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Bypassing poor online teaching, Odisha girl-volunteers taught children during Covid

By Naba Kishor Pujari*

Jamuna Podiami gets up early in the morning to finish her household chores before her modest hut turns into a school. Jamuna is a 19-years-old tribal girl from the Parajaguda village of Odisha's Malkangiri district, who completed her higher secondary examination in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, following which she got married. And since December 2020, she has been teaching 35 children from classes 1 to 6 every day.
The children start arriving at 6 am and Jamuna holds court till 9 am. After the only primary school in the village closed in mid-March 2020 due to the Covid-induced pandemic, many school students began helping their families with herding cows and goats.
“Soon after the primary school in our village was closed last year due to Covid, education of children paused. None of the children in my village have smartphones and could not attend online classes initiated by the school and mass education department of the Odisha government”, said Jamuna.
Recognizing the need, a Delhi-based NGO called Atmashakti Trust started Mo Chatashali, a community-owned education initiative in 17 districts of the state that has helped over 1 lakh children to continue their education during the pandemic.
Always keen to devote time and contribute to society, Nurya Patel of Dumerbahal village of Kalahandi district also followed Jamuna's path. When the government announced school closure due to COVID-19, Nurya was the only hope for children of her village as most of them had little or no access to online education during the pandemic.
Nurya says, “Being engaged to a social cause as a volunteer makes me feel extremely happy as my work somehow bridging the digital divide among children. I also feel that it is important to give back to the community, be it in small ways.”
Every day, Nurya teaches 20 children of classes 1 to 5 in her village with the support of local people’s collective Nagarik Vikas Sangathan. The energy, time, and effort of Nurya are not only helping children to learn but also shaping a pivotal milestone for volunteers to become socially aware and responsible.
The situation of Kaliaguda, a remote village of Kundura block in Odisha’s Koraput district, was no different as parents and villagers were dwindling over the non-availability of alternative learning facilities in their locality. They were also desperate to find an alternative solution to this problem as they knew that loss of learning could be devastating for children, especially in their early years.
In this time of crisis, Bhagabati Naik, an 18-year-old girl served as a ray of hope. Bhagabati always had an inclination towards society and was always keen to do something that impacts the lives of the children. So, she joined as a volunteer in Mo Chatashali centre in her village which is being run by Lok Bikash Mancha with community support.
On being asked, Bhagabati says, “I have struggled a lot to continue my education being a girl child and therefore I can’t let these children go through the same hurdles. So, I decided to teach them. Volunteering is something close to my dream where I can see myself in the eyes of the children”.
In Chatashali, 18 children are receiving remedial education from Bhagabati for 2 to 3 hours every day and this is helping them to improve their learning level.
“For us, Bhagabati is a hope. Children who were almost detached from their books are now back to their learning. Especially, the passion that she puts behind the work is truly inspiring,” said Sumitra Bhumia, a parent of that village who has been sending her two children to Mo ChatashalI regularly.
“Volunteers like Jamuna, Nurya, and Bhagabati are examples of how women can set examples by giving back to their communities. Their burning desire to bring social change is what helped us to sustain the initiative”, said Ruchi Kashyap, executive trustee of Atmashakti Trust.
Our idea was to involve local youths in order to help them inculcate ownership and accountability through this engagement. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic was a big blow to education for underprivileged children, these volunteers played a crucial role in keeping these children continue their learning in that time”, she added.
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*Manager-Media and Communications, Atmashakti Trust

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