Prakash is a boy studying in 10th standard at Government High school Yappeldini village, about 25 kilometers from Raichur. But he lives in Donga Rampur village which is about 7 Kms away from his school and he has to cycle up and down everyday. His village school has classes only up to 7th standard. Many of Prakash’s friends form the village, mainly girls, have discontinued their studies because they find it a difficult task to cycle to their nearest High School.Prakash and his friends want the government to start a high school in his village so they can being about a change. But how will they do it?
They will write about this issue in their newspaper! A newspaper which they hand-write and paste it across the walls in their village wherever people gather. It might sound childish to many, but their newspaper stories have resulted in repair of what was once a road filled with potholes, that connected Raichur and their village. Their newspaper Chinnara Manasa , says Prakash can make them bring about another significant change in their village.
Prakash is one of the 1143 ‘Child reporters’ of Chinnara Manasa village newsletters, mentored by UNICEF under a project spreading across 225 villages in rural areas of Raichur district in Karnataka. The project was started by UNICEF in association with the local Zila Panchayat under the article 12 and 13 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which advocates right to participation. Article 12 says that every child has the right to express views on all decisions made by adults that affect children and their views must be taken into account. Article 13 states that Children have the right to get and share information, as long as the information is not damaging to them or others. In exercising the right to freedom of expression, children have the responsibility to also respect the rights, freedoms and reputations of others. The freedom of expression includes the right to share information in any way they choose, including by talking, drawing or writing.
Raichur is one of the most backward districts on Karnataka and with most people being illiterates there is lack of knowledge about health care, sanitation, education and rights. The project began with the hope of making the children to be the agents of change in Raichur.Abid Ahmed , child reporters Coordinator at Raichur, says ” Master trainers appointed by UNICEF to identify and make teams of 5 children from every village in all the high schools in this region. Students who are confident and interactive are identified and picked up to be child reporters. One day training class is held Theoretical classes are conducted on editorial policies and the way the news is to be gathered and reported. We concentrate on the language the children need to use in writing content for Chinnara Manasa newsletter. We stress them to use terms which their local villagers will be familiar with. We ask them to avoid difficult words. Also we tell them to write in big and bold letters, so that people standing at few feet distance away from the wall where the newsletter is pasted, should be able to read it. We also instruct them to avoid names of individuals and focus more on the issues.”
The program has helped in building the writing and observation skills of the children, and in making them aware of their rights. They are slowly beginning to question everyone from administrators in their schools, to local village Panchayat and to bureaucrats. Vikas Verma, Communication Specialist UNICEF says, “The basic idea of the project is that children must take part in issues in their community that affect them. They have a role to play in solving these issues at one end. And secondly, by making them look at these issues from a new perspective, we hope they would grow up to become adults who would then be able to address these issues in the same manner among their children. So it is a long-term process.”
Lot of changes have been brought about by the activities of these child reporters. Cemented roads are getting made in villages, water related issues seem to be getting solved and facilities in schools seem to be improving.Thirumala reddy, a child reporter from Vadepalli village says, “The bore wells and hand pumps in our village were not operational. We wrote about it and finally a month back they repaired one hand pump in Vadepalli and now the villagers are able to get water for daily needs from it. We are really thrilled about it.” Narasimhaa, a child reporter studying in Gunjalli village says, “The work of Ramalingeshwara Gudi temple in our village had stopped. After we wrote about it ,the work has started again. Also our article has resulted in cemented roads being built in our village.” Still a lot need to be done though. Children are writing about need of more classrooms, more teachers, better toilets in schools and villages, building of drains, power supply and even more. They are hoping that it will be just a matter of time when these issues get addressed.
Not all is hunky dory though. Like every other journalistic venture even this newsletter of children has faced stiff resistance testing their determination and courage. “In a particular village, the Gram Panchayat members had confronted the children and their families, after the children wrote about problems in their village. Finally, when they realized that the program was done in association with Zilla Panchayat they had no option but to keep quite and solve the problems highlighted by the children.” says Farzana the taluk level Coordinator of the program at Raichur Taluk. A child reporter in Kudlur village said, “We wrote that people in our village need buses and then pasted the Chinnara Manasa Patrike on the walls here. Some auto drivers who were afraid of their business getting affected with the start of bus service, tore the newsletter and threw it to the garbage in front of us. Also most people don’t know to read and write and hence do not understand that we are writing issues that matter to them. They simply tear it like they tear away any movie poster. Also, children are given contact numbers of master trainers so that they can always be contacted if any issues come up during and after the newsletter is made.”
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