AMDG

Many Dalit children are left to a life of illiteracy and looking after sheep or goats

Education is the key to unlocking poverty so it is fascinating to observe first hand the struggles and resistance in creating a culture of education in an area where until now there has been very little.  We take education for granted but here in Raichur District the literacy rates are the lowest in Karnataka State.  The impressive Indian Censusof 2011 (perhaps unique in the modern age for technological expertise in such a diverse country indicates that rural literacy rates in Karnataka have increased from 59% in 2001 to 68% in 2011  (with girls only 59% boys 78%).   Here in Raichur District – the literacy rate is still hovering around the 50% mark, which makes the Xavier High School and the Loyola College here so important.  But it is also a challenge educating so many students from families who have always been illiterate, as it is involves changing minds and hearts or parents and grandparents too.

The Jesuit High School - almost entirely for Dalits offers a way out and hope for the future

Today I have been preparing presentations to the students on basic hygiene.  This is very important particularly for our boarding students (400+).  They are all from very poor villages – and as such are used to a different way of life. This can create problems when we have so many living in a small space – the boarding hostel.  They need to live here so that we can ensure they attend classes every day and do not spend time in the fields grazing goats as their parents would ask.  They are all the first ones in their families to go to secondary school.  Many families still  live a subsistence life so it takes a while for them to understand and value the importance of education.  Most of the children are sponsored through excellent charities such as Supporting Dalit Children, but still every family must pay something towards the education  and living costs.  Yesterday morning it was very sad to see a group of children in tears outside the gates, because their parents had not paid their annual fees – after weeks and weeks of promising.  Each pays what they can – for some it is as low as 500 rupees a year (£7 or $10).  I was told that their parents are relying on the Jesuits to be  kind, but they are standing firm.  This is important as all must value their education.  Today most have come and paid what they promised.

Part of my preparations is to teach the children how to use a latrine toilet.  Many of them used to living in the small villages have always gone and squatted in the fields. With 4oo living together in the hostel this proves to be a health hazard but they are frightened of using the commode – so part of my presentation is to show them why this is important. Fr Rohan (the head of the school) suggested I show them the video below by Wilbur Sargunaraj who has been called the first Indian ‘You Tube’ sensation.  From Madurai, Tamil Nadu, he is famous for his music and instructional videos.  Through his songs and his videos he aims to promote cultural intelligence.  I showed the video to the college teachers I am training and they were laughing and cringing! It is true that is not a sophisticated image of India – but I find him very likeable and this video is interesting (as well as funny) because it shows the basic level of education that is needed – which those of us who are urban and literate take for granted.  It is worth noting that the video is meant for us foreigners on how to use an Eastern Latrine.