough that our village, Perumalpettai, is located a bit higher than the other villages. The tsunami water did come to our village but did not sweep us along. We survived. Only those who were near the shore at that time were killed or have gone missing,” she says.
When asked what she remembers about that day, Anita says, “I cannot recall anything about what happened on that day and how the tsunami was. The only thing I know is that it killed my parents and deprived me from the fortune of having parents. “
“I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami,” she says, pointing at their pictures.
Elsewhere in the village, Mahesh and her husband Ashoghan and son Amrith survived the tsunami, but they were forever touched by the trauma of the day. A pregnant Mahesh was slammed into walls by the waves, and later she and her husband were confronted with scores of dead bodies while searching for their 3-year-old son in a shelter. They found him in a corner, alive but unable or unwilling to speak.
“It was a horrible situation out there,” Ashoghan recalls. “We decided to move to another place, as the atmosphere was affecting both our body and soul, especially my son, who had not spoken a word since we found him. We crossed a backwater river stretch and moved out of the village and walked throughout the night to reach a nearby town.”
Amrith, now 13, is sponsored through ChildFund and attends school. After the tsunami, he was able to spend time in a Child-Centered Space to help recover from the trauma. But the family still suffers hardship. Amrith’s younger sister, Joyse, who was born a couple of months after the tsunami, has a nerve disorder that has prevented her from forming words or walking. She receives treatment for her condition, which is paid for by the government, her father says.
Near Govindaraj’s home, K. Rathnavel, a leader of this community, is busy preparing for a commemoration event for the victims of the tsunami.
In between phone calls to other community members, he says, “I want to build a memorial dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the tsunami. I have yet to raise the required funds for it.
“But I am sure we will soon be able to erect a memorial in our village,” he adds confidently.
When asked to tell his tsunami story, Rathnavel’s confidence disappears.
“Whenever I see the ocean, I get reminded of how it took away hundreds of our fellow villagers – men, women and children alike,” he says. Most who survived have become so scared of the sea that they have given up fishing, the ages-old occupation of the village, Rathnavel says.
“Most of us live in these houses allotted to us by the government as part of their rehabilitation plan for tsunami-affected people,” he adds. “Our old place has now turned into a ghost village.
“We are simple human beings, not gods. You might escape from the place of nature’s fury, but you cannot control it. Now, we don’t take a chance. If there is any alert from the authorities, we simple abide and stay away from the sea.”
According to K. Krishna Kumar of the AVVAI Village Welfare Society, ChildFund India’s local partner in Nagapattinam district, “The 2004 tsunami taught us that resilience is the key to recover from difficulties and to bounce back. People in this region have seen unprecedented devastation and lost numerable lives but are now moving on. That’s life, and we tell the affected communities to be strong and look forward.”
“Today, a decade later, the important question before us is how prepared we are for another such disaster,” he asks. “The disaster forced the development sector to focus on resilience in their programming efforts. As the largest NGO in this region, we played a coordinating role in the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction process in partnership with various funding agencies and governments,” he continues.
Part of ChildFund’s response to the disaster, carried out through local partners like AVVAI Village, was to build Child-Centered Spaces to help children recover from trauma in safe places. In this district, we and our partners also started a program to help people find other sources of income after losing their livelihoods.
“The tsunami should be remembered as a history of setbacks and tears,” Kumar says. “But the motivation to go forward must be harnessed.”
This week, we are marking the 10th anniversary of the Dec. 26, 2004, earthquake and tsunami, which devastated towns and villages in 14 Asian countries and claimed more than 230,000 lives. ChildFund works in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, which were all hit hard by the disaster. Saroj Pattnaik of ChildFund’s national office in India asked several people who live in coastal regions devastated by the tsunami to share their memories of that day. You can read more about the tsunami this week on our blog and here on the ChildFund website.
“That was a Saturday morning, and we had just returned home after a daylong fishing trip. I was inside the bathroom when the tsunami struck our village. It was like the entire stretch of sea came rushing towards us. We all ran for safety, holding each other’s hands, and found ourselves on a building that had been pushed up by the water. Suddenly, we realized that our younger son was missing. We searched all over, crossing through heaps of dead bodies, uprooted trees, broken boat parts and debris. Thoughts of his being no more had started killing us from inside. Five days passed, but we never stopped our search. And finally my wife found our son in a rescue center in another village. We were relieved. But other parents were not so lucky — their grief of missing their loved ones still continues.” — K. Rathnavel, 41
“I hate the word ‘tsunami.’ For the past 10 years, I have been going to the sea every day and talking to it. I ask the sea, ‘What did I do wrong? Why have you eliminated my entire family – just because I never liked to stay alone? Were you jealous of me just because I was the most loved and privileged one? You killed 13 of my family members and must be thinking that I am afraid of you. No. Actually, I hate you!’ ” — Govindaraj, 30
“It was terrifying, and I struggled to get our door open. While the water was gushing into our home, the door was pressed from outside by a wooden log. Suddenly, I realized my feet were not on the ground. I was floating. I forced myself out through the broken window. There was water everywhere, and it was perhaps going back to sea again. I still remember the power of the water. You couldn’t hold yourself in one place. It was taking you where it wanted. I managed to cling to a concrete house. When the water receded, my mother and brother returned home from another building while my father returned after searching for us. But we could not find our younger sister, who had been playing outside with her friends.” — Divya, 21
“When I hear the word ‘tsunami,’ dreadful pictures of the huge dark wave and the trail of devastation play in front of my eyes, and I start feeling the pain anew. It did not kill any of our family members, but it gave us lifelong suffering instead. I was very pregnant and was eager to welcome the new family member. But the tsunami water washed away our happiness. The strong current of the water swept me along and slammed me with some hard object. It was painful, but I managed to cling to a building wall and survived. Three months passed by, but there was no sign of any labor. Doctors advised me to go for an emergency C-section. I obliged, and my daughter Joyse was born. The joy of her birth, however, was cut short when we learned she was suffering from cerebral palsy, which left her dependent on others and suffering for her whole life. Watching her suffer kills us every day.” — A. Mahesh, 31, pictured with Joyse, 9.
“I cannot recall anything that happened on that day and what the tsunami was like. But from what I have heard so far, I visualize a dark, huge wave that came rushing toward our village and devastated hundreds of families, including mine. I am told that my parents were killed in that disaster and I was left to be cared for by my aunt. I have only photographs of my parents. I miss them the most when people talk about them and about the tsunami.” — Anitha, 14
By Meg Carter, ChildFund Sponsorship Communication Specialist
Indian cuisine is noted for its samosas, curries, biryanis, vindaloos and kormas — rich, complex and savory dishes. ChildFund staff members at our International Office in Richmond, Va., went to an Indian restaurant for lunch recently, where we tried a variety of dishes, along with rice and bread (naan) and sauces, such as raita and chutney. A raita is a yogurt-based sauce that often includes cucumbers, fresh mint, pepper, coriander and cumin. It helps quench the fiery spices of some dishes. Chutney, a relish made of spices and fruits or vegetables, can be fresh, pickled, spicy or sweet. The word is derived from the Sanskrit word that means “to lick.”
We’re going to learn how to make a classic tomato-apricot chutney, which is sweet and spicy, a relish that would go well with northern Indian or even Persian cuisine. Eat it with any rice and sauce dish, like a korma or a masala, or flatbreads.
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon fresh, grated ginger
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cardamom
Butter or coconut oil
1 cup chopped, dried apricots
3 to 5 chopped tomatoes
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lime juice
Mix and sauté garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in clarified butter or coconut oil for 1 minute. Add dried apricots, tomatoes, sea salt, honey and lime juice. Simmer uncovered on low heat for 30 minutes, until apricots are soft and the chutney thickens.
Chill before serving. Store tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to three weeks or freeze, if you want to keep the chutney for longer periods.
This month, ChildFund’s blog is celebrating the harvest and traditional foods of the countries where we work. On Fridays in October, we’ll share recipes. If you try one, take a picture of your dish and share it with us on our Facebook page!
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
At Avadi Municipal Middle School in Thirvalluru, India, the story of the animal kingdom is literally painted on the walls. Each day, students entering the school are greeted by a massive mural, a colorful landscape with wild animals in their environment.
On another wall of the fourth-grade classroom are posters demonstrating fruits and vegetables and their importance in our daily diet.
“These are things our students get to see every day,” teacher P. Jayanthi says. “They not only see those paintings and posters but learn a lot from them. Now, it is easy for us to teach our students through these materials.”
The paintings and other learning materials were made available to the school by ChildFund India under its Enhanced Education Quality Improvement Program (EQuIP). Supported by the Caterpillar Foundation, this program is being implemented in about 100 primary and middle schools around Chennai, the capital city of the southernmost Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The three-year project, which started in September 2011, seeks to make comprehensive quality improvements in 100 schools in Villivakkam and Ambattur areas of Thiruvallur and Chennai districts of Tamil Nadu. These schools are run by the government and most students are from impoverished homes. Many are from the first generation of their families to attend school, so they may lack full support at home. So far, the project has reached more than 4,800 students.
“These wall paintings and hangings have made our task fairly easy. They not only help the classroom look great, but also help us in a great way to engage children in learning activities continuously,” says Mercy, a teaching assistant.
“All the classrooms of our school have some kind of thematic wall paintings, and we have observed that the paintings have helped gain students’ focus and increase learning,” she adds. “This has helped us greatly in teaching slower learners or those who take a longer time to grasp any subject material. We are thankful to ChildFund India for this support.”
Under EQuIP, schools were provided with learning modules specially designed for delayed learners, as well as workbooks, whiteboards, pencils, art materials, science sets, ceiling fans, round classroom tables and computers, among other resources. ChildFund has also appointed teachers trained to work with delayed learners.
The project has the following key objectives:
“Many slower learners suffer from low self-esteem and lack confidence,” says teacher N. Nalini. “You can address this not only by praising small achievements but also by personalizing lessons.
“I always keep this in mind and encourage them to work on their learning abilities. I encourage children to use our learning materials to observe, predict and solve problems. I invite them to tell stories and revise lessons on a regular basis. They like the attention given to them.” When the project started last year in this school, about two dozen children were designated as delayed learners. Now, 20 of these students have improved dramatically and are at par with their peers, she adds.
Eight-year-old Pallikondal had a problem in identifying animals a year ago. But today, she says, “I know everything about these animals in this painting,” pointing to the elephants.
School Management Committee member M. Laxmi is pleased about the progress her three grandchildren have made at school. “They are all doing well in their studies. I am very happy.”
By Saroj Pattnaik, ChildFund India
Kshetrapal, 33, and his family live in the town of Firozabad in India’s Uttar Pradesh region, an area known for its home-based bangle industry. With no other source of income, the family saw no alternative but to do this difficult and often dangerous work.
“I and all my family members were spending more than 10 hours every day in joining, sorting and coloring bangles in a very distressful environment,” Kshetrapal recalls. “I never liked that work, but I had no choice at all.”
Along with his wife, his younger brother and elderly parents, Kshetrapal used to crouch over hot, smoky stoves for all those hours welding the ends of glass bangles and decorating them with glitter — until he enrolled in ChildFund India’s Sustainable Livelihood Development Program.
Started in 2012 as a pilot in Firozabad supported by ChildFund Deutschland (Germany), the program aims to empower people, especially youths engaged in bangle making, to adapt to changing circumstances and take up sustainable business ventures of their own choosing.
“The Sustainable Livelihood Development Program is a great program through which we can help the youth and women become independent and self-sufficient,” says Dr. Werner Kuepper, ChildFund Deutschland’s program director. “With the help of this initiative, the local youth can be free from the bangle work and start up something of their own that is new and has sustainability.”
The program’s organizers first examined the participants’ lives, including their education, their current livelihoods and what kind of work they wished to do. During the second phase, the participants were trained to come up with business plans, develop commercial models and test the new business models in open-market conditions. They attended classes, worked in groups and collected market information, as well as creating prototypes of their products.
“Many a time, I wanted to start some other business that would allow me to get rid of this distressful bangle making,” Kshetrapal says. “But I had no idea of how to start a new business, nor had I money for it.” But a friend of his brother mentioned the livelihood program, and Kshetrapal enrolled.
During the program, the father of four was asked if he had a business in mind. “I shared my thoughts of starting a snack-making business, which I had harbored for several years but didn’t know how to start it,” he says. “During the training sessions, I was informed about the risks and techniques of running a sustainable business. Subsequently, they fine-tuned my business model, and today I am doing the business quite successfully.”
Kshetrapal’s life has been difficult. He lost his first wife to tuberculosis seven years ago, and he had to leave college to work and support his family.
“After my wife’s death, my father also fell ill because of the excessive smoke, which we had to inhale for hours while making bangles every day,” he recalls. “Since then, I was thinking of an alternate livelihood option, and ChildFund has given me that opportunity. I am so very thankful to this organization.”
Today, Kshetrapal has his own business of producing and distributing snacks, which are highly popular in India. Early this year, he and a few other students presented their business models at an event organized in Firozabad, and he received a certificate from the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences, a German university.
“Today, I am very happy that we have shifted from bangle making to snack making — from unhealthy and painful work to relatively safer and less laborious work,” Kshetrapal says. “My younger brother is now going to college. We are able to earn more than what we used to earn in bangle making. I am very happy and want to scale up my business soon.”