Solar meets B.A.L.A.

Intervention ensures model schools in district

By Dev Kotak

Mokhada, the smallest block of Palghar District with the highest tribal population, has for long had to deal with poverty, unemployment, forced migration, water scarcity and poor governance. With schools and children’s health and learning facilities falling short on this priority scale, health and education standards in these villages are pitiable. Around 20% of children enrolled drop out while more than 50% are irregular. And a large number of this percentage are girls.
The Zilla Parishad Primary Schools that cater to children upto 5th Std. and sometimes even 7th Std. are in poor shape. At times classes can not even be held owing to the poor infrastructure. Inadequate lighting and lack of electricity, inability to pay electricity bills, no water for drinking purpose and no access to hygienic sanitation facilities for the children and teachers, as well as teacher training for engaged learning, are some of the most common issues that these schools faced. The school in Poshera was a model for this distress. However, that has changed.

The transformation is a glowing example of the power of the collective, and has been built on the twin principles of bhoodaan (donation of land) and shramdaan (voluntary contribution involving physical activity). In other words, the big landowners agreed to donate some part of their land for the larger cause of the village while the small peasants toiled away to meet these goals.

This intervention was led by Project Chirag in alliance with their grassroot partner, Diganta Swaraj Foundation.

Initially, there was reluctance among the villagers as land is the only asset we have. But when they [the NGOs] explained their plans to us, we could see that it would bring about substantial changes in the area and end our sufferings.

- Madhukar Ghane
A timely intervention by Project Chirag in Maharashtra’s Palghar district has ensured that the children of Poshera and Chikanpada village witness and experience sweeping changes in education and infrastructure. With a view to ensure an absolute turnaround at the Poshera school, through innovative learning methods and solar enabled and supported e-learning aid, the students have started recording full attendance at school and are working closely with teachers within classrooms to ensure a better teaching and learning environment
At the time of intervention, two aspects were kept in mind- creative development of spaces for teaching and learning in everyday situations, and development of a learning environment that has already been built.

“The water filtration plant consists of a pump submerged inside the lake. It pulls the water through suction up to a height of 80 feet and stores it in an overhead tank of 50,000-litre capacity,” informs Rahul Tivrekar, the founder and director of Diganta Swaraj Foundation.

The plant works on ultra-filtration technology. It’s power-efficient and a good idea for a village that suffers from the irregular electricity supply, he adds. Furthermore, the overhead tank is connected to taps across the village.

The idea was to focus not just on infrastructure but develop the spaces and training teachers to impart innovative teaching methods for the children, using the power of technology pivoted on solar power. To develop the environment, the method that worked was using BALA (Building As Learning Aid), innovatively treating the space and the built elements, to make the existing school architecture more resourceful. It incorporates the ideas of activity-based learning. Dyan Rachna Vaad, introduced by Maharashtra State Government that teaches how a child can develop his/her best and can use his knowledge in real life and skillfully live, was also imbibed into the setup.
The pictures speak a million words when one visits or views the pictures of what Poshera was before. The classrooms are anything but like those should be in a school. The transformation was in fact sweeping and the schools has gotten a massive boost, with the infrastructure, teaching methods and attendance issues amongst children, taking a complete 180 degrees turn.

The availability of clean drinking water has led to a drop in the cases of water-borne diseases in the village. “Earlier our stock of 50 tablets (for cough, fever and dysentery) would last for about two months. But our last stock lasted for eight months!” said the resident ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker.

The tap water facility was followed by the construction of public toilets in the hamlet. This has brought down the instances of open defecation and made the women feel safer.

“Earlier, we had to wait till the dark or venture out very early in the morning to the fields. And it was always embarrassing to take someone along to relieve ourselves. [But] after the construction of toilets, we don’t have to worry about our security,” says another woman anonymously.

In this solar powered e-school, there is a projector, tablets for effective learning, amphitheatre (open classroom), an activity centre (earlier unused godown like room), a library cum sports room and several other visible enhancements. Sustainability has shone brightly with designated areas waste water management and other activities in which the children are given practical experience. The result is teachers that are motivated and more committed, a 25% increase in enrollment, and 100% attendance. The children of Poshera are now more confident, actively participating and even winning science fairs and exhibitions, cultural events, sports tournaments at an inter-district level.

The electrical energy received from the grid activates the main control board that draws water from the dam and stores it in the overhead tank. Narendra Ghane, a 30-year-old farmer, who is in charge of operating the main control board, says, “The dam caters to Warghad and Gumbadpada villages. I run the motor for two to three hours every day to meet our requirements and fill up the tank.”

Clean energy and lighting have had far-reaching effects. Around 108 households in Warghadpada today have solar home lighting systems comprising of two bulbs, mobile charging facility and a portable lantern installed under Project Chirag. The farmers are able to save close to Rs100 per litre, which they would earlier spend to run the kerosene lamps. The lamps would also give off dangerous fumes, which the villagers don’t have to put up with any more.

In Poshera we a see a model school for the future of rural India.

These sustainability programmes have addressed the issue of migration in this tribal village. Labourers, who had returned to their homes during the pandemic, now grow and sell their farm produce in the open markets.

However, education does remain a challenge and it has suffered further because of the pandemic. On the one hand, schools and junior colleges within the Zila Parishad aren’t fully equipped to impart e-learning. On the other hand, many children haven’t been able to take online classes since the lockdown because their parents do not own a phone, leave a smartphone.

Stories of change