Stories of four teachers in Naxal Belt

Every day, Sori and three other teachers engage with their students beyond the school hours of 9 am-3 pm.
At 5 pm, a group of girls is playing kabaddi in a field, shouting excitedly at each other. In another part of the campus, a group of girls, arms looped around each other’s waists, dances to folk music. A little later, the girls giggle, goof around, and finally end up watching a Hindi movie on television, in their hostel. “They watch sports, even news sometimes. We sometimes discuss the movies they watch. We engage with the students every minute of the day, including with those who take special coaching classes between 6 and 7 pm,” says Sori.

The school itself is spotless. The floor of the main courtyard is decorated with giant chess squares and ludo boards. One room has seven computers, with the children hooked to “Microsoft Paint”. Another has shawls that the students have embroidered. Every spare inch of the wall is covered with photographs of ‘Indian achievers’. “The most popular in our school is Kalpana Chawla. The girls dream of moving out of Dantewada. We tell them to dream of going to space,” Sori says.

Dada Jokal, Assistant Project Coordinator of the Rajiv Gandhi Mission, says that Sori was selected for the award not only for fostering an environment conducive for learning, but for her efforts in bringing children into school.
While the school, which has classes from VI to VIII, has full attendance now — a 100 students and four teachers — this is not always true in June. Sori says, “Two months before our term starts in July, we visit the most interior villages to bring the girls to school. We get to hear the same arguments — that there is no future after school for girls, that they will have an extra hand at home if the girls stay back at home. We realised that the best way to convince these parents is for our girls to talk to them. So we formed what we call a ‘Meena Manch’. Beginning January, the girls perform plays and sing songs in villages to convince parents to send their children to school. They walk for kilometres in the jungles, go to the villages, and bring other girls like them to school. When they return, they tell us that a particular family is being stubborn. That’s when we step in. The teachers then go and try to convince the parents to send the girls to school.”
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