Girls Skills Centre
BMM identified a need in the Behlalppa area in 2000, when it came to their attention that the dalit (untouchable) children of the area were not receiving an adequate education from very poorly run government schools. The area consists of mostly subsistence farmers who live a hand-to-mouth existence. These people are particularly vulnerable to the vagaries of climate as they do not have resources that can carry them over from one failed crop to the next. Swami Agnivesh travelled to the area frequently to talk to the village heads and encourage them to see education of all the children as a paramount need in their circumstances. Swamiji and the BMM workers were particularly concerned for the area as Delhi is expanding rapidly to the South and people from these developing areas can easily be pulled into a bonded labour situation. Furthermore, this area is perilously close to the stone quarry mining areas that are one of the largest bonded labour employers in India. Swamiji was also particularly concerned about the position of the young girls of the village and believed that it was essential that some kind of skills training be offered to them. A piece of land was donated to BMM and it remained for funds to be found to build a schoolroom.
In August of 2001 BMM was visited by Mukti, Spain. Having been sensitised to the situation in India, we received from them the sum of EUR 6371 (Indian Rs.283,235) to be used for the construction of a schoolroom at Bahlappa. (Please see accounts schedule for receipts and expenditure).
Construction of the building was completed by May 2002. It was not possible to immediately activate it as a school because this is the harvest season for farmers and all the children of the area join their parents in the work of bringing in the harvest. In the interim two persons were appointed to the school:
Mr Mahavir to develop the school and visit families in the area and work on recruitment of pupils (both boys and girls). This is a sensitive task as parents have to be constantly reminded of the value of releasing their children (particularly the girls), from daily labour into education).
Mr V. Kumar to oversee the maintenance of the building and grounds and to act as a Watchman.
As the students were preparing to join the school an unfortunate incident took place in the village. Two young girls in a neighbouring village were kidnapped and this set up a scare throughout the area. The result was that parents kept their children at home and once again BMM had to visit the area to allay fears.
The initial response for the primary education was promising but attendance dropped rapidly once the government run schools re-opened after vacation. BMM again visited the area and spoke to parents to find out what the problem was. The picture that began to emerge was that while parents could plainly see that the standard of education being offered in the BMM school was better than that being offered in the government schools (which suffer from overcrowding and massive teacher absenteeism), they were confident that the government school would always be there and at least accessible to their children whenever they could spare them from work. The BMM school was a new phenomenon and had not yet gained their confidence.
A teacher for the sewing school, Mrs. Mithilesh Kumari, was appointed and a decision was taken to focus attention on the girls skills training and the sewing skills class was set up and 30 girls between the ages of 14 to 18 recruited. Machines and materials were purchased and a teacher employed. This has now been running successfully for the past six months. Girls attend from 9 a.m.in the morning to 1 p.m. six days a week. The current course will be completed in December, 2002.
While the primary education offered has not taken off in the area BMM workers have seen similar situations in other villages and are confident that as confidence in the continued presence of BMM grows they will, in time, be able to once again activate it.
In the interim the girls skills training programme is clearly a great success and during the visit of Swami Ambikananda (co-founder of Mukti, U.K.) when she interviewed the girls attending they expressed their satisfaction with the school and how it had changed their hopes for their own future. All of them said they wanted to go onto further training.