“THERE IS a shortage of teachers in my school, the road leading to my school is also in a pathetic condition and the well water in our village is not good. It is full of iron”, complains a school student. She was raising her concerns during the Shishu Gaon Sabha held at Lai-Mekuri Gaon Panchayat (Kristi Bhawan) in Dhemaji, the worst flood-affected district of Assam. Other school-going children also raised various issues facing them at the Sabha.
The first Shishu Gaon Sabha in Assam was organised in 2019 by Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC) in collaboration with the State Institute of Panchayat & Rural Development (SIPRD), Lakhimpur section and technical support of UNICEF. The organisers followed the Gaon Panchayat Development Plan (GPDP) guidelines. The Shishu Gaon Sabha model of Dhemaji has now been adopted in other districts of the state.
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“Major issues raised by children are taken into consideration and raised at Gaon Sabha for necessary intervention”, says president of Laimekuri Gaon Panchayat Koteshwar Kuli. He has been promoting the Shishu Gaon Sabha under the GP and extending his cooperation so that the issues of children are heard.
Kamakhya Prasad Baruah, planning, monitoring and evaluation officer of the SIPRD, government of Assam, who had played a vital role in organising the same said children have raised various issues and they will take the matter in the Gaon Sabha to bring solutions. He said children have demanded music teacher, street lamps and separate toilets for boys and girls in schools. He added that they have also set up Child Friendly Spaces for the welfare of children during floods.
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According to the Asian Development Bank, floods are the most devastating among climate-related disasters in India. Dhemaji District, which is Assam’s most flood affected district, is home to 6,86,133 people, approximately 2.2 per cent of Assam’s population, including 2,09,916 children aged 0 to 15 years, estimated at 30.6 per cent of the district’s total population. The district received 63 per cent more rainfall and remained flooded for six months from April to September in 2022, says Luit Goswami, director of RVC.
Every year from June to July, 60-75 per cent of Dhemaji District reel under flood water. “Women, children and people with disabilities are the most affected during floods’ said a middle-aged woman in Ajarbari village, one of the worst flood-hit villages in Dhemaji district.
Floods lead to displacement and loss of livelihood for many families, disruption in critical service delivery such as routine immunisation and Anganwadi services, as well as disruption in the education of children, increased vulnerability on account of learning loss, inaccessibility to clean water and sanitation, age-appropriate nutrition, safety measures among others.
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The government of Assam has intensified its efforts to repair and build embankments. Repair of the embankment near the Bera Milan English school was going in full swing at Rabha Kathani Malbhog Village under Sile Gaon Panchayat. The head teacher of the school, Numal Sonowal, has been supporting the ‘Saturdays for Resilience Programme’. Students learn basic steps to be taken in times of calamities and proper hand washing techniques among others under the programme.
A team of SAWM delegates witnessed that the Bera Milan English school had separate toilets for boys and girls and the classrooms were properly maintained. The school students were making the best of their time during the dry season, because once the rain sets in, the inevitable flood will again damage school infrastructure, resulting in disruption to education of the boys and girls. It is an endless cycle.
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Joyshree Usham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org