PATNA, Bihar — Over half of the population in the state of Bihar suffers from poverty. The illiteracy rate and lack of education in Bihar is the highest in India. Over half of the women between the ages of 20 to 24 were subjected to child marriages.
Started in the 1990’s, BalVikas Kendra aims to combat some of these statistics by supplementing or replacing state education. Primarily, Salil Tiwari in the United States and Satish Tripati in Bihar run the school.
Satish Tripati runs the school from day to day in Bihar. He was formerly a teacher and superintendent at a school in another state. He, along with his wife, sister, father and brother, returned to Bihar in order to build the school.
Started from a hut in the 1990’s, the school now boasts an assembly hall and a building. The school offers hundreds of children the opportunity to receive an education and excel to high school and, potentially, college.
The following is an interview with Satish Tripati, translated from Hindi by Salil Tiwari.
How many students are enrolled?
For the year 2014-2015 there are 131 students enrolled.
What classes are taught?
Besides the usual classes (math, science, history, language and literature) they also have physical education, yoga and singing.
The children receive uniforms to wear. Why is that?
Uniform is important because it levels the “playing field” by eliminating any competition based on “clothing and style.”
What kind of socioeconomic background do the children come from?
The children who attend the school come from middle class wage earning families of the village. Their parents earn a living by farming or by doing small local business.
What is the gender breakdown of the school?
There are 88 boys and 43 girls (total of 131 from grades 1-8).
What happens to most children after they leave the school?
After finishing the 8th grade at BalVikas Kendra, most of them are able to go to high school. Those who do not make it due to personal financial situation or other cause, they are continuously encouraged to continue their education and they have special extra prep classes to help them.
Do the girls still receive an education after leaving BalVikas Kendra?
Most of the girls who finish the 8th grade at BalVikas go on to attend and complete high school. In India high school ends with 10th grade. The next two years are called intermediate which is done at a college. Most of the girls like to continue going to school and they do not choose to stop. When they do stop their education, it is usually due to the families’ inability.
Of your students, has the school had any affect on the age at which women and girls are married?
The school was established in 1994. Prior to 1994, the girls were married off between the age of 10 and 15. Since the school was started, the girls who attended the schools are now getting married between the age of 18 and 25.
What is the biggest success you have seen at your time at the school?
The biggest success story is about a girl who came from a neighboring village to attend BalVikas Kendra. She came from a family where girls were discouraged to go outside the house. This girl, AAkanksha, is now working in the U.S.!
What is the biggest challenge you face?
Biggest challenge is the distraction created by families who are constantly trying to encourage child labour under the economic pressures because they need supplemental source of income.
What is the biggest need at BalVikas Kendra?
The school’s biggest need is good qualified teachers.
From the interview with Tripati, it is clear that increasing access to education has indirect effects that improve the quality of life for these children. Salil Tiwari, covered in Part 2, and Satish Tripati have allowed hundreds of children to challenge their current status and escape the cycle of poverty. Their collaboration evidences the positive effect of Americans working with people in developing nations to create smart and sustainable change.
– Tara Wilson