April 3, 2010

THE BALWADI : BINDING THE HIMALAYAN VILLAGE


[ After a three hour tiring trip to collect fodder for her cattle (a trip made everyday), Rekha Devi comes straight to the Balwadi to pick up her little daughter. Her hair is dishevelled and streaked from the intense sun. She enters the Balwadi and sinks to the floor. Her daughter, bursting with excitement jumps into her lap and starts singing a song full-throatedly. Rekha Devi, looking at her daughter says, almost to herself: ‘Jab yeh goed mein hi naachna gana shuru karti hai, to meri thakaan door ho jati hai’ (When she starts singing and dancing like this in my lap, my tiredness vanishes). Her eyes brim with tears, her exhaustion truly seems to have evaporated.]

By: Mangala Nanda

A programme for adult literacy in villages in Uttarakhand was proposed in the mid 1980s. The women responded to the proposal by saying that education for them at this point in their lives was redundant. They said, ‘Hamara ab kuch nahi hoga, humare bachhon ke liye kuch karo.’ (Nothing will change in our lives, but do something for our children.) It was our policy then, as now, to work in conjunction with the villagers and to value their suggestions and inputs – for who knows what they need better than they do themselves? Two Balwadis were started in 1987, and the Balwadi programme had begun: a direct response to the desires of the village women themselves.

A Balwadi is a pre-primary centre: a safe haven and a stimulating environment for children. This leaves the mother free to carry out the heavy task of cutting and bringing frewood and fodder from the forest everyday, with the reassurance that her child is being well looked after. In a region where women raise children and have the load of all the agricultural work, the Balwadi has been a godsend. (Men are unable to contribute to agriculture because of a mass male urban migration to seek employment; many villages in Uttarakhand are almost devoid of able-bodied men.) The importance of the Balwadi in such circumstances is therefore apparent.

After a three hour tiring trip to collect fodder for her cattle (a trip made everyday), Rekha Devi comes straight to the Balwadi to pick up her little daughter. Her hair is dishevelled and streaked from the intense sun. She enters the Balwadi and sinks to the floor. Her daughter, bursting with excitement jumps into her lap and starts singing a song full-throatedly. Rekha Devi, looking at her daughter says, almost to herself: ‘Jab yeh goed mein hi naachna gana shuru karti hai, to meri thakaan door ho jati hai’ (When she starts singing and dancing like this in my lap, my tiredness vanishes). Her eyes brim with tears, her exhaustion truly seems to have evaporated.

Village: Gartherha, Kumaun - Year 1994

The Balwadi runs for four hours a day. In these four hours,
through being given the freedom to play and explore uninhibitedly, the children learn about the world around them. A special emphasis is given to paryavaran or environment, helping the children to relate to their immediate surroundings. As the children learn through play, not from being burdened, their self-confidence and eagerness to learn increases immensely. A searching and questioning mentality is induced in them through this openness.(Read more)


Also in NEELAM SOOD's report on 'Early Childhood Care and Education Reflections on an Innovative  Programme'.