Gopalganj is a district 200 km away from Patna. But this isn’t a huge distance for Surya Prakash Rai, who travels this distance every weekend. His trips are to a remote village in Gopalganj where he has set up a library named Prayog. Set up in June 2013, regular classes are being held here every evening, free of cost, for children who do not have access to proper education and cannot afford private tuition. Furthermore, it has been successful in diminishing caste bias that existed in Gopalganj to a great extent.
Having worked with several NGOs after graduating from IIT-B, Rai says that he observed that lack of education is the root cause of almost every problem rural India faces. Unsure of where to begin and what to do, Rai spoke to a few children of Gopalganj, who explained the different problems they faced. Classrooms in the local schools were quite small. Also, there weren’t many teachers who were willing to teach them. “They told me that they wanted to read books but had no access to a library. So I thought of setting up a community library. Luckily, the community gave us the space to set it up,” explains Rai.
Here’s an interesting fact: The community centre is an open space with no walls, but luckily nothing has been stolen so far. As soon as the library was set up, they began daily classes and children were more than excited. They spread the message to their friends and currently around 200 children attend classes every day. A few young men from the village have also volunteered to teach. But there were obstacles too on the way. Caste bias, foremost among them. One day, Rai’s car was stopped by a few dalit women and children who looked depressed. “They asked me why their children couldn’t visit the library and attend the classes. They informed me that the children belonging to upper castes weren’t ready to sit alongside their children. I was shocked as I had failed to notice this,” narrates Rai. Promptly, he requested the women to send their children to the library. “It is the elders who poison the little ones with caste discrimination,” he recalls. But now, children of different classes and castes sit together and study under the same roof with happy faces.
Three years since inception, Rai sees how confident these children have become. Ones who weren’t able to identify numbers are scoring good grades in classes now. And they aren’t behind in using technology too!
A successful experiment
● Rai’s inspiration is Manish Bhardwaj, an engineering graduate from MIT, who quit his job in the US and settled in Bihar, working with tuberculosis patients
● Field trips are not new to Prayog children, but was a new concept to the villagers. Recently, the kids attended a SPIC MACAY event, where they were they learnt different fine arts forms
● Prayog had a crowdfunding project in milaap.org called ‘Light an ignited mind.’ The aim of the campaign was to provide solar study lamps to 200 such children. Rai says the motive of the campaign is to give the children enough time to read during the nights, saving them from harmful gases they breathe in and from the scolding of their parents to turn off the kerosene lamps after some usage only.
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