Opinion: Poverty, famine and a tribe's quest for better life

School-aged Korku children in the Asha Kiran program. Photograph:( Others )

Jackson, MS, United States Nov 28, 2017, 07.02 AM (IST) Tod Etheredge

“Education is the manifestation of perfection already in a man.” -Swami Vivekananda

In a world of inequity, education often acts as a means for the less privileged to self-actualise. In an ideal world, all should have access to at least a basic level of education. However, this is far from the reality. Poverty, war, discrimination and many barriers prevent millions from having a good quality of education.

In India, the Right to Education Act (RTE), is a Parliamentary Act enacted on August 4, 2009. The Act mandates free and compulsory education for Indian children between ages 6 and 14 under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution. However, many Indians entitled to this free education are currently not enrolled in school. Many of these children are located in rural communities throughout the country.

Deep in the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, there exists a tribe known as the Korku tribe. Traditionally, the Korku are an agrarian people who have sustained themselves through subsistence farming. However, with the growing industrialisation of the country and the encroachment onto traditional Korku lands by other factions of society, it is becoming difficult for Korkus to sustain their traditional way of life. Currently, many Korku’s are facing a large problem with famine.

Adherence to traditional agrarian values drives many Korkus to place a lower value on education as compared to agriculture labour. Therefore, many Korku parents push their children to agrarian labour rather than formal schooling. Consequently, many Korku children are deprived of an education, and many Korku community leaders lack formal education.

Only 43.3 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s Korku children aged 5-14 are enrolled in school. Although all of these students by law are entitled to free education by government mandated public schools, many students are unable to attend school due to being so far behind educational benchmarks for their age. Under Indian law, children not in schools are classified as either “out of school children”, “school drop-outs”, or “children with no schooling at all”. An “out of school child” is a child aged 7 to 14 who has stopped going to school or irregular in school for 3 to 6 months. Beyond 6 months out of school, a child is considered to have “dropped out of school”. Consequently, many students need remediation in order to re-enter government and private schools.

In 2016, the Turn Your Concern into Action (TYCIA) foundation initiated a program known as the Asha Kiran program. The Asha Kiran project aims to remediate all three categories of children out of school back into school. The goal of the program is to re-introduce thousands of children, comprised mainly of Korku children, back into the school system. The program has a particular interest in helping children who are encompassed in the following socially disadvantaged groups: Children of inmates, children in conflict with the law, runaway children, children of sex workers, children of migrant workers, victims of child labour malpractices, HIV positive children, children of HIV positive parents, orphans, and other children in need of special care and protection.

In implementing the project, TYCIA has aimed to first identify children aged 7 to 14 in need of service. Second, enrol these children into remediation centres. Third, provide innovative and non-traditional educational tools to children to help them reenter school. Fourth, encourage parents to enter children into formal schooling system. Fifth, mobilise the community to become stakeholders in the Right to Education, or what is formally known as the “Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”. Sixth, evaluate the learning ability of the students and remediate students to formal school standards. Seventh, reintroduce students back into government schools. Once children are in government schools, TYCIA evaluates the performance of the students for the first 3 to 6 months of schooling.

School-aged Korku children in the Asha Kiran program. (Others)


In its first year of implementation, 2016-2017, the Asha Kiran project worked with approximately 1000 students to bring them to government school readiness. Due to funding constraints, the program was only structured for a one year period. However, the intention was to continue the program beyond one year as funding became available. Although the first year of the school met success with some students, there were structural adjustments that needed to be made to improve implementation.

Primarily, there were problems in providing full remediation to students who missed consecutive years of school. For many students, one year was not enough time to bring children to government school readiness. Consequently, there was a need to extend the amount of time that these particular children studied. As there was only one year of funding, there could be no guaranteed method of ensuring that these children received their necessary funding. Consequently, TYCIA is now restructuring the program to a multi-year format.

In the restructuring of the program, TYCIA is working with all new schools and villages in Madhya Pradesh. However, TYCIA wants to give continued aid for the students of the 2016 cohort. Therefore, TYCIA is now trying to both provide resources for the new program as well as resources to the students of last year’s program.

In the Asha Kiran program, I am helping TYCIA in both strategising for the structure of this year’s program and helping with reaching out to different donors. As TYCIA is restructuring program, I am helping with refining the details of program implementation. Also, TYCIA recently reached out to a donor in Spain requesting funding for the specific program. I took the lead in creating a concept note proposal detailing our need for this specific donor. The note detailed past accomplishments, current needs, current flaws, and future objectives. We are still waiting on a formal response from the note, but the prospects are looking good.

The work done by TYCIA helps hundreds of Korku children in Madhya Pradesh. As the Asha Kiran project moves forward in its development, I look forward to seeing the impact it will have on impoverished children in Madhya Pradesh. As my time as an AIF Clinton Fellow continues, I want to know the benefactors of the Asha Kiran project more intimately, and hopefully, have a positive impact on their lives.

This article was originally published on 27/11/2017 on American India Foundation.

(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity).

Tod Etheredge

Tod Etheredge is Clinton Foundation fellow. He works with Turn Your Concern into Action Korku tribe members of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.