Pragya Bharti, 13, of Gudichhatri — a settlement in the extremely remote Patalkot area of Chhindwara district in MP, about 250 km from Bhopal — was so shy a year ago that she would not even look up when spoken to.
But now, Pragya, who belongs to the primitive Bharia tribe, confidently speaks about issues concerning her village as well as about children’s rights in general.
“All children should get the freedom to study and to play. They should be allowed to choose their own vocation, and girl children should especially be helped for higher education,” Pragya says.
This transformation in Pragya and at least 100 others from 12 villages of Patalkot area could easily be attributed to them being part of a creativity project launched in the area by NGO MP Vigyan Sabha, with the support of UNICEF in the state.
The project, launched in July 2014, encourages the children of Bharia and Gond tribal communities to express their creativity and views on various issues through a periodical and a wallpaper - both called Guiyyan (friend).
The children, in the age group of 12-17 years, write prose, poems and make drawings and paintings that are included in the periodical and added to the wallpaper that are alternately published. The wallpaper is printed and pasted at schools, anganwadis, tribal ashrams, panchayats and other government buildings in the area, while the periodical is distributed among some key people.
“It is heartening to see how Pragya and her peers have grown in confidence over the last year thanks to the creativity project. This positive change in their personality would go a long way in helping them,” Sangeeta Dhurve, a teacher at the higher secondary school in nearby Ghatlinga village says. Sangeeta mentors the children and also conducts free coaching for them.
Vigyan Sabha general secretary SR Azad told HT that due to the remote setting of the villages (they are situated in a valley in the Satpuda ranges and people have to walk 2-5 km to reach main roads), children did not get the opportunity to express their feelings and creative aptitude. “With this opportunity, they have bloomed into well-poised young persons,” he says.
Regular creativity workshops are conducted by Vigyan Sabha to help children express themselves. Sharing her view in a recent workshop, Jambati Uike, a Class 7 student of Gaildubba, said earlier she and her friends would feel very bad as they often were stopped from going to school by their elders, “but now our parents enquire about our progress and we feel very happy.”
Akash Bharti, 14, of Khamakhur, says that he loves sports along with studies. “I want to become a national-level volleyball player. I am working hard towards that,” he says. Gunja Bharti of Dhanakaudia, a Class 8 student, shares that pregnant women and children in her village receive vaccination once a month.
“It is important that children are raising issues which matter to them and it is their right to do so. The state government must then ensure they are heard, protected and nurtured,” Trevor Clark, UNICEF MP chief, said while speaking to HT.