It was a tough route to school for the children of Neeredu Banda, a small remote hamlet in Alluri Sitarama Raju district in Andhra Pradesh. Their five-kilometre trek to school every day involved traversing four kms of a poor excuse for a road filled with thorns and bushes. It became so difficult for the children to walk the path to reach their school that the village elders started ferrying them to school and back on horseback. Frustrated by the experience, the villagers then cleared the path themselves on the 4 km stretch to create a road themselves, in just three days.
The village sits atop a hill and is around 16 km from Cheemalapadu panchayat and 25 km from Ravikamatham mandal in Alluri Sita Rama Raju District in Andhra Pradesh. There are about 12 families in the village who belong to the Kondu tribe categorised as Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) or Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG).
The isolated village's only road extends to the top of the hill, and its residents are frustrated by the lack of connectivity. About 12 of the village's 15 kids attend MP (Mandala Parishad) Elementary School at Z Jogampeta which is located about 5 km from the village. The path connecting the two villages was overrun with bushes and thorns. The villagers made repeated requests to the Mandal Parishad Development Officer (MDPO) to get a proper road, but they did not get a response. Finally, they took matters into their own hands and started clearing the road of the overgrowth as a temporary measure. They completed the task in just three days.
Elders ferry children to school on horseback
“The current pathway was a road which was constructed during the time of British occupation to transport bamboo to the paper manufacturing industries. The road has deteriorated over time and was hardly motorable. The tribals repaired it on their own as the Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDA) officials did not stand by their promises to construct pucca roads,” said K Govinda Rao, district president of Girijana Sangam Fifth Schedule Sadhana Committee told TNM.
While there is another village at a higher elevation from Neeredu Banda, there are no children attending school in that village. The children from this village and neighbouring villages attend the elementary school in Z Jogampeta up until Class 5 before being enrolled in the government-run residential schools for tribal students.
“The Neeredu Banda village is known for fighting for its rights. It was previously in the news too. The people of the village are educating themselves to provide better opportunities for their children. Earlier in 2021, the tribals approached the District Collector to provide Aadhaar cards for their children to enrol them in schools and succeeded,” Rao said.
Dippalla Appalrao, a resident of the village said, “The kids are too little to go to school, travelling on their own for 5 km from the hilltop. It is also difficult for elderly people to travel through this pathway. So we bought the horses with whatever money we had. We have to go with them in the morning, stay there and get them back in the evening. Should we take our children to school or work to earn our bread?” he questioned in a video where he demanded that a school be started nearby to make it easier for the children to attend school.