My life in Bhavnagar
In September 2001 I came to Bhavnagar for the first time. I was a student from University of Oslo (Norway) and about to start my field work in an exciting place, very different from my home town. I arrived by bus from Ahmedabad. When I got off the bus I was met by some friendly faces from Shaishav. All settled in my new home I was taken on a small sightseeing around Bhavnagar. I will never forget my first day. So full of impressions, friendly and curious people and Paruls Sheths wonderful Guajarati food. The first wonderful meal of many.
My interest of study was children dropping out of school. Hence, staying with Shaishav and observing how they work game me insight to the some of the profound challenges of the Indian education system. I often went with their mobile wan out in the field. The mobile van is a mobile school on wheels that supports many poor communities with educational activities. In 2001 Shaishav supported several schools in Kumbharwada and Khedodwas (in addition to other places) the two areas of Bhavnagar were I did most of my field work.
A perfect field day for me was going with one of the Shaishav members to Kumbharwada (one of my favourite places in Bhavnagar). Often I stayed in the class room observing the teaching and the children. I also visited the teaching centres Shaishav run in the local community. After observing I did interviews with teachers, children or parents. Interviews with parents usually took place in their home. When I went with Shaishav members I was welcomed everywhere. Being welcomed in people’s homes and learning about their lives gave me valuable insight how the community works. It also gave me a nuanced explanation as to why children drop out of school. Poverty is the usual explanation given by teachers and government officials. “We can lead the horse to the water, but we cannot force the horse to drink”, a primary school official told me. Is this really the whole truth? Is it really the parent’s lack of awareness and the need for their children’s economic contribution that leads to drop out from school? A lot of the children in Kumbharwada start school, but they drop out the first or second year. That told me that parents, even though they are poor, have an interest in education. But they face the harsh reality of an education system and a local school that is not able to give the children quality education. Then child labour becomes a real alternative to a school which is not functioning. So if the aim is universal education sitting around waiting for poverty to be eradicated is far too passive. That is starting in the wrong end! Start by giving the children the quality education they deserve!
One of my dearest memories from my stay with Shaishav is the Balmela in Kutch. Kutch was at that time suffering from the destruction of the earth quake and Shaishav had several activities for the children in this region. The Balmela was a great gathering with hundreds of children, playing and eating together. It was then I realized how many children Shaishav reaches with their educational activities.
In Bhavnagar I made good friends which I never will forget. Shaishav staff and especially Parul and Falgun are really special people devoted to make a better future for the children growing up to day. During my second visit in 2010 I was pleased to see that Shaishav is now reaching even more children.