Literacy is more than teaching alphabets

Hunger and learning do not go together, said PRIP Rajendra Saboo, addressing the Literacy Summit. “Our country is full of children who are missing their breakfast and at times lunch.” Such children rebel and drop out, and “they are called the dirt of  society.”

The mid-day meal scheme doesn’t get ­adequate ­funding. In ­Chandigarh, schools receive only Rs 1.40 per child and this sum includes food ­material, fuel and payment for  staff. ­Quoting R K Narayan on the apathy of both the government and the larger community,  he said: “The past is gone, present is going and tomorrow is day after tomorrow’s yesterday, so why worry about anything? But ­Rotary’s missions like Asha Kiran give hope for our children.”

PRIP Rajendra K Saboo

Last December when he visited a slum in ­Chandigarh, along with spouse  Usha, Saboo found the ­children’s plight pathetic — they lacked healthy food, ­adequate warm clothes and even birth certificates.

Physical contact is the single most ­important thing for brain ­development. Children need that hug, that love.

One night, at a hut they found six children between one to ten years, ­“hungry and shivering, without any woollen clothes or shoes to beat the cold.” Their mother was boiling some rice with salt and there were no ­lentils, ­vegetables or spices. None of the ­children go to school because they don’t have birth certificates. “We went to other huts and it was the same story everywhere. These ­children are not in any list,” he said. “What is their future?” However, Snehalaya, a government centre where Rotary is ­running the Asha Kiran project, has done the mapping and ­gradually all children in and around Chandigarh will be ­covered, he added.

Hug the child

Stressing the importance of physical touch, Saboo said that it was the single most important thing for brain development. “I have experienced ­personally that children need that hug, that love.” ­Happiness during childhood makes a child  confident. In  school, teachers need to provide such support. “Only then can  children grow to become caring citizens.”

Quoting Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral’s lines: ‘Many things we need can wait. The child ­cannot. Now is the time his bones are formed, his mind developed. To him we ­cannot say tomorrow, his name is today,’ Saboo said that the Literacy ­mission should be ­understood in this context, — and not just teaching alphabets, but as a stepping stone towards ­complete education. Asha Kiran is working in this direction and has been successfully implemented in eight States. This will transfer child bondage to child bonding. “We have the resources for that. And we have to set up our own examples.”

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