How can schools be good neighbours?

Seetha Anand Vaidyam

“When the world seems large and complex, we need to remember that great world ideals all begin in some home neighbourhoods.”
– Konrad Adenauer, (German politician)

Global warming, malnutrition, illiteracy, and poverty are some of the problems that the world faces. Most of our neighbourhoods face at least one or more of these problems. The responsibility to address these problems lies on each one of us. Of course, when there is governmental intervention, stringent laws and effective guidelines in place these can be solved faster or their intensity reduced significantly. However, till that happens, there is so much that each of us can and must do. And these might inspire governmental intervention or bring public support that would improve the conditions.

Photos courtesy: Ananda Foundation for Holistic and Healthy Learning and Living

Here, schools are in a unique position as they command respect in the society and any representation going through them is usually considered seriously.

The problems faced by neighbourhoods can be classified broadly into:
• Education
• Health
• Environment

To address these would require either gathering financial help or initiating a physical correction or just coming up with a clever idea to bring a transformation. Whatever the problem and whatever the resources needed, collective thinking and efforts have the potential to bring in the required change.

Education
If the school is situated in or near an economically underprivileged area, illiteracy could be rampant. Students of high school could take up the task of setting up adult education classes. Peer education classes are very effective. Specific subjects which are considered tough can be taught by students who are proficient to students who are slightly younger to them or of similar age group. Often children in slum areas cannot afford extra-curricular activities such as sports and arts. These could be arranged for. These activities can create interest in children to learn and can enable the school to discover talents.

Students of SLN school in BJR Nagar Basti involved in a project initiated by Ananda Foundation on lake cleaning and awareness creation for environmental protection

Health
Most low-income group neighbourhoods have a primary health centre (PHC). These only offer very basic services. Students of class 7 upwards can prepare diet charts, posters with information on nutrition and social health. These can be displayed in the PHCs. With the help of teachers, short talks and discussions in vernacular languages can be held in these centers. Parents can also be involved to offer cooking demonstrations and weekly community meals.

Women’s health and hygiene is another aspect that needs attention and contribution. Even if the school is situated in an economically well-to-do area, such awareness creation activities can be done in apartment complexes and gated communities. Food can be the best form of preventive medicine and this needs to become a focus area while speaking about health. This would also have an impact on the food and nutrition of students themselves which would help them in later life too.

Environment
No matter where a school is located, this is an area where schools can play an important role. Environmental pollution could be due to mismanagement of waste, stagnation of water, high noise levels, etc. There are many parks and empty spaces earmarked by the government for greenery. These can be converted into community edible gardening areas with due planning. The produce could be sold at a nominal cost. Teachers and parent volunteers can help students chart out a plan regarding what and how to grow without harmful chemicals, how to manage pests, how to tackle human encroachment and pilferage. This could become a very relevant practical lesson incorporating science, math, language, geography, etc., not to mention the PR skills that students will gain. Here again posters, charts, talks, and discussions on clean environment and the ways to achieve it can be done by students. Government authorities such as local corporators, municipal body officials could be invited and their support elicited for this cause.

student volunteers of Ananda Foundation distributing groceries to school teachers in slum areas during the Covid crisis

Some general guidelines –

Of course, no solution would come about without facing challenges. Proper planning, persistence, and consistency are key to the success of any project. It is of paramount importance that school managements, teachers, and parents who are working alongside students in such projects do not lose hope but strive to complete the task undertaken or find an alternative if the original plan does not materialize. Roadblocks, hindrances, and setbacks – especially while dealing with established unhealthy habits and wrong practices – are bound to be faced by students. Long-term plans and documentation of before and after pictures and reports would act as motivation. These would also help in taking up future work in similar areas.

Cultural differences, barriers due to economic conditions, psychological hindrances including shyness, resistance to change need to be factored before taking up a project.

These activities need not be the sole responsibility of a particular school. Schools can enlist the support of schools in slum areas or non-governmental organizations and together work towards a better neighborhood. After the initial basic work, if the project requires more funding, schools can approach corporates for CSR funds. Often corporates have funds at their disposal but not the required man power or volunteers. Students can bridge that gap and execute a socially beneficial project. Similarly, if the project requires official intervention, schools can formally send a representation to the local corporation, municipal body or gram panchayat. Social media platforms are a great way to enlist more support and create awareness for such causes.

The author is the founder trustee of Ananda Foundation for Holistic & Healthy Learning and Living, Educational Consultant, Remedial Therapy, and the author of Amazon Best Seller ‘Parenting Manual – a handbook for teachers and parents of children from 0 to 7 years’ and ‘”Good” Food – a guide to healthy cooking and eating’. She can be reached at anandseetha@gmail.com.

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