Written by Shuvajit Payne, Head of Barefoot’s Education Dept. & Sanjana Yadav, SBI Youth For India Fellow.

“Didi, mai kal jaa raha hoon”

(Sister, I will leave tomorrow),

“Bhaiya, hum phir nahi milenge”

(Brother, we won’t meet again)

were the words that echoed in the air of the Singla Residential School campus, interspersed with hugs and tears, as the school drew a close to its 2017-18 academic year. Saturday, the 30th June, 2018 marked the valedictory celebrations of the 9th batch of students. The event not only aimed to showcase the 56 students’ academic progress through the year, efforts at their holistic development but also had a key aim at motivating parents to continue their children’s education. Although this is an annual event, the effort has been to try new ways in showcasing the children’s creativity, be it through a montage on the student’s day, or a teacher’s play filled with humor and realism, or a short science project that culminated in a planned explosion! These efforts also led to one of the most adorable moments of the day, where children reversed roles as teachers, trying to teach their parents English. It was endearing to watch the children asking responses from their parents to basic English questions in a strict, yet loving way, forcing the elders not to use Hindi. Listening to the children speaking in English seemed to be a moment of pride for the parents.

Liberating children from societies’ gendered expectations have been a critical focus in Singla’s pedagogy this year. Through performances that delivered strong social messages, girls asserted that they shall be strong, independent, brave (characteristics that aren’t quite deemed to be feminine); boys declared that humanity is first, not masculinity.  An 11 year old girl recited her poem on how through education she wants to write new laws, and create a fair and free world for women. There has been a growing realization that engagement with parents is crucial in ensuring that the work with children on gender sensitization lasts in impact. Recognizing this criticality, Enriche department of Barefoot College organized an effective session on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) to make the parents understand their role and give a safe and better space to the children.

In the context of the severely oppressed communities from where these students originate, the breakthrough achievement of the Singla school lies in the palpable confidence with which the once meek children now unhesitatingly expressed opinions, performed songs, dance, poems, explained experiments, and raised voices louder than their parents in their oath that they’ll demand education for themselves as their birthright. This is the Barefoot dream – inculcating voices in silent marginalized disconnected communities right from the beginning, with the hope that they one day become active citizens of the nation, future Barefoot leaders. In that sense, education in India is a gamble much like farming. You do everything you can with your bare minimum resources, and then hope that the seeds will survive the weather, that the conditions will be favorable, that there will yield a good crop in time.

As the day came to a close in Singla, we were left with the same questions, like the untiring farmer, like any caring parent, or loving teacher – will these tiny soldiers survive the onslaught of our social system? Will they continue education? Will they realize our dream? Will they fight for their dreams? Have we prepared them to fight? Did we do enough?

Only time shall tell.

More Photos from Singla’s Graduation