Weaving a Yarn at Kahani Mela

I was enthralled when I came to know about the Kahani Mela and I wanted to come here to experience the village life and volunteer with OELP.Missing this wonderful opportunity would mean missing the fun filled activities with the kids,re-living my own childhood with them,knowing about village and the community life,their customs,culture,language,food in and out.I have always wanted to experience such village life as I do not have my native place as a village.

Secondly,being a mathematics student, I wanted to know more about pedagogy of language and wanted to engage in those activities that could be done with language.

Now,if I come to the process of organising the Kahani Mela.I really loved the fact that “OELP” gave me the opportunity to implement what I have learnt in B.EL.ED and that the OELP team was always open to our feedback and suggestions.We had regular meetings about how to organise the mela,what all we need,what all has been done and what else needs to be done.All of us were actually involved in the planning process,shared and learnt from each other’s ideas and experiences.

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Among the experiences that I will always cherish are the experiences I had with the community. Each and everyday brought a new learning experience.The people were very warm and welcoming.It seemed that we knew them since ages and the bond between us grew leaps and bounds within few days. We tried to know about each other’s culture.They even offered us to dress us in their traditional attire.The lunch on  the very first day had a great impact on me.

Our lunch was organised by the community members.When I went to a family for lunch,a woman served us onion curry and chappatis. Frankly speaking,if it was served to me at my house, I wouldn’t have eaten it or would have shown tantrums and ordered food from outside.But she served it with so much love and tenderness that we couldn’t say no or disrespect her, it was not about the taste but the feelings attached to it.

Though coming from a different social and economic background, serving food was a big thing.I felt that I might have been becoming a burden for her.Simultaneously,it made me feel guilty as to how I show tantrums to my parents,or in general how some of us waste so much of food and do not give it a second thought before throwing it away.It was a very overwhelming experience and left me in tears.

We often talk about how pivotal is the role of community in the process of schooling and how it can be used as a resource.At,OELP,we actually experienced that.Community was so much involved in organising the mela that without their help it wouldn’t have been such a success.

 

 

I facilitated the students in developing their own stories,plays,puppet shows,poems,games treasure hunt,storybooks and so on and mobilised the community.The student’s enthusiasm and zeal motivated me to do a lot of work and engage with them wholeheartedly.

We talk about originality, spontaniety and expressions in child’s language,the same was visible here.Children weren’t doing things just for the sake of it,but were actually understanding the processes and then doing it.

Also,their experiences were used as a rich learning resource.A girl lost her slippers and she found them the very next day.When students were asked to write their own story,she wrote her experience of loosing her slippers and how she found them.Here she was given an implicit message that her experiences are being valued and that a child can also write books.Similar opportunities were given to them to explore their village i.e through village stories,village map and treasure hunt,Gaon ka itihas where they asked their elders about how their village was formed,the flora-fauna of their village and so on.

It was indeed a great learning experience for me and a beautiful opportunity to meet new people,know and learn about their cultures.The homely environment,living together with new people, sharing and caring, the democratic setting with lots of opportunity to gain and learn from each other’s experience were eye opening for me. I learnt a lot from these experiences that I probably would have learnt a lot later in life if I didn’t come here as a volunteer. I came here to work and share my skills and learn from new experiences, but here, I also made friends for life.

-Ritika Madan

(Kahani Mela 2017 Volunteer)

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Celebrating stories in the arid lands of Rajasthan

Stories have the power to bond diverse groups of children, youth and adults in a true spirit of sharing and engaging. Stories build bridges between the old and young; between the oral and written worlds and between different worlds of experience. Stories talk about people, places dreams, possibilities. Through our village libraries and reading programmes children are helped to build personal connections between printed words and visuals, and their lives.

The OELP village library programme, with village bahus (daughters-in-law) at the helm as librarians, has been conceptualized with the tall aim of building communities of engaged readers within low literate, rural societies.

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Why the Kahani Melas ?

  • The Kahani Melas are not stand alone events but are woven into ongoing process oriented engagements with books and stories
  • They engage children and their communities through sharing and celebrating stories and books.
  • Unheard and unseen stories, whether documented or not are an important part of these celebrations.
  • Stories have also catalyzed a coming together of teams from different languages and cultures; from as far as Delhi and Gujarat and connecting them with the children and communities in rural Rajasthan through the universal language of stories, while remaining unmindful of the scorching heat and parched landscape.

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About 5000 children, youth and adults have been involved in various ways. In eleven villages located in the Kishangarh Block of Ajmer District hundreds of children have been reading, presenting and creating stories in a variety of ways. They have also connected with older people to discover local stories and other knowledge forms along with various aspects of their socio-cultural heritage. They have shared their discoveries through charts, village maps, story mobiles, story boards, puppets, books created by them, along with visual art forms and performances based on stories and storybooks.

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Our aim is to create a platform for rural communities to develop deeper connection with stories and books, and to encourage them to actively engage with their children’s processes of self actualization and learning.

While reflecting on the Kahani Melas, Prabhash Chandra, a participating theatre professional from Delhi quotes:

A childhood without books – that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted places where you can go and find the rarest of joys”     – Astrid Lindgren

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Our challenge has been to build communities of readers and writers within low literate societies that are entrenched in oral traditions. Through this slow and gradual journey, stories have emerged as a vital element in this process.

Ownership of the community

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The entire cost and organization of the three Kahani Melas events and some of the costs of the preparatory processes that led up to them over two weeks were borne by the village communities and local Pachayats, The Sarpanches from Kalyanipura and Patan Gram Panchayats took on leadership roles in catalyzing village communities and  offering wholehearted support, i.e. fund raising and organizing food for 300-400 children at each Mela.

Villagers welcome the volunteers

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Villagers opened up their homes and hearts to the volunteers. Different village homes organized lunch for the volunteers each day. The response from the village communities has been overwhelming. We view this as the start of new journey and a process that we will try to continue in organic ways.

 

This ongoing effort, spanning few months before the melas, received support from the American India Foundation. OELP’s intensive efforts found depth and enthused energy under the leadership of Jaya Iyer. It led to the coming together of an enthusiastic and committed group of volunteers and resource persons from Delhi. Bal Mitras from AKRSPI Gujarat also engaged with commitment in the final preparations.

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The underlying themes     

  • Building bridges (to connect oral with written; local with global and rural with urban)
  • Self actualization – through pride in one’s socio-cultural heritage
  • Fun and creativity – to give wings to flights of imagination, creative expression, reflection and thinking

Guiding principles were drawn up and it was decided to follow them in all processes and plans. They gave a firm basis on which to design, choose materials, participants etc. and pertained to the following heads:

  • Environment : Earth conserving, not depleting
  • Inclusive : In spirit and design
  • Diversity and inclusiveness
  • Process oriented
  • Child at the centre – community in focus
  • No allegiance to any party/ religion/ group
  • All about stories and books

The overall design was conceived as a coming together of the young and old, rural and urban through an active engagement with stories

The team’s structure: A steering committee was formed and met a few times to put together a conceptual outline of the event. With the involvement of steering committee five task teams were formed for the event management:

  1. Design team
  2. Communications team
  3. Logistics team
  4. Event facilitation team
  5. Finance team

Each team was headed by one or two people with further subgroups within each of these heads. Tasks were listed and detailed out for each team, and specific roles and responsibilities spelt out.

The pre-event planning and preparation

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The preparation included:

  • Skill building workshops for the OELP team
  • A series of skill building workshops for the children
  • Selection of volunteers by Jaya and her team in Delhi
  • Orientation of the volunteers and Gujarat team
  • Planning meetings
  • Review and reflection meetings

The processes at the village level

Volunteers from Delhi, Bal Mitras from AKRSPI Gujarat and OELP team members supported the pre event processes at the village level in small groups. They received a warm welcome from the communities.

Community mobilization through village rallies

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Community planning meetings

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Planning meetings at the MNREGA work sites

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Engaging with and supporting the children’s creative efforts

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What made these Kahani Melas special?

  • Each Mela is a culmination and part of larger, longer process of engagement with children on relevant themes and not a stand-alone event.
  • Each mela is for children, a fun event yet with depth and meaning and themes which are woven into every strand. These themes inform all the activities, design and spirit of the mela and not separated as – content section, which are serious and fun activities, which are frivolous.
  • Each mela is also by children – an attempt to involve children as partners/ co- creators to the event and not as mere passive recipient or spectators.
  • It is community-led and centered. Each mela was supported by resources generated from within the village communities

These melas are learning-oriented – for everybody involved – young and old, rural and urban; it is a space for learning and enhancing selves for the volunteers – many of whom were from Delhi; for colleagues from Gujarat; for teachers and members of the local communities; for Education Department officials; for visitors from other organisations and for the OELP team.

Glimpses from the Kahani Mela events

The events which took place on 25, 27 and 29 May 2017, involved over 1000 children and reached out to 4000 adults. Around 500 participated intensively in the sessions and workshops and other activities. A team of over 15 volunteers and resource persons were involved along with 10 AKRSPI team members from Gujarat and 25 OELP team members

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Performances – enactments, role plays, puppets based on stories or poems

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Open activities – book based games, treasure hunts, visual art

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Exhibition

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The response

From the panchayats

  • Mobilized community
  • Participated actively in community meeting
  • Support major costs for the final event

From the community

  • Participation
  • Mobilization of resources – financial and in kind
  • Looking after volunteers and giving them lunch in village homes

From the State

  • Access to schools for practice and as event venues
  • Participation of govt teachers in planning meetings
  • Education Department officials attended the events , despite work pressures 

Other NGOs

Representatives from AKRSPI, Gujarat;  Pratham, Ekalvya, Barefoot College, Edu_ Adda, Delhi, participated in the events

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The Block Education Officer joins the Mela in Kalyanipura

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Reflection and feedback

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Feedback and follow up workshops continued after the event to ensure continuity and connection. The overall feedback from students, teachers, resource persons and OELP staff was very positive and showed the way for future direction and activities.

Challenges and struggles in the field

The role played by the village bahus has been pivotal in doing the foundation building ground work leading up to the Kahani Melas. Some glimpses of their small triumphs and their struggles and challenges are being shared below:

Nallu in this village the OELP team had made a conscious effort to include children from almost all the mohallas , like the Lohars; Mali; Kumar; Jat and Regar mohalla. About 20 to 25 children were participating regularly from the Regar mohalla. However about 6 days before the mela there was a wedding in a Regar family and the bridegroom was killed in an accident in Kishengarh, so none of the children from the Regar mohallah participated. These are challenges that working in th field has to constantly deal with.

In the same village, two days before the Kahani Mela the school was handed over to a family from the Mali community for a wedding and the OELP teacher was asked to clear out her classroom. She panicked as they has work to complete. She decided to take all her children home. However there was not enough space. She then phoned the school principal and shared the situation with him. He did not hesitate for a moment. He came to Nalu and opened up a room in the secondary school for the children to continue their preparations.

One day before the mela a close family member of the teacher was killed in an accident. She had to leave immediately for her paternal village; however she knew that parents would send their children to the Kahani Mela only if she accompanied them. So she decided to stay back and accompany the children to the Kahani Mela the next day, even though she had to face the wrath of her kith and kin.

Relavata – A huge and successful effort was made by the OELP teacher to include children from the Kalbelia community, which is a marginalized community. However, the Bagriya community, which remains as another ostracized social group refused to let their children participate. This is a challenge that we will continue to work on in the near future.

Paner- is an interior village. A huge effort was made in this village to include all communities, and the OELP team was successful in including quite a few children from the Kalbelia community. What was disappointing however was that despite concerted effort girls were not sent to participate in the Kahani Mela, and in the end it was only a group of boys who participated.

Isha Attri – a volunteer from Delhi writes:

“ Before going to Chundari for volunteering, it was told to us that a child had died in some accident at a farm. The entire village mourned and no one cooked for two days. This experience was different for me as it taught me that the village does not have several different homes rather the village is a big family in its own way. They not only share happiness but sadness too. Going to Chundari made me feel a part of a huge family, who never made me feel homesick.

While working with the children there was optimism, positively at a totally different level far beyond any Delhi school. The positive energy that came from the school staff and students always reenergized me, even though I was tired or sick. Looking at the faces of the kids, their wish of learning new things, their welcoming attitude never made me feel that we can’t do.”

 

From Manju and Kamla, team members of OELP in Ralavata Village:

“A few older girls wanted to perform the Ghumar dance. This request was placed before the organizers, since the focus of the Mela was on stories and not dances. The issue was discussed and it was decided that since this dance was also in the a form of story narration, therefore, if the group connected with the story behind the Ghumar dance and presented the story along with the dance it will be fine to perform it. This was communicated to the team in Relavata. The group of girls along with the volunteers and teachers decided to talk to different people within the village to find the story of Ghumar. Some villagers suggested that they go to the Rajputs as Ghumar was a dance performed in the Rajput “gardhs” (forts) They went to Sumer Singh ji; and then to the “kila” to meet Hanumant Singh ji. Some members of the group belonged to the lower castes, and their entrance into the “kila“ was banned. To get past they were presented to the Rajputs by the team as outsiders.”

This later became an issue which was debated within the team- whether the dance was more important than the self respect of individuals from a lower caste group and whether what they had done was the correct things to do?

The Rajputs, including the women were however not able to give the story, pointing to the rapidly disappearing oral cultural heritage, and the need to sensitise children towards it. It was the wife of Ramu ji Bhand’s who finally shared the story of Ghumar. Ramu ji is no longer alive. The Bhands are the local minstrels.

Anjali Tripathi– a volunteer from Delhi writes:

“There are many stories that are not written and not heard but locally pass on from one generation to the other. They are also stories. . . . to make children accept the fact that we can also write such a story and it can be read by many people. Formal storybooks are only a part of it. I seriously put forward a discussion with the children – that how can these stories be published and what is the meaning of these stories and what is their relevance? What is the source of these stories – and how can we differentiate between historical narratives and imaginative stories? . . . That it is important to know about the roles of sources and authenticity, so that all the childen actually realize that there are many more stories in our pasts; and we don’t have only one past; i.e. we have many pasts. To make them understand this point, I asked them to write down stories shared by the members of the village regarding the history and settlement of Relavata. It’s just that they need to mention the source i.e. the name of the person from whom they are getting the information”

Evaluation and follow up

Through an informal process of feedback and internal review we have arrived at the following broad post melas conclusions:

Some achievements

  • We were able to successfully mobiles the village communities and give them a sense of ownership of the melas
  • We were able to engage members of the village communities with books and displayed texts in a variety of meaningful ways
  • We were able to provide a place for local stories and other knowledge forms
  • We were able to bring together urban and rural youth through relationships based on cooperation, mutual respect and understanding
  • We were able to successfully decentralize roles to a large extent while preparing and organizing the events
  • We were able to keep the central focus on stories through most of the activities that were planned
  • We were able to engage with a variety of stakeholders

Some issues / aspects that need to be addressed and reflected upon

  • We have still to reach the unreached children from a number of marginalized communities if we are to be truly inclusive
  • A few children, especially boys tend to dominate – we need to address with greater depth
  • We tend to become product oriented. We need to address and understand the product vs process perspectives so that we make some informed choices in future, while addressing the needs of different stakeholders
  • We can improve some aspects of the event management
  • OELP needs to orient volunteers to its work and context. We were unable to do this, and realize its importance
  • We need to improve our communication skills especially on the social media so that more voices from the field get heard.

“Few children learn to love books by themselves. Someone has to lure them into the wonderful world of the written word

– Jim Trelease

 

 

 

Enriching journey of OELP Kahani Mela 2017

I came to Kahani Mela with very little information about the project. I was attracted by the aspect of ‘Kahani’ and thought that we would visit schools and do storytelling with students. But after reaching Ajmer and having our orientation, I was left even more excited as not only were we telling stories but we were going to facilitate students in developing their own stories, plays, puppet shows as well. I worked with different students and I was amazed to see the talented children in the village of Kalyanipura. I played various games with them, formed stories from a few words, did community walks and many other things. Working with the kids was something I was really looking forward to and OELP gave me an amazing opportunity to do it here.

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Organizing the Mela itself after all the preparations was fun too. Even though it became a bit stressful sometimes due to workload and hot weather, it was exciting and encouraging to see everyone working together as a team to bring the event to life.

When I talk about working with community, it was really interesting to see how receptive and welcoming the community and village people were to our presence. They took us into their homes, gave us food and water, and talked to us even though we did not share a common language. This was really special to me as I realized that you do not always need a language to communicate, just love, affection and the will to communicate our feelings is enough. I gave my best to involve community people in the Mela as I took part in rallies, lead a rally myself, visited people’s homes, met the Sarpanch of the village who is a very strong women and a role model for young girls, and invited them all to the event. Also, I tried to involve the youth as much as possible by delegating them responsibilities so that they can become more confident and develop leadership qualities.

Few things that impacted me the most was the love given to us by the community. On the first day in the village, we were supposed to have our dinner in the village too, and then leave for our head office where we were staying. But when we got very late after dinner, the people offered us to stay in their home. It was really special, as I have never seen such love and trust between people in Delhi. They offered us to stay even though we were strangers to them.

Another incident that I found interesting was how excited the children were to read the storybooks from “Kahaniyon ka khazana” in the Kalyanipura Mela. Usually, we see that the teachers blame the students that they do not want to read due to their unwillingness, no interest towards reading and even their low socio-economic background. But here, it was seen that students were clearly interested and enthusiastic to read, they just need proper guidance, facilitation, and encouragement to read. Also, the women and senior citizens of the village community took part in Mela and appreciated it. I think that parents’ own interest and support towards child literacy will help a lot in developing more literate and sensitive citizens.

Some things I liked the most was that the teachers in the school were making efforts to include children in various activities and tasks for the event. They were using different methods and styles to make the tasks more interesting. The teachers were trying to use students’ experiences as learning resources and also giving them the opportunity to explore more about themselves, the village they live in and the local village stories which were collected from the elderly of the village in the form of ‘Gaon ka Itihas’,  ‘Gaon ki lok kathayien’ and many more collections. Rather than using traditional approach, teachers were using different pedagogy methods to include children in different activities.

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The challenge I faced during working here was that only few students were selected and being repeated in different plays. Other students did not get equal opportunity to take part in stage performances. When we tried to change it, the students refused to come to school stating that they had worked on the play for 15 days. Due to lack of time, we could not prepare new plays or change the actors in the current plays may be this was because some students did not take part in the process initially due to hesitation and low motivation So, I think that the teachers should motivate to all students rather than few selected ones.

Another reality and the most important one that really disturbed me was that when I visited the community and interacted with people, I realized that there are lots of child marriages still taking place in the village It really affected me deeply as these children are so young and their childhood is being snatched away from them due to this social evil.

Overall, my experience in OELP was very enriching and the whole journey was beautiful. I would love to volunteer again for OELP and have more such experiences again.

Written by- Tanya Mittal

OELP Kahani Mela 2017

 

Kahani Mela’ was organized by Organization for Early Literacy Promotion (OELP) in 3 villages of Kalyanipura, Patan and Chundari on respective dates 25th, 27th and 29th May’ 2017. The motive of these fairs was to reconnect children with the world of books through engaging them in various related activities and tasks. The main thing about these three events is that the community was actively involved in these fairs. Many arrangements were made in the villages of Kalyanipura, Patan and Chundari with the help of Sarpanch and community, in which the youth, children and the elderly from the village also took part in arranging for tents, food and presentation for the event.

This event included not only role plays, puppet shows and poem recitations, but various other activities were taken up to connect children with story books and facilitate their overall development. Also, during the preparation of the event for the last one month, students were encouraged to know about the history of their village and gather local village stories from their elders to connect them with their cultural roots.
Kahani Mela was divided into 3 interactive sections which are Padho, where a small library was created so that children and adults could come and read books peacefully; Dekho, which included display of material made by students like story boards, three dimensional storybooks, best out of waste, puppets, map of the village, history of the village, interactive charts and various other things; and Karo, where children and youth could come and engage in various interesting activities like drawing, painting, puzzle solving, story making from words etc.
Various guests like village Sarpanch, School Management Committee members, government officials, members from Social Work and Research Center, Tiloniya arrived to attend the events. Members from NGOs like Pratham, Eklavya and Manthan, also attended the event along with Delhi and Gujarat volunteers who gave their support in working with children and organizing the event.

Organization for Early Literacy Promotion

The Organization for Early Literacy Promotion is a registered society. OELP believes that strong foundations in reading and writing play a pivotal role towards equipping the next generation of young learners to meet the expectations of schooling and of the global world. One of its main activities is the implementation of the Early Literacy Project or ELP which is an effort to help young children who come from poor and marginalized socio-cultural groups to build strong foundations in reading and writing with understanding.

What are the main aims of ELP?
The main aim of this work is to address the reading and writing processes of young children who come from marginalized socio-cultural groups that typically underachieve in schools, by attempting to develop culturally and linguistically meaningful classroom practices for building strong foundations in reading and writing. The ELP methodologies and materials are developed through sustained engagement with the diverse learning processes of these young children and their teachers inside classrooms.

Who does ELP work with?
The focus of ELP’s work is young first generation readers and writers from the poorest and most vulnerable groups of society. Many of these children work in the day to either supplement the family income or share the responsibilities of a family who is living on the margins and struggling to survive within the harsh realities of a famine prone area.

What are our challenges?
Within the rural schools that ELP is working in, we have found many children who are unable to understand much of what transpires in the class, since they speak Marwari while the school lessons are in Hindi. Most of the children in these classes actively engage with the written forms of language for the first time only when they step into school, since there is hardly any opportunity to actively engage with printed words in their homes and real life situations. Getting them to relate to print in meaningful ways has also proved to be challenging. Within current literature on Early Literacy such children, who have not interacted with print during their early childhood years, have been viewed to be at a major disadvantage when they enter school. In addition to this many children migrate and so are irregular in school.

What is ELP about?
ELP believes that learning methods that evolve organically and are grounded in classroom realities will be sensitive to needs of children and teachers. Some important components of ELP are:

  • To equip such children from marginalized and non literacy backgrounds to build strong foundations for reading and writing with understanding in Hindi.
  • Combining a structured approach for equipping young first generation literacy learners with the linguistic knowledge and skills required for processing the sounds and symbols of the Devanagari script; along with several opportunities for free exploration.
  • Opportunities for young learners to experience reading and writing processes as purposeful and meaningful for them

ELP Programmes

  • Community Based Learning Centers or Bal Sahyog Kendras for equipping out of school children for schooling
  • Remedial Centers or Bal Sahyog Kendras located in State run Primary schools
  • Setting up demonstration sites for exposure based teacher training
  • Developing print rich classrooms with reading corners
  • Setting up mobile libraries
  • Development of resource material and methodologies which are geared to the special needs of the children of marginalized communities
  • Sustained meeting and interactions with village communities and School Management Committees (SMCs)
  • Training and resource support to GOs and NGOs in Rajasthan and other Hindi speaking States