Jagu Rathore is 16 years old and lives in Lakhanpura village in Khargone district of Madhya Pradesh. Khargone is located 74 km from Indore, the largest city of Madhya Pradesh.
They are a family of five. With his elder sister’s marriage, Jagu, his parents and elder brother live in a wooden hut that Jagu calls ‘home’. Jagu’s parents are farmers. “Banjaras, Gujjars, and Thakurs are three caste groups that live in Lakhanpura. Almost all of them are dependent on agriculture. Those who own vast acres of land are the richest. Even in a small village like ours, the division between the rich and poor is visible,” Jagu explains.
Jagu’s parents never went to school. His elder brother studied till the 10th standard and his sister till the 5th standard. “My parents always wanted me to study further. They struggled to make ends meet and would spend more time in the fields than with us. But that is the story of every poor household in Lakhanpura,” he says.
Jagu went to a school in his neighbourhood. “I had absolutely no interest in studying. Like my friends, I wanted to make quick money by working odd jobs. I did not listen to my parents’ advice,” he admits.
One day he stopped going to school and started working at a garage earning Rs. 1000 a month.
He was unaware of changes taking place in his school.
HDFC’s DISHA programme began in Jaggu’s school around the time he had dropped out and had no intention to return. Ritesh, Magic Bus staff who manages the DISHA programme in Madhya Pradesh, says, “We were initially not welcomed by school authorities. But we spent the initial months winning their support. We listened to their problems and wherever possible, offered to work with them on these. The teachers shared that children in the schools are irregular and they have no interest in lessons. That became one of our early goals to achieve – getting them back to schools and interested in being there,” he says.
With its activity-based curriculum, that promised fun and learning at the same time, Ritesh’s team soon managed to capture the imagination of the children. In fact, news about the sessions reached the elders at Lakhanpura, who had already started participating in some of the Community Connect initiatives of the programme.
It was Vishal who brought the news of an “interesting hour-long activity session in school” to Jagu. “I already felt weary of the work and longed to go back to school. After learning from Vishal about this new development, I was keen on finding out more about it.”
By then, Nirbhay Singh Gurjar, who was in charge of the activity-based sessions in school, had heard about Jagu and visited his parents to find out more about the boy and his circumstances.
When Jagu finally reached school he was surprised to find a circle of his classmates, holding hands, buzzing with excitement. Without saying a word, he joined them. At the end of the session, he was keen for more information. No one had spoken to him about the importance of education in such an engaging manner.
“I came back every day with the hope that I would learn something new. Each session would be different from the last. I had finally become curious. I started paying the same amount of attention in class and was surprised how interesting my lessons could be,” he says, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. “I was made the class monitor because I am responsible,” he adds in a small voice, trying to suppress a smile.
The DISHA programme is aimed at building life skills of adolescents, improve their learning in numeracy, reading, and science and ensure they are job ready.
The programme is funded by HDFC Bank and implemented by Magic Bus, Life Labs, and Learning Links Foundation, in partnership with the State governments of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. It works in 172 schools across four States impacting the lives of 17,500 adolescents.