26 July 2016

Bringing Digital Literacy to Kenyan schools

“We have no reason anymore not to improve our grades, because now we are better equipped, even more than our neighbouring schools who have been outperforming us” said Boniface Nakori, the head teacher of Sionta Primary School in Samburu County. The school, which was constructed in the middle of a pastoral zone, did not have many facilities, until recently. It is a similar story in the neighbouring Turkana county, where many schools do exist, but with inadequate facilities. One of the tenets of providing a basic education is accessibility, but if the education that we provide our children is to be meaningful, there has to be an equal emphasis on quality. And today, providing quality education also means ensuring that children are not left behind on the rapid strides made in the digital age.

Under its Education Resource Centre (ERC) project, Pragya conducted training across seven schools, in Samburu and Turkana counties in Northern Kenya, and provided schools with digital learning equipment and teaching learning materials (TLMs). The provision of DVDs and other materials ensures that quality education is delivered to the students. In many schools, the system was already in operation for sometime now, and the feedback from the students was enthusiastic. In the Kapua Primary School, the TVs had been linked with satellite television, enabling the school to tune into education programs. Mrs. Kerio, a guidance and counseling teacher in Nakwamekwi School, found the material useful in teaching the students about sex education, especially the symptoms and effects of various sexually transmitted diseases. The teachers found the materials immensely helpful in teaching science subjects that tend to require a lot of illustrations, which was made easy; and in some instances, the project helped the students who had never used laptops to do so. One of the outcomes of the project is that it familiarizes the students with digital materials, providing them with the necessary skills and confidence to function in the digital age.

20 July 2016

Engendering Change - Himachal's first solar wind power plant

A recent agreement signed between the Himachal Pradesh State Electricity Board and Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) will see a 2.5MW solar-wind hybrid power project being set up at Rangrik, Kaza in Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh in India. The solar – wind hybrid plant, to be commissioned by 2017, is part of an attempt by India to transform its energy sector. In the recently concluded Paris Climate change agreement, India has agreed to generate 40% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2030.  By 2022, India is looking to add 175,000 MW of clean energy, of which solar and wind energy are estimated to constitute 10500 and 52500 MW, or 90% of the total output.

Besides the ostensible benefits of clean energy, localized energy generation has a huge impact on the lives of people living in remote rural communities, where reaching traditional grid based power is a challenge.  Pragya’s foray into providing clean energy to the people in remote communities was through a pilot solar – wind hybrid system in Lossar and Youche villages in Lahaul & Spiti, and the Shyaso village in Kinnaur, both in Himachal Pradesh. Lahaul and Spiti is part of the larger cold desert region in the Himalayas, a sparsely populated region with a huge renewable energy potential.

As part of our efforts to increase the use of renewable energy in the area, Pragya worked closely with the village members and district officials, training the people in the use of renewable energy technologies, and using the pilot project to encourage more districts to use renewable energy to generate electricity. As part of the advocacy efforts, at the national level, we organised a workshop on “Accelerating Renewable Energy Deployment in Rural Himalayas” in July 2015, at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Dr. Ashvini Kumar, the Managing Director, Solar Energy Corporation of India (SECI) was the chief guest of the event.

5 July 2016

Empowering the Hinterlands - An Update

In ancient times, a scapegoat was an animal on whose back the sins of a community were placed, and was cast out in the desert, which is where the term scapegoating comes from. One of the forms in which this practice continues to live, is witch hunting, still prevalent in parts of India today. In the hinterlands of the country, it is convenient for the community to transfer its misfortunes on those already at the margins: widows, unmarried or old women.

According to the most recent report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB, 2014), out of the 156 murder cases relating to ‘witchcraft’ reported in the country, 47 were from Jharkhand.  The report does not include cases of violence not resulting in murder or the social death that the victims accused of witchcraft suffer. Witch-hunting is mainly used as a pretext for rape or grabbing property, but sometimes illness or sudden death of people or livestock can also trigger the anger of the community.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Pragya Sashaktikaran Kendra – Empowerment Centre (EC) – in Ranchi, Dr Mahua Manji, Chairperson of Jharkhand State Women’s Commission, said, “witch-hunting mainly occurs due to health issues in the community”.

In the rural areas of Jharkhand and other states, people rely heavily on Ojhas, or spiritual healers or exorcists, in spite of the presence of Primary Healthcare Centres. A lack of understanding of basic health issues and formal healthcare contributes to high mortality rate from diseases, and the Ojhas, with no formal training in medicine, are often the ones to brand and therefore instigate the violence against the ‘witches’.

Punam Toppo, a social activist who has been campaigning to prevent Violence Against Women (VAW) for more than a decade, has felt the effect of this violence first hand. Her grandmother, under whose care she grew up after her parents passed away, was accused of being a witch; the family was designated a social outcast and was forced to move out of the village. Ms. Toppo is associated with the Association for Social and Human Awareness (ASHA), which works for the empowerment of women in the grassroots. Pragya has partnered with ASHA in Jharkhand, and together we have formed Women’s Peer Groups (WPGs) in 10 villages in Ranchi district, raising awareness about the basic issues of health, nutrition and women’s rights.

Pragya has also established an Empowerment Centre in Tezpur in Soniptur district of Assam. The state, which passed legislation against witch hunting in 2015, has been in the news for the high prevalence of witch hunting practices. Our project in Sonitpur covers a total of 10 villages in the Dekhiajuli and Chariduari blocks. The formation of the WPG in Batachipur village saw the participation of upwards of 100 women. We received an enthusiastic response from Ghargra Kachari, Gormara Kachari, and Shantipur villages in Dekhiajuli block and Bogijuli village in Chariduari block.

Pragya has expanded its presence to Jharkhand and Assam with the establishing of these ECs and will be moving to include Bihar shortly. This is part of a joint project with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women (UNTF), and will cover ten districts in five states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Bringing children back to schools

The earthquakes and aftershocks which struck Nepal in 2015 had an enormous impact on the country’s poorest communities. The effect on Nepal...