Forest School: 2018 ~ 2020, A Timeline
As we sit out in walls amidst the current COVID pandemic, we at Samanta Foundation contemplated on our journey. In this read we intend to share snippets of our journey since 2018.
As we travelled across the Himalayan topography we met several communities whom we spent considerable time with over 2018. We met men, women, children, elders and systems as we traversed along in order to understand the challenges of communities. We had moments of happiness and sorrow as we listened and experienced the conditions in which communities had been living since decades. It was during our travels along Lower Shivaliks (Rajaji National Park, Shivalik range), Jim Corbett and onwards that we met the Taungyas and the Van Gujjars. As we lived on and got introduced to these forest dwelling communities we came to experience the sense of extreme marginalisation and exclusionary living in current times. They were on the borders of geographic administrative divisions in India yet in the lapse of most pristine ecological systems living in harmony for decades.
Anchoring our Work
As we spent time listening to elders, men, women and children about customs, traditions, beliefs, access to systems and understanding of forests we were overwhelmed. Yet the state of women, adolescent girls, children and youth when it came to fundamental issues of - Health, Education, Skills and Hunger - was at the lowest on the Human Development scale. We spent considerable time in - listening to all, documenting carefully for ourselves, engaging with stakeholders (forest department, state administration, local self governance etc) - in order to have an in-depth know-how. The state of adolescent girls, women and children was something that stopped us form leaving these communities. We were willing to invest our lives to work for these people in the long run.
We started to work with the community on prioritising the challenges. This was done through PRA, FGD, meetings and individual deliberations. The community put forth education as the key highlighting its significance for its upcoming generation, children, youth and current exchange with systems. We did a thorough research on the different aspects of education - elementary education, literacy, numeracy, adult education, infrastructure, stakeholder relationships. As per community, stakeholders and our understanding we identified to work in the existing Forest Schools (Location : Sodinagar, Bhagwatpur, Kalluvali Tongia). For us the elements of Participatory Action Research, Indigenous Learning and Community Leadership served as the drivers to reach this point.
We started with the Sodinagar Forest School in order to pilot the idea of Whole School Transformation.
Our focus for the initial 9-12 months has been on the following elements -
3. Regular Classes
4. Provisions for Learning Materials
5. Awareness and Engagement at Household Level towards Education
6. Engage out of school Children
7. Develop Community Knowledge database as a starting point for Contextual Literature and Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Our work with the children in classrooms, playgrounds, forests, community and 'Deras' (habitat for Van Gujjars) is riddled with experiences that have furthered our work. We have been innovating and improvising every day in order to 'Enable Education to be a matter of Choice'. From facilitating classes on holidays in the forest to going on a learning journey with trees, animals, rivers and nature at its core it has been amazing.
Introducing Sports as a part of the curriculum in order to mitigate the challenges of -
Numeracy & Literacy
was a game changing move. We have been working towards bridging the gap of learning by enabling use of local resources and facilities.
Our engagement with the school has laid the foundations for a long term work in the sphere of education with forest communities. The interactions , experiences and learnings with children, youth, women have been revelatory. We have developed insights in the areas of -
1. Contextualising Literature
2. Forest Based Learning
3. Localised Pedagogy Methods, SMCs, School Leadership, Libraries
4. Out of School learning programmes
5. Connecting Education at School to Health of Community