Educating and empowering children of fishing community

Ever imagined what type of lives the fishermen community in India lead? Due to economic difficulties that fishermen and fisherwomen face, they send their children at an early age to earn a living. There have been difficult times like the tsumani that struck Tamil Nadu in December 2004 resulting in fishing opportunities being affected but that cannot be an excuse to put young tender aged children of 10 years or less to work. Society for Education and Action (SEA) is one movement started in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu to counteract child labor and provide education to children of fishermen community. It was founded in 2000 by community development workers and young people from thirty-two local fishing villages in and around the area. It has mainly been working for Children Rights, Education and Protection from Kovalam to Kadapakkam on ECR around 70 Kms. Mr. S. Desingu has been leading this effort coming from his own family background of fishermen.

SEA empowers fishermen community by taking the following mesures:

  • Enrollment Campaigns: The main aim of this door to door campaign is to make parents aware how important it is to admit children to school at the right age targeting children of 5 years or older. Children participate in these campaigns usually held in the month of June and July, closer to the time schools reopen. Awareness is spread using cultural programs called yanthras so the message is conveyed through street plays on real life situations with the help of children singing and acting. In 2010, around 78 children enrolled in school after the campaign.

  • Motivation centers: These centers operate in the evenings to prevent children dropping out of school. Children are poor in academics because they don’t reinforce what they learn in school. Parents give them household chores after school and cannot provide the much needed academic mentoring. These motivation centers play a vital role in keeping the children occupied with constructive work and away from mischief and other distractions. Children study Math, English, Science and Tamil through interesting teaching aids which help them do better at school. Children participate in extra -curricular activities such as dance, drama, singing and crafts. Currently there are 14 motivation centers and 146 children benefiting from these centers.

  • Non-Residential Bridge Course (NRBC): This centre acts as the bridge between the dropout lives of the children to mainstream education. There is one bridge course centre at Koovathur. The Bridge Course is very helpful in providing assistance to dropout kids who are forced to quit school to take up jobs, especially for those trying to complete their 10th board exams. The initial emphasis is on getting proficient in reading, writing and mathematics which will then allow them to find it easier to continue their education by joining government schools. Career guidance and computer literacy is part of the course as well. So far, 18 dropped out children have benefited from this program.
  • Parent Teachers Association (PTA) and Village Education Committee (VEC): The high drop out ratio can be reduced only by making parents aware of their responsibilities in getting involved in their children’s school activities and monitoring their children’s education. Parent teachers meetings are held.  People specialized in education, children’s rights and healthcare interact with parents to help them participate in school activities resulting in school standards improving. 150 children have benefited from these committees.
  • Teacher training workshops and awareness programs: SEA conducts staff development workshops for school teachers. Recently, a 2 days workshop was held in the month of June and July 2010. Teachers received training on vital issues such as teaching methods, better ways to handle children, children’s summer activities, children’s rights, children’s healthcare including first aid, immunization, anti natal/post natal care, nutrition, water and sanitation.

Vibha Chennai volunteers Murugavel, Lavanya and Vinod recently visited the 6 motivation centers supported by Vibha in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. As per their observations, the teaching staffs are very dedicated, sincere and motivated. The teaching aids are effective, innovative and low-cost. There is reasonable amount of support from the local community in terms of volunteers and housing. They were amazed to witness some excellent singing, dancing and acrobatic talent from the kids like Kathiroli and Ashwini. The interest taken by the kids to complete their studies in spite of all odds is commendable. One thing they found lacking was the state of the shelters where classes are conducted. Two of the centers did not have a roof. Most of the centers have mud flooring which could be a major problem in rainy season and winter months, because the sand is wet and cold and not suitable for the children to sit on.  Also, storing and preserving study materials is difficult.

Next steps proposed by Vibha Chennai:

  • Construction of better shelters for those centers that are not equipped for the monsoon season (currently two centers).
  • Tarpaulin sheets for the kids to sit on.
  • Decent black boards for all the centers.
  • Plastic trays/ trunks for storage and display of the teaching aids, study materials.
  • Increasing Non-Residential Bridge Centers since there is only one currently (in Coovathoor) in a 20km radius. There are requests to start one more in Kadappakkam since Coovathoor is far in terms of distance for some students to commute to.
  • Spoken English is another aspect that volunteers can help with.
  • Corporate sponsorships and fund-raising events to expand SEA’s efforts.

Learn more about SEA’s efforts at http://www.seaorg.in and see if you would like to make a difference in these fishermen community children’s lives.

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