Published: 05th September 2020
More important to teach girls than boys: Here's how Jharkhand's Smith Kumar Soni is fighting human trafficking, child marriage
We spoke to Smith Kumar Soni, who is an elementary school teacher in Jharkhand's Simdega district to know more about his fight to educate every single girl child
In Jharkhand's Simdega district, which is a significant Adivasi pocket, educating girls is still a relevant problem in the 21st century. However, Smith Kumar Soni, a teacher from Rajkiyakrit Madhya Vidyalaya, Bano has been fighting the evils of child marriage, human trafficking and high dropout rates, which is rampant in the Simdega district to provide education to each and every girl child in his hometown. "Education for boys is important but teaching a girl child is more important. It will help in so many ways — stop child marriages, human trafficking and one entire family will be educated that way. This is how we are trying to uplift the Adivasi community here," says Smith.
Smith himself had been a student at the Rajkiyakrit Madhya Vidyalaya and that experience helped him to connect with the villagers in the area and improve the school in terms of learning, infrastructure and inclusivity. When he joined the school as a teacher back in 2014, he began working for the community and educating the girl child in order to curb the instances of child marriages and human trafficking. "While travelling from village to village to interact with the people, one day I came across a young girl, who was set to be married. I spoke to the local administration and stopped the marriage, the then chief minister provided Rs 1 lakh compensation, the MLA gave Rs 3000 for her education and upbringing. She is studying in Class 12 now. I realised that I couldn't do this alone and needed a team to reach more and more people. So, I created a mentor team in school for children in the area, then went from village to village to make people aware of child marriages and requested them to stop such practices, raise their voice when they see something like that happening around them. Also if they find something suspicious they should inform us or the school for help," Smith tells us. He has rescued numerous girls from the garb of such evil practices. One such girl was Jimika Mani, who was being taken to Delhi to be sold. Smith and his team rescued her and now she's studying in Class 9. Another girl from Hoshiarpur who had made frantic calls to them asking them to rescue her from being trafficked. "This keeps me content. I want to do more for the girl child in Jharkhand," adds Smith.
He teaches Mathematics and English to students of Classes 1 to 8. The school has also set up a pad bank on campus with the help of students. The students bring the surplus pads from their houses and put it in the bank. "This way the girl child can come to school even on the days they are menstruating as all the facilities are available inside the school," he adds. During one of his deputations to other schools in the district, in 2014, he was sent to Project Balika Uchcha Vidyalaya in Bano where he and another teacher came up with efforts to increase enrolment in the school. "There were 67 girls when I joined on deputation. I made it a point to meet every villager and ensure that they enrol their girls. In two years, the number of girls was 252. I want to ensure people understand the importance of education. We went to villages to convince parents to send their girl child to the school. There was a lack of teachers so we got some teachers to come and join at the school," he explains. After this project when Smith came back to his own school, he realised the lack of infrastructure there. He was then made the headteacher in-charge and he asked the villagers for help for the betterment of the school. "Drop out rates started to decrease once parents got involved and began understanding. We conducted fundraisers for the betterment of the school, there was no playground in the school so, I consulted the local panchayat head and he provided Rs 10 lakh for the ground and a basketball court is also being constructed. We set up TVs for online classes through the Hooray app. We also conducted a programme called Future Shaandar, which is a part of the NITI Aayog programme that teaches children to be imaginative and come up with ideas about how the world will look like in 2030," adds Smith.
Smith had wanted to become a teacher since childhood. "I saw children here were very respectful towards their educators and that inspired me. I too wished I had that respect when I grow up," he says. And we can see he did just that. Even during the pandemic, Smith and other teachers from his school went around the villages with a mic to collect the phone numbers of students and parents so they could facilitate online classes or through phones. "That's when I realised that a majority do not have phones, smartphones are out of the question. Or even if they have they do not have the money to recharge or use an internet package. One of the elders there said if the Coronavirus can spread at such a rapid rate from person to person why can't we provide education such rampantly? That's when we made a team, divided teachers into two groups. The students who are graduates but sitting at home during the crisis, we thought, let's connect with them. With all the precautions in place, why don't we motivate them to teach the younger kids in the school as they have free time anyway? This would improve their mental state during the crisis and the whole point of the exercise is not just to teach them as per the curriculum for them to score marks," he concludes.
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