The women in Bakaram Jagir village in Moinabad mandal, who didn’t have access to education earlier, are now proud entrepreneurs, with many of them running their own tailoring and snack-making units, while some have become beauticians and fruit vendors.
Thanks to the 100-day literacy mission program and the efforts of a group of youngsters, these women now have the confidence to run their own businesses.
For S. Kiran Kumar, an IBM professional from Hyderabad, who drove the literacy campaign in Bakaram, educating an entire village was never part of the plan amidst his hectic work schedule. After the launch of his book ‘The Game Changers’ in 2016, a friend introduced Kiran to the village of Bakaram during the Saakshar Bharat program launch.
“I was quite amazed at the initiative and interacted with the villagers during the launch. Only 263 out of a population of nearly 2,500 was literate at the time.The mission had young volunteers to teach the residents. But I could sense a disinterest among the villagers who were not so impressed with a literacy program when earning a square meal in itself was a Herculean task,” Kiran Kumar recalls.
A call to the village authorities two weeks later revealed that the mission had turned out to be a damp squib. “The program failed to generate momentum. Despite state intervention, to gather a crowd under a common roof wasn’t easy. And this set me thinking on what could pique the villagers’ interest,” Kiran Kumar says.
Kiran, and a few of his friends from IBM, made a presentation to KV Ramanachary, chief secretary to Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, to revive the program. Soon, Kiran started frequenting the village and interacting with the youth with plans and proposals to help educate the villagers.
“Since most of them worked till late night, we could start classes only after 6 in the evening. So our first task was to erect lamp posts in the village under which we could hold the classes,” Kiran says. “Also, the sarpanch made special efforts to cut the cable TV connection from 6-9 pm to get women, who were glued to Telugu serials, out of their homes.”
The classes became popular through word of mouth reviews and people in their 30s to late 60s started gathering. Fifty volunteers between the ages 16-20 started taking classes for a batch of six persons each.
“The youngsters visited each home in the village and prodded the womenfolk to attend the night classes. We took special care to conduct classes only in the outdoors so that we could accommodate the maximum number of people. This, in a way, also didn’t let the young and old alike feel that they were ‘schooled’,” Kiran says.
One month into the program and looking at the increasing crowds, KV Ramanachary adopted the village. “We started distributing prizes to participants with maximum attendance. After Ramanachary adopted the village, he started pitching funds and we bought banners, charts and books on elementary subjects, which were placed around the village. Also, one of my colleagues from IBM donated a projector which we used to screen videos and movies regarding the importance of literacy. Soon, men learnt to read and women knew how to do simple Maths,” recalls Kiran.
Residents of Bakaram with retired IAS officer Ramanachary (extreme right) who has adopted the village
Two years down the line, Bakaram now proudly boasts of households where women earn a living equal to men. The Association of Lady Entrepreneurs of India (ALEAP) donated 11 sewing machines and is training women in the village. From manufacturing sanitary napkins to opening tailoring units, the women now have become successful entrepreneurs.
Srilatha, who started a tailoring unit recently has her hands full. Laxmamma, a vegetable vendor in Bakaram, says, “The 100-day literacy programme changed my life. In the past, I used to depend on others to calculate things for me, but now I do it all by myself. The programme has given wings to the dreams of many women in this village.”
The elderly too in the village have become more confident and want to do something constructive.
“There is a perceptible change in their outlook. 91% of the participants passed the National Institute of Open Schooling Test. They want to learn and know what is happening beyond their village,” Kiran says.
Speaking to TNM, Sudhakar Yadav, sarpanch of Bakaram, who received the Saakshar Bharat award from the President in 2016, says, “With help of a number of NGOs, women have started their own business and the men have moved to cities to work in offices. Literacy has given them a new identity and a fillip. The men, women, the old and the young have a spring in their step and are showing the way forward to the nearby villages.”