Shaishav Street Theater: “AAVO, AAVO RE!”

How do you get a city of nearly 600 thousand people to rally around a government sponsored education act when many of the citizens may not even know of its existence?

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Shaishav decided to tackle the unawareness of the Right to Education (RTE) act, an education reform process that aims to make the right to quality education a reality for all. We brought awareness through community based street theater performances that demonstrated the act’s purpose, importance, and necessary means for making it a meaningful step in actualizing the right to quality education in India.

Seventy five performances were organized and performed by Shaishav staff members and the organization’s children and youth of Balsena and Tarunsena. Performances were done throughout 56 different communities of Bhavnagar and attended by approximately 10,000 citizens, both adults and children.

Our actors entered the area shouting and playing the khanjari and dhol, musical instruments. Calling out “Aavo re aavo!” or “Come!” people began to emerge and form an audience. The play consisted of a dialogue on the Right to Education act between two actors. The leader would ask questions such as, “In the RTE they mention that there must be one teacher per 30 students in a classroom. Is this true in your school?” or “Does your school have gender specific bathrooms?” After the performance, the questions were than posed to the audience.

The performances and follow-up discussions covered an explanation of the RTE act and the importance of school management committees to demand and monitor the implementation. Performance leaders directly informed parents on the rights of their children. Parents learned about their role in ensuring the rights of their children are being met through the RTE act.

Just as the community learned about the RTE act, we became aware of valuable information through audience feedback. For example, in Devipujak Nagar, the team learned that students of the Scheduled Caste category have to clean toilets at school campus. Shaishav also learned that some scholarship programs in schools are not giving the money to those who are eligible as the money gets stuck in school management without reaching the needy children.

One of the most significant points demonstrated to us was the overwhelming interest and level of seriousness that local women showed at the performances. Nearly 80% of the audience was made up of women. Even during the performances, these women would interject to answer or ask questions posed to the follower. These interjections indicated a strong interest in the RTE act and their children’s rights and education by the female community members.

Shaishav hopes the street theater performances have created a stronger interest in parents to join the school management committees. Joining these committees will allow parents to direct monitor and affect the educational environment their students are learning in. The next election period for these committees is in June 2013.

Shaishav’s Executive Director Parul Sheth stated, “RTE is a very important act as far as the development of the child is concerned because [Shaishav] believe[s] education can break the vicious cycle of poverty and child labor. If all children are going to school and getting quality education, then we can make sure children are not going into labor or getting exploited. The street theater performances furthered the existing campaign on “Child Labor Free Bhavnagar” by making sure that children are getting their very basic, important fundamental rights. And the parents are also empowered as they are playing an important role in bringing this very basic right to the kids.”

Although the government’s initiative in adopting the RTE act is a step in the right direction, formalized rights documents become most legitimate when they transcend into real solutions for the populations they were written for. Because of this truth, communities of Bhavnagar must demand outcomes in order to ensure an efficient implementation of such a game-changing government agreement. It is through this imperative that we performed night after night to inspire citizens to take ownership of the rights that have been proclaimed as their own.

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