Concern for environment, social health and human rights

Child Development

Child Sponsorship Project in a Coastal District of West Bengal

Towards a community-based extra-curricular education programme for children of coastal communities in West Bengal.

The beginning: From 2002, DISHA has been working for the protection of the coastal environment and of the rights of small-scale coastal fish workers of Purba Medinipur.Since 2015, ActionAid India started supporting our activities to protect sustainable fisheries and conservation of natural resources through a child sponsorship project. The idea was of supporting the children of a community so that the development of the community may be linked to the development of the children. Objectives: The main aim of the project was securing the child rights and ensuring that they did not become victims of abuse or regressive social practices (rather than providing forms of aid, e.g. direct educational support).The development of each child (of 4-7 years of age)would be tracked for 5 – 7 years so that:

a) Children can grow up as human beings with basic opportunities (towards health, nutrition and formal education)
b) Children can avail formal school education, free of cost
c) No school drop out before secondary education takes place
d) No gender discrimination between girls and boys take place
e) Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is implemented and children receive quality education
f) Children are not engaged as labourers
g) Child trafficking does not take place
h) Child marriage does not take place
i) Families of the children have basic awareness on health and nutrition of the children

Area of operation

For effective implementation of the project goals, DISHA identified 10 villages in 2 coastal blocks, namely Ramnagar II Block (7 villages) and Deshapran Block (3 villages) in the Contai Sub-Division of Purba Medinipur District.

The two coastal blockshave a considerable proportion of the small-scale fishers and fishworkers among whom DISHA was already working.The familiarity with the local community and their socio-economic conditions, gave us a better opportunity to develop our program keeping in mind the needs of the children along with our project goals.

The Children

736 children (370 girls and 366 boys) of ages 4-7 years were selected from across 10 villages in the two clusters. Subsequently, the number of children has increased to 840, of which about 423 are girls and 417 are boys.

The Team

The project team, consisting of 1 Coordinator and the 15 moderators, all from the local community, initially started with monitoring the children and their ambiences so as to ensure their rights.They used their close ties with the community and the children to encourage them to prepare pretty message sheets to send to the sponsors. As children became more and more interested, a full-fledged drawing and painting classdeveloped as part of the program.
Soon, with the initiative of the project team alongwith the help and encouragement of the parents led to the development and introduction of singing, dancing, physical fitness, elocution, and yoga classes.

Expert trainers were brought in to train both the children and the moderators.Eventually, more children started attending the child centres with eagerness and anticipation, as the parents realized that the children were acquiring abilities and skills way beyond what was available in the village primary and even post-primary schools. Soon enough, children were using their newfound skills in writing project slogans,creating attractive posters and including social messages in their dance forms, songs, and elocution performances.

One campaign after another on child health, child rights, and gender discrimination was accompanied by cultural programmes drawing large crowds of enthusiastic local residents.Workshops were conducted on health, hygiene, and gender awareness. Mothers’Committees that included the women members of the Panchayat and ASHA workers were developed to look into local child health and prevent discrimination against the girl child.

Soon, something that began as a pedagogical development was internalized by the community members and gradually transformed into a bundle of activity having its roots deep in the community itself.

Attaining the objectives

Dropouts: Among 800 children who were direct beneficiaries of the project, there was no school dropout during last 6 years. Only 5 children migrated from the area along with their families. Reports revealed that they took admission in schools where they migrated. Moreover, non-beneficiary families have also been influenced by the no-dropout campaign. We find that the school dropout rate has become zero in the project villages as well, which is particularly significant for the villages of Dadanpatrabar and Teghari, where children were often employed in fish sorting and drying.

Child Labour: None of the children have been employed as a child labourer.
Child marriage and child trafficking: None of the children have been victims of child marriage or child trafficking.
Child Health: Repeated campaigns involving mothers regarding paying special attention to child health has resulted in increased awareness among parents about giving children adequate nutrition, within the family’s means. Two children expired—one due to sudden heart attack after a brief and virulent bout of some undiagnosed fever and the other as a culmination of chronic kidney disease. The child who expired due to chronic illness received constant logistics support from DISHA for his medical treatment.
Reporting to the sponsors: As required, message sheets from children and photographs of their group activities were routinely and periodically sent to the sponsors.
Gender sensitization: Persistent campaigns against gender discrimination have borne fruit. Visits to the beneficiary families reveal that discrimination against girl children has declined. This is noticeable, for example, during mealtimes— it was observed that discriminatory practices such as feeding boy child more food, compared to girl child stopped. Visits to other families and discussions in the villages indicate that the new mindset is percolating outside the beneficiary families.