Women's Associations - Navsarjan Surat

Women's Associations - Navsarjan Surat

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One of the major objectives of Navsarjan is to prepare local bodies & capacitate them through various trainings to take up the community development as well as the organizational work by themselves. Organize the slum dwellers continue to be the main concern of Navsarjan. Women play a vital role in developmental activities in their areas. Formation of Mahila Mandals has been rather an easy task. The women are willing to be organized; co-operative functioning is natural to them. They are more honest with funds than their male counter parts.  Besides, the community problems to be addressed affect them most.

Composition of Mahila Mandals:
Any lady from a particular slum may join that slum’s association. To create the feeling of belongingness and accountability towards the group a nominal amount of Rs 15/- is collected from the women as the annual membership fee. The Association is run by an executive committee made up of eleven members. Of these, six members i.e. the President, Vice-President, two secretaries and two treasurers are elected by all the members of the MM; while five members are chosen by the various neighborhoods of the slum so that each location is duly represented in the eleven member committee. The election for the selection of executive committee is held every three years. There are now 24 Mahila Mandals.

Mahila Mandal’s Activities:
Mahila Mandals carry out a set of definite tasks for the benefit of the slum dwellers. The main set of tasks is educational.
  1. They run Balwadis (the equivalent of kindergarten):  these are “Pre-School Classes” for little children three to six year old.  “Well begun is half ended”, they say. Navsarjan and the MMs have made and continue to make a special effort to see that all small children in the slum  attend a Balwadi because it is an excellent beginning of their academic life. The main objectives of our Balwadi are to
(1) Inculcate positive attitude towards learning
(2) Teach children in an innovative way, and thus
(3)  To make classroom learning interesting and appealing, for this, action songs, dances, short skits, paper craft, clay molding, and games are some of the activities that our balwadis teachers have learnt to use.
  1. Tutoring:      Teachers even in elite schools complain that students rely more on the help they receive from private tutors than on the teaching in the school. Elite schools have good teachers and other educational aids. Yet, personal attention by a private tutor is better, students feel. In the slums the situation is different. The teaching in municipal schools does not help sufficiently our slum children and it needs to be complemented by ‘private  tutors’ provided by the MMs.

Navsarjan runs 17 tuition centers in different slums for students from the 1st to the 7th Standards. Given the number and variety of students, they are distributed into several batches. These tuition classes perform two different tasks. On the one hand they take up important subjects like Mathematics, Science and English and make sure that whatever has been taught in school is grasped and assimilated and, on the other, the tutors organize extra curricular activities for the all round development of the students – the so called ‘holistic development’.

Monitoring is an important component of any enterprise. The performance of these tuition classes is monitored through regular examinations. The teachers themselves conduct weekly tests to check on their own performance and also to motivate the students to study.  Independent tests are run by Navsarjan on a half yearly basis.
  1. Tailoring classes.  Families in the slums need extra income. The men folk go to work. Some women find employment. Others have to remain at home to take care of their children. Tailoring gives them an opportunity to earn money at home.    However, tailoring requires skills. Navsarjan runs 12 Tailoring Training Courses for 180 participants. It’s a six month course; teaching how to use sewing machines and maintain      them, how to stitch neatly, how to take measurements, and all other skills required by a tailor. This course is run twice a year. Yearly a maximum of 360 women benefit by it.
The syllabus is divided intro three parts. Those who clear the first part move unto the second and thereafter to the third. These new skills plus a loan to buy a sewing machine enable women to work at home thus adding to the family income. The main aim of this activity is to train them with skills and help them become an earning member of the family and thus gain a say in family matters.
  1. Computer Classes. To avoid the ambiguities of the term “equality” some prefer to speak of  ‘equal opportunities’. In today’s world inequality of opportunities shows in that modern gadget called computer. Children from affluent families have access to computers at a very early age. Early exposure means greater  facility and a head start for talented individuals. Aware of this, Navsarjan has made the use of computers available in the slums. There are few computer centers and seven computers in each center. During one hour, each batch of students is given computer education. There is a theory session and a hands-on practice in the computer. The syllabus comprises MS Office, Corel Draw and Adobe Photoshop, Tally: other items  may be added depending on the progress of the students.
Computer education is a great help in the personal development of young students. Students develop a liking for computers. And computers open a new world to students. A new awareness takes place. Learning is no longer a burdensome duty but a joyful entertainment. It has also advantages in the employment market: it opens new possibilities for some of them.
  1. Education for Child Laborers:      Literacy classes: Not all the slums are the same. In few of them there is a special problem: there are many child laborers – children who have never gone to school or who have dropped out. Many of     such children are deprived of their basic human right and dignity. They face a life of illiteracy and condemned to be second class citizens. Navsarjan addresses this problem by organizing special classes for them. Our ideal is to help them rejoin the formal school system. Failing that, to give      them basic education. A ‘bridge course’ has been prepared to help bridge the gap between illiteracy and the school system. With the permission of District education Officer we take the exams of these children. Those who pass the test are considered eligible to join the Municipal School. Our teachers meet their parents and convince them to put the child in to school. We are happy to see that during the last 10 years over 400 children have ‘crossed the bridge’ and joined (or re-joined) school.
  1. Non-formal      Education for women: Apart from these ‘formal’ educational  activities for various groups of students, the MMs provide ‘non-formal’ education for everybody. This includes leadership training courses, workshops on legal matters, capacity building and awareness programs. Both awareness and skills are necessary to take active part in their own MMs – and to find employment.
  1. Other Activities: The MMs help in the creation of other subsidiary associations chief among them being the Self-Help Groups, i.e., saving groups that form part of the Credit Cooperative. One Mahila Mandal has created an important      association of the Rag Pickers women of its area and has started a Scrap Shop for them.  
Self-reliance of Mahila Mandals: Two things are required to make an organization viable and sustainable. One is to be financially self-sufficient and the other is to ensure the continued honesty and competence of its administrators. Without stable sources of income an organization cannot be self-reliant. Most of Navsarjan’s Mahila Mandals (23 out of 24) are financially self-reliant. How a slum organization can procure money to pay for so many activities??? Because the MMs do incur in heavy expenditure: they have to pay the salaries of the teachers, maintenance of the community halls and rooms and other ordinary administrative expenses. But as against this expenditure they have the following sources of income:
a) Student Fees: Balwadis- Rs. 25 – 35/-, Tuition Class Rs 80/-, Tailoring class Rs. 80/- computer classes a minimum of Rs.100-150/-.  
b) FD’s Interest and
c) Rent: Huts in Slums & SMC tenements. Community hall rent, Vessel rent, etc.
On the other hand, sources of income make money available to those who run the organization. It is difficult to ensure financial honesty of some MMs over a long period of time unless there is a higher body that monitors their performance. This higher body in our case is the Mahila Parishad (or federation) that has the duty to monitor and review the working of its constituents.
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