Learn under the open sky

All day long, Bandana Dalai has been looking forward to the next two hours. She sits on the ground, ramrodstraight and with wide, attentive eyes. The 13-year-old has spread out a discarded rice sack as a mat, and wears a red cardigan to keep the cold at bay – it’s winter in West Bengal.

At the front, instructor Punam Hembran is writing a long string of figures on the board. Twenty pairs of eyes watch her hand intently as it plies the squeaking chalk across the blackboard. Lit only by a solitary light bulb, the open-air classroom is under the veranda of the small house where the young instructor lives with her parents.

Despite the minimal facilities, Bandana Dalai and her classmates attend the course for school dropouts every evening. “I desperately want to go to school again.” So far, Bandana Dalai has only been to primary school. After the fourth grade her father wouldn’t allow her to go on to secondary school. It would have cost the equivalent of ten euros for books, plus the expenses of buying school uniform and paying school fees.

Many children drop out of school too soon

“The children are highly motivated, but in most families they are needed as manpower,” says Manisankar Mahato of Lutheran World Service India (LWSI). “Quite apart from the expense of books, fees and school uniform.” That is why so many children drop out of school too soon. The LWSI is working with school dropouts in the Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal. The German aid agency „Brot für die Welt“ assists that programme.

Supporting the programme

At Christmas, PE INTERNATIONAL supports the aid organisation "Bread for the World" by sending Christmas greetings via email instead of printed Christmas cards. Our Christmas email reduces costs, saves resources and the money saved in this way is donated to people who urgently need our help.

For two years, the Christian organisation has been working with school dropouts in Sukna and in other villages in West Bengal and in the neighbouring state of Orissa. Part of the support it receives comes from the German aid agency, Bread for the World. As a result of courses to encourage dropouts back into school, backed up with guidance for their families, the number of dropouts in Sukna has fallen by a third, for example. The organisation has only achieved this by helping the families to improve their economic situation at the same time, by laying on courses in vegetable production for instance or helping to establish cooperative rice banks.

From illiterate to financially adept

A person who can read and write can understand the instructions for use of seed and fertilisers, avoid signing misleading contracts with money-lenders, and open an account. “Together with the other women in Sukna, I applied for grants and microcredit loans from the government so that we could buy a few goats and cows and upgrade our houses.” Sandhya Orang stoops forward, and swishes her sickle through the rice stalks. “We had to organise ourselves, fill in application forms and submit accounts. If we had still been illiterate, how could we ever have done it?”

Learning to read and write, calculate costs and manage budget

Sandhya Orang is another girl who was taken out of school during the fourth grade. “My parents thought I’d already been there too long: they never went to school at all.” Everything she had learnt was soon forgotten. But now she has reactivated her skills, and is glad she can help her daughter with her school work. For about a year, she and a group of women from her village have been meeting regularly in the evenings after work. With an instructor’s help, they are learning to read and write and being trained to calculate costs and manage their association’s budget. On the other side of the village, Bandana Dalai sits on her sacking mat in the class for dropouts, copying the columns of figures from the board. If she keeps this up, she too will be in a position to help her own children with their school work one day – and probably a great deal more besides.