360 Degrees – The Impact of Seva Mandir’s Education Programs
In 2000, Seva Mandir launched its first Residential Learning Camp (also known as Camp) at the Kaya Training Facility, to give hundreds of out-of-school children a chance to learn and get a foothold into the mainstream education system. Many of these children are unable to go to school because they work as migrant laborers or they tend to their family farms. They come from some of the most impoverished and rural tribal communities in India. In our work area, there are many economic incentives that discourage children from enrolling in schools. The purpose of Seva Mandir’s education program is to give children access to a good quality education while also strengthening the value of education in the communities we work in.
Photo- For many children, the Residential Learning Camps are their first shot at an education.
Eight-year old Khuma Ram Gamatee was among the first students at the Camp in 2000. “While coming through the Training Centre (in village Kaya) gate for the first time I felt nervous. I wasn’t sure why I was here”, he recalled. He remembered how he overcame his initial anxiety at the 25-day camp and eventually made friends with children from other villages.
Nobody could have guessed that 13 years later Khuma Ram would return to Kaya as a teacher at the Camp. He began his schooling at a Seva Mandir non-formal education center in 1998. He was then recruited to enroll in the first Camp at Kaya, which he now remembers fondly. After the camp, Khuma Ram enrolled in a nearby government school, but maintained his connection with Seva Mandir by becoming active in the local Youth Resource Center.
As the first person in his family to receive an education, his commitment never wavered. In an area where most children never make it through primary school, Khuma Ram, the son of poor farmers, graduated from secondary school in 2011. He was then recruited to work at a shop in Mumbai, but feeling dissatisfied with the pace and strain of urban living, he left after two months to pursue a college education and work towards a better future.
Photo- Khuma Ram teaching his students Hindi at the Kaya Residential Learning Camp.
Soon after returning from Mumbai, Khuma Ram was approached by a Seva Mandir zone worker who asked him if he was interested in working as a teacher for Seva Mandir. When we asked him about why he took the offer he said, “I benefited a lot from Seva Mandir, I have taken [their] help every time in my life. I will never turn down any job from Seva Mandir”.
His eyes swelled then swelled with pride, “I got offers from other NGOs, but I declined them. I will only work for Seva Mandir”, he said.
At the Camp, Khuma Ram is quite the hero. He laughed when he recounted the disbelief and astonishment when, on the first day of the camp, he revealed to all the children that he is a former Camp student himself. To these new first-generation learners, he serves as a living role model who can relate to these students better than anyone.
Khuma Ram is now in his first year at a private university – the first university student from his village. He is proudly studying to become a better teacher and said he would prefer to stay close to his village and family rather than take a more lucrative teaching position in the city. In a country of rapid urbanization and deteriorating conditions for the rural poor, Khuma Ram serves as a reminder to many tribal children that their fate is in their own hands.