Archana lives in a tiny, remote village in Karnataka, where everyone works as seasonal farmers. During the off-season, men go to the cities in search of work and women, who have to care for children, stay behind, jobless. At the same time, her area grows areca nut trees, whose leaves are left to rot. Or rather were left to rot until one day when Archana got the idea to turn these leaves into biodegradable plates. Now she hires 3 women and 1 young man to work with her, and buys raw materials from 40 others farmers. Her plates reach markets in France and the UK. Archana employs 44 people and has transformed her village economy, and her story is among those many compelling stories that ‘Going to School’ narrates to poor children who are at the maximum risk of dropping out of school.
Lisa Heydlauff was once asked by Oliver, age 7, in one of the classes where she was teaching in the UK – ‘What is it like to go to school in India?’ This triggered something inside her to such an extent that she packed her bags and came to India in pursuit of an answer. She found that going to school is not so easy in most parts of the country. Many children do not make it to school and among those who make it, not many stay on. Almost 50% of our children, 83% of girls in Bihar, drop out of school before class 10. Many efforts are being made to help students stay in school, but what about those who are obviously dropping out? How will these children take their lives forward? Lacking skills, education and guidance – it’s a battle for a lifetime.
We all love to be told a story. There is magic, there’s beauty and there is an unknown power in stories. Lisa took this simple fact of life to solve this complex problem – the task of inspiring poor children to complete their schooling and of improving the lives of those children who drop out of school. That was the beginning of ‘Going to School’, an organization with a beautiful belief – ‘The key to changing the world just might be to tell an epic story to a child in India’.
Lisa set off on a travel across India with Nitin Upadhye, a photographer – by rickshaw, by train, by foot – to find stories of children who have braved their odds to go to school. And she found 25 inspiring stories that could be retold to children so that they get to see the possibilities that can open up before them by going to school. These real life stories from across India were put together in a form of a book with colourful designs and powerful words – ‘Going to school in India’.
‘Going to School’ has since been taking its books free-of-cost to various government schools, to the poorest of children and impacting their lives. The inclusion of ‘Going to School’ stories in NCERT textbooks made sure that over 10 million children get to read these inspiring stories every year. Their most moving set of stories is perhaps what they’re rolling out now in 1,000 Government Secondary Schools in Bihar. ‘Be! an Entrepreneur’ stories are about young heroes who live in poverty and start businesses that solve local problems – water, waste, energy – their businesses are for-profit, generate income for the entrepreneur and create jobs. Watch a movie about Be! Schools in Bihar.
‘Be! Books’ teach 50 entrepreneurial skills from building relationships to making cash-flow statements. 300,000 children in Class 9 read one book once a week with their teachers and complete the skills project activity over the weekend. Students are given training to become little entrepreneurs, taught how to begin a small business, create business plans, budget plans and cash statements though their weekly skills training workshops. Students, who normally answer that they want to become doctors and engineers when they grow up, have started identifying themselves with this new possibility of entrepreneurship. These classrooms are showing energies like never before.
Lisa and her team took their belief in the power of entrepreneurship to the next level by reaching out to support the business ideas of young people from poor backgrounds. They found that there were many young people who wanted to solve social issues in their villages and neighbourhoods by starting off small businesses, but they would never find the financial backing for it. ‘Be! Fund’ was formed to provide capital and business support to these youngsters; like Ramakrishna, who wants to set up an affordable transport business to help farmers of his village send their produce to the market; like Poonam, who wants to provide nutritious food to low-income employees. These entrepreneurs become the solution providers for poverty in their own small ways – small ways that when put together will have the potential to solve poverty on a massive scale, as Lisa believes, and it’s all wrapped up in the most beautiful story they can dare to tell to children who need them the most.
To know more about Going to School – http://www.goingtoschool.com/
(Photos courtesy: Going to School)