Project Name: UMBVS, Rajasthan
Contact Info: Mr. Ayub Khan, firstname.lastname@example.org, (02925) 2272
Getting there: The schools that Asha have supported are 2-3 hours from
their regional office in Pokhran and 3-4 hours from their headquarters in Phalodi, Rajasthan.
Previous Asha volunteer visit: Sagar had visited the project earlier this year.
Asha’s association: Asha funded UMBVS from WAH2000 for $17,000
Site visit date: February 27, 2002
Time spent at project: 1.5 days
Report written: March 8, 2002
Visited by: Preeti & Raj Chauhan
UMBVS (Urmul Marusthali Bunkar Vikas Samiti) was formed about 10 years ago. Its founders had worked with and were trained by Sanjay Ghosh* at Urmul Trust (its parent organization). UMBVS was initially formed to assist the weaver community of villages around Phalodi, Rajasthan. It has succeeded very tremendously in these efforts as it has been able train, provide work to about 160 weavers, design, and market their handicraft products. Its annual turnover from these handicrafts now is about Rs. 40 lakhs. UMBVS is a well-established organization with relationships with many large NGOs and funding agencies. Further, since its formation it has started a number of other initiatives including education, drought-relief, and working with Dalits. Currently it employs about 50 full-time workers and has 2 offices. Its headquarters are in Phalodi and another large campus in Pokhran serves as a training center, dyeing center for threads for weavers and a showroom.
A couple of years back Asha received a proposal from UMBVS to fund the startup of about 10 schools in Mohangarh district of Rajasthan. UMBVS had been assisting the relocation of landless (below poverty line) people to this area of Rajasthan. Government land provided at a very low cost and the construction of Indira Gandhi Canal, which brings water from Punjab to this area have attracted the landless people to this area. With no government or private schools around, UMBVS had requested to start 10 schools (up to 5th grade) for the children of the area. A year after the funding in 2001 about 10 schools in that area have been started.
*Sanjay Ghosh was an imminent figure who made very significant contributions through Urmul in Rajasthan and then got involved with efforts in Assam. He was killed in Assam a few years back.
We took a Rajasthan roadways bus from Jaiselmer in the morning and landed up at Pokhran around 11am. Pokhran looks like any other small town in India but obviously has a “world-over” reputation due to the nuclear tests here in May 1998. The nuclear tests were about 8-12km from the town. During the tests the residents then thought it was an earthquake.
We had previously contacted UMBVS but had not given them the date and time of our arrival. The person coordinating the 10 schools started near Mohangarh is Ayub Khan. Unfortunately, he was at their Phalodi office (about 1.5 hours away by jeep) and not at their Pokhran office when we arrived. UMBVS employees at Pokhran called him and requested him to come to Pokhran. While we waited for him we saw the campus at Pokhran—the training center, the dyeing facility and the showroom. This facility was constructed from a funding agency in Japan but the funding was stopped after the nuclear tests.
Ayub Khan arrived an hour and half later in a Jeep and we were soon on our way to see the schools near Mohangarh. Unfortunately, the schools are very far from Pokhran (2.5 hour drive) and we had to hurry since schools close at 4:30pm. The terrain to getting the schools is amazing (something we hadn’t seen before)---miles of desert and sand dunes, parched land only with patches of greenery due to the Indira Gandhi Canal. The road at places was pretty good because it is utilized and maintained by the Defense Forces. There was little traffic on the road. We were glad we weren’t here during summer months when hot gusts of wind and blowing sand can cause havoc. Although it is hard to tell just by just looking around—this locale is very close to the border and one of the 10 schools supported by Asha is only about 10km from the Pakistan border.
About Mr. Ayub Khan—he has been with UMBVS for about 4-5 years and has worked on various efforts. Prior to this assignment, he was assisting the landless of the Pokhran relocate to this region of Mohangarh—he helped them identify the actual land that was allocated to the landless by the government. Given his knowledge of the area and the people that have migrated, he was the obvious choice for working on the education initiative in this area. He has actively been involved with the drought relief efforts of UMBVS. He belongs to a village near Phalodi where his joint family resides. He is married and has 2 children. He is literate but can’t speak or read/write in English. When speaking to us in the beginning he seemed to be quiet but as our visit progressed he opened up to us and divulged information very readily. Currently, he lives in their Mohangarh office and gets a monthly salary of Rs. 4,200.
We visited 5 schools during that day. Most of the schools are either government buildings (e.g. buildings that were used as offices when the Indira Gandhi canal was being constructed) or buildings given by the community. The first school we visited the class was still in operation. There were about 30-35 students studying in that class and 4 older children were studying in a separate room. The children of varying ages were studying the same material. Some of the children recited songs and “dohas” they had learnt in their classes. A few of them read from the Hindi book. We visited 2 other schools but since it was close to 4:30pm—the children were playing games outside the classroom. Both these schools didn’t have a permanent structure but only a thatched roof. One of these schools had only 29 of the 45 enrolled-students attending school that particular day. A classroom has a blackboard, an “almari”, a water “matka” and an aluminum trunk. The children are provided with books, pencils and schools bags. The 10 schools have an average of 40-45 students each.
We also visited 2 schools after 5pm just to see if the school building actually existed. Fortunately, we got to meet with the teacher of one of these schools who was not older than 19 years of age. He was very enthusiastic about teaching and the fact that everyone in the village recognized him as “masterji”. It seemed that youth find teaching is a better alternative than farming. The last school we visited was around 6pm, which catered to a cattle-herding Muslim community. Although the school was empty when we arrived many of the children and the adults of the community gathered around our jeep.
After visiting the schools, later in the evening we visited their office in Mohangarh. This office is rented for Rs. 500 per month. This was one of the nicer buildings in the village with a couple of rooms and a courtyard. There was also a motorcycle at the office. Ayub Khan coordinates the activities of the 10 schools from here and lives there as well. There we also met with the 2nd coordinator, Magga Ram who is the local sarpanch’s brother. He is supposed to be doing the same thing as Ayub Khan and gets about Rs. 4,200 per month. His experience level seemed below that of Ayub Khan’s but we didn’t spend enough time with him to really understand his role and contribution.
We came back to Pokhran campus around 10pm and stayed overnight there. One of the dye workers cooked us a nice dinner of dal and roti which we enjoyed with the others in their kitchen. Next morning we went to see their Phalodi office and meet other members of the organization. Unfortunately, there was a death in the family of one of the senior members of the organization and we didn’t get to meet the Chief Executive of the organization, Ramchandra Barupal. However, we sat briefly at their monthly meeting of the organization. They were discussing the details of the meeting of dalits they were organizing the following week in Pokhran (as an aside it was interesting to find out that even with Dalits there is discrimination amongst them and that some prefer not to sit with others, etc.). We thought it was a good idea to spend time with the accountant of UMBVS. He has a nice office with a couple of computers and an assistant. They seem to have reasonable method of tracking all the expenses for each different initiative and for each funding organization. However, the surprise of our visit came when both Ayub and the accountant mentioned that they were expecting Asha to send another $17,000 for their next year’s school budget. We informed them that as far as we knew, the money they had received in year 2000 from Asha was one-time in nature and that they would have to make a separate request. Then we sat with them and went over the budget line-by-line for next year (this is given below).
Ø Due to the sparse settlement, the schools are generally pretty far (average of about 4-5km) from the homes of the children.
Ø There are no government schools around.
Ø Teachers are VIII standard pass and they were selected locally by UMBVS.
Ø UMBVS has also formed committees of villagers who are involved with the functioning of the schools. In one village, the villagers constructed the school building as pro-bono work.
Ø Initially, UMBVS’ plan was to operate these schools for about 3 years and then convert the schools to government schools. This was possible under earlier government schemes. Few of the schools are already operating in vacant government buildings. However, with a change in government at state-level in Rajasthan the Congress-I government has introduced “the Rajiv Gandhi Paathshala” scheme. Under this scheme hundreds of primary schools have been opened in Rajasthan. However, this scheme has also mandated that teacher of government have at least at B Ed. (Bachelor’s in Education) or STC (2-year teacher training). This implies that teachers in school run by UMBVS would need to have this minimum training. All the current trained local teachers would be unemployed if the schools were converted to government schools.
Ø Ayub and others claimed that even if there was a government school, qualified teachers from outside wouldn’t come to Mohangarh area to teach as the salary offered is minimal and the commute costs are high. This mandate would prevent them from converting the schools to government schools.
Ø Currently, there is no long-term strategy in place for funding and running these schools. We had suggested to Ayub that UMBVS could initiate dialogue with block/district officials about converting the schools with the current structure (i.e. keeping the current teachers) as a special case. In the mean time UMBVS should also contact larger organizations for more permanent funding for the next few years.