What Is Madhesh Education Initiative (MEI)?
How Are We Doing It & What Are Our Plans For The Future?
This is our first year, so we are still in very initial and testing phase. We have helped school management in hiring 8 teachers in 5 schools. Four of them are established community schools in Dhanusha district. Because of high student teacher ratio, these four schools were juggling between classes. So, to begin our initiative with, we decided to provide one teacher in each of the school. We have been paying their basic salary and providing them on the job training and guidance.The last school out of five is a special case. It is still in the process of establishment. A community leader who works in the nearby wildlife trust fund helped start the process. He has his own reason to help start this school.
As a wildlife person, he encountered many children from Musahar community coming to do fishing and hunt for wild animals in the wildlife protected area endangering their lives. He has seen them wounded by the wild animals. Although some of the children from the community were enrolled in a public school (2 kilometers away), the majority of them did not attend school.
So, he thought opening a school targeting 300 Musahar and Dom households might prevent children coming to encounter wildlife. In addition, they will also get much needed education. He consulted with the community people specially mothers and elected ward officials. They agreed to his idea, and they decided to open a school. However, there was another side that needed to be addressed as well. The issue of livelihood – if children were not catching fishes and wild animals and going to school, how would the households sustain only with meager income earned by the fathers? Especially, when the meager income earned by the fathers is usually spent in alcohol consumption! The community was in desperate need for livelihood support if they were to send their children to school. So, it was decided that loans with a very minimal interest rate would be provided in the names of mothers if their children are regularly sent to schools.
After all these initial decisions made with the community people/mothers, the community leader started looking for partnership with individuals and organizations. Right after the flood emergency in Madhesh in 2017, we were also looking for ways to support underprivileged communities specially in education and livelihood sectors. It was such a nice coincident that we found each other. As a young organization, we never worked in basic education before. But we were excited that this work was something coming from the side of community. We did not impose any of our ideas.
We decided to go ahead and hire 4 teachers from the community to start the school in December 2017. After we hired and agreed to pay a bare minimum salary for them, the school started in January 2018. The number of children coming regularly to school is around 200; the teachers are trying their best to accommodate their learning needs. They have a school hut that is made in a piece of land temporarily given by a community member. There is nothing other than that. We have been providing training and guidance to the teachers on how to teach in such a condition.
Recently, the community people came together to name the school. They came up with the name ‘Shree Rajdevi School’. Rajdevi is the goddess they worship for her knowledge and kindness, and they want their children to be kind and knowledgeable like Rajdevi after attending this school. We also think that it is very important to teach children academic knowledge and skills, especially children from this underprivileged community that is systematically deprived of opportunities. If we want to make our world even, it is important everyone gets equal opportunities. But more than that, if we want to live in a happier and peaceful world, we feel that cultivating kindness and compassion in children from early grades is crucial.
We believe that delivering quality education first needs compassionate teachers. And, we are wholeheartedly trying to prepare the teachers to be compassionate and deliver what they know the best in the face of this material challenge. At the same time, we have started implementing an idea of community cooperative which will lend loans to the mothers. The mothers and community leader are now trying to secure a piece of land to build a permanent school in the community. The type of school they want to establish is ‘cooperative school’. For that, every mother (except for the poorest of poor) has agreed to pay a small amount of money to send her children to school.
We, at Madhesh Education Initiative, are moved by this act of mothers almost all of whom do not know how to read and write. Although we are moved and encouraged by the mothers’ enthusiasm to send their children to school, we also are cautious to not let them depend on us for their every problem. So, we always wait on them to tell us what support they need from us. Until now, we have been asked to help them with teacher training and enhancing quality of education in the school. We are also asked to help them establish the cooperative. We are humbled, but at the same time feel challenged given our own resources.
We really want to provide teachers best training and guidance on teaching the children. We want the teachers to not only teach them academic knowledge and skills, but sports, arts, music, culture, values and compassion. We also want the teachers to help the mothers with their literacy. Through cooperative loans and some partnership with the local businesses, we want the mothers to involve in income generating activities for their children so that they can regularly go to school. On top of that, we also want to help the community to build a school building although they haven’t asked us to do that.
As an education initiative of a small organization, we want to stay small until we know that the work we are doing brings positive impact in the community. If we know what we are doing works, in the long run, we wish to create a pool of trainers who can teach teachers not only to teach effectively but to be innovative in whichever setting they are to bring the best out of children. We also plan to prepare our trainers to demonstrate high level of compassion and help teachers cultivate compassion and basic human goodness in the children. We also wish to help large number of mothers be literate and find ways to involve in income generating/livelihood activities. For that, we plan to actively build partnerships with the local governments and work hand-in-hand with them as they have all the mandates for enhancing the quality of K-12 education under their geographic jurisdiction.