“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” ― Nelson Mandela
In India children have a right to education. With 44% of India’s population being made up of children, its education infrastructure needs to be vast enough to capacitate them.
By providing children with a safe and strong learning environment, we enable them to act and mitigate their own risks in the future. This makes them resilient.
Among lives lost in disasters at least one out of three is a child below 18 years of age.
|Roughly one billion children aged 0-14 live in countries with high seismic zones. Several hundred are at risk when they are attending schools|
Children are the most vulnerable social groups due to their physical, psychological and social vulnerabilities. This makes them unable to cope with big disasters or even daily shocks and stresses. One way to reduce this vulnerability is to provide them with a strong and safe learning environment that enables them to act and mitigate their own risks in the future. This is not achievable considering the present condition of schools in India. Many of the primary educational institutions in India do not have access to proper electricity, sanitation and qualified teachers. True, just having great school infrastructure is not sufficient to improve learning outcomes, but it is certainly a necessary condition.
Families in India also have several prejudices about girls that prevent them from getting a good education—like girls are slow learners, they are not rational; they are to be confined inside the domestic household, and why bother about educating them? etc. There needs to be a behavioral change in the way communities view education for both boys and girls. It is essential to make them realise that education is important and worth investing their time and money in.
Through our School Safety Initiative we aim to make children resilient, by creating safe environments for children in schools through access to safe infrastructure, capacity building, education and training. We intend to achieve zero mortality of children in schools from preventable disasters in the future.
What we do
Within every community, there are institutions that carry more weight than just their normal functions. Schools are perfect examples of these. Schools occupy a special status within every community and position them to become ‘safe havens’. Thus, in the aftermath of a disaster, education services are one of the most important ways to restore the sense of routine to the community. It plays a key role in facilitating psychological healing of children and adolescents through peer interaction and a sense of normalcy. The reconstruction process is an opportunity not just to restore what was lost, but to help the community build their resilience to better withstand future emergencies.
Disaster resilient features are incorporated in schools based on the geographical vulnerability. The schools have separate toilet units for boys and girls and drinking water facilities customised to the children’s’ needs. We give special importance to creating child friendly learning spaces by incorporating a multiple sensory experience into the otherwise uni-sensory textbooks and blackboards. E.g. Colourful education graffiti on the walls, open and well-lit classrooms that make for a conducive learning environment.
Community participation is the key to the success of our intervention. If the people themselves take initiative and participate in building the school, a sense of ownership is cultivated towards the school. This ensures the sustainability of the project as the people are now motivated to maintain the school in the future.
Among all public amenities, schools and the children inside them are among the most vulnerable groups during any disaster. Thousands of children lose their lives every year in deadly disasters, mostly while attending classes. No task is more important as creating a safe learning environment for our children. Children need not be mere recipients of emergency aid or risk reduction support. They can be leaders and agents of change for a culture of disaster safety.
Our school safety program includes formation of training and capacity building task forces of students in schools, conducting mock drills, interactive learning material like games, bookmarks, posters etc., workshops for students promoting school safety and developing disaster management plans and evacuation maps in schools.
We undertake structural assessments of schools and retrofit or repair damaged and unsafe school buildings. Additionally, non-structural mitigation measures are taken to safeguard children from threats of falling hazards.
School campuses offer the basic facilities, amenities and infrastructure necessary to conduct education programmes, but usually miss out on the physical environment. This is not generally appealing or stimulating to the children who attend them, contributing to student apathy, low motivation and a marked disinclination to attend school.
Through BALA, we aim to create a three-dimensional space that offers a unique setting for a child to learn because it can introduce a multiple sensory experience into the otherwise uni-sensory textbook or a blackboard transacted by a disinterested teacher.
For example, a window grill can be designed to help the children practice pre-writing skills or understand fractions; a range of angles can be marked under a door shutter on the floor to explain the concept of angles; or ceiling fans can be painted with colour wheels for the children to enjoy ever-changing formations; moving shadows of a flag-pole to act like a sundial to understand different ways of measuring time; planting trees that shed their leaves in winters and are green in summers to make a comfortable outdoor learning space.
Women in India have always received the short end of the stick in all aspects of life. A task as simple and basic as defecation has become life threatening. In May 2014 two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh visiting a field used as a communal toilet were raped, murdered and strung up from a tree. That case won notoriety for its extreme barbarity, but similar attacks are distressingly common. Even schools in India that are supposed to be safe spaces for children to learn and grow mostly have just one single toilet for both boys and girls. Girls do not prefer to use them as it does not provide them with any privacy; they also end up being subjected to harassment and eve teasing by the opposite sex if they use the common toilet. To avoid this, little girls in schools hold their bladders for long periods of time which is not only uncomfortable but also increases their risks of infections. Adolescent girls skip school during mensuration and eventually drop out as harassment and eve teasing only increases with age.
All schools built by SEEDS have separate toilet units for girls. We also believe that it is equally important to educate the children and staff on the importance of maintaining and keeping the toiles clean. Building toilets in schools has proven to increase girls’ enrolment rates by 11 %. We also work with communities, grass root organisations as well as the government and help sensitize them towards the harassment faced by young girls in public spaces on their way to school. A community led approach is taken to encourage them to find solutions to this problem and take appropriate steps to create a safer environment for girls both inside and outsides schools.