Pune, Sep 25 (PTI) Children from a small village in Maharashtra, most of whose parents are migrant labourers, are mastering the skill of making their staple food ‘bhakri’, other basic meal items and to take care of themselves so that they do not discontinue studies when their parents are not around.
The initiative, started by a teacher at the Kulalwadi Zilla Parishad School in Jath tehsil of Sangli, has not only improved the enrolment rate of students, but other schools in the region are also following the initiative, an education officer in Sangli told PTI while appreciating the campaign.
The parents of most of these students are sugarcane labourers and migrate from Kulalwadi village to other regions to cut the crop before the cane crushing season starts ahead of Diwali festival.
As the children earlier had no option but to go with their parents, they would drop out from school, discontinuing their studies.
Bhaktraj Garje, a teacher at the Kulalwadi ZP School, got an idea in 2016 of helping these students of Classes 1 to 8 to continue their education even in the absence of their parents.
He encouraged them to stay back home, learn making bhakri and other basic food items and at the same time study at the school.
Bhakri is part of the staple meal in Maharashtra and is made by flattening jowar, bajra or rice flour dough with one’s palms.
To generate the interest of these children in learning the art of making a perfectly round bhakri, Garje also started organising competitions in the school.
“Today, we have 240 students enrolled in the school as compared to 80 a few years ago, and the dropout percentage is nearly zero. The parents are also happy that their children do not have to leave their studies and also not follow them wherever they go,” Garje told PTI.
The Jath tehsil comes under heavy rainfall-prone region but as the land is rocky, it is not suitable for agriculture due to which locals look for other means of livelihood, he said.
Earlier, people used to rear sheep and goats. Of late, the villagers have started taking up the task of cutting sugarcane and they go to places where they get work, he said.
Garje said when he came to the school some years ago, there were 80 students in the instutition, majority of them children of sugarcane farm labourers.
“It was observed that before Diwali, about 50 per cent of the students would drop out and go with their parents. When I tried to speak to the parents, they said if they leave their children back home, who will cook for them and feed them? Their concern was valid,” he said.
To find a solution to the problem, Garje got the idea of encouraging students to learn to make bhakri and prepare other food items.
“Since 2016, the children are learning how to make bhakris and have now slowly mastered the skill,” Garje said.
He said initially, they used to ask the students to make cow dung cakes for practice as bhakris are prepared with hands in a similar manner.
“To encourage the students, we also started holding bhakri-making competitions in the school twice a year. Along with this, the students were also given tips on how to maintain hygiene and cleanliness,” he said.
As a result of the initiative, by 2019 all these children became independent, started making bhakris and other food items like curry, daal and rice, and taking care of their house in the absence of their parents, Garje said.
As the sugarcane cutting season is now coming up this year, Garje said he is hopeful that none of the students will leave the place with their parents as they know how to look after themselves and their siblings, he added.
Sugarcane labourer Birudev Lokhande, whose child studies in the zilla parishad school, said he is happy that his child has learnt how to cook and make perfect bhakris and look after the house in their absence.
“This has been possible because of the school’s encouragement and support,” he said.
Sangli ZP’s education extension officer Ansar Shaikh lauded the initiative, saying it has improved the enrolment percentage in the school and the drop out rate due to migration has also come down.
“Taking inspiration from the Kulalwadi school, other schools in the region, where the migration of farm labourers is high, are also implementing this initiative,” he added. PTI SPK GK GK
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Source: The Print