My first week in Padavedu was breathtaking and overwhelming. Kim and I spent less than one day in Chennai, Tamil Nadu before traveling three and a half hours south to Padavedu by train and bus. The staff of SST welcomed us with chai and chapati before sending us off to settle into our room. Since that first night, we have been very busy visiting various SST sites dedicated to educating adults and children.
One example of SST’s commitment to adult education is their collaboration with self-help groups (SHGs). On Thursday we visited Rashmi, an SHG member who weaves silk used for saris. She was able access credit with the help and training of SST. SST helped mobilize a group of women who used their collective savings and capital to assume the shared risk of taking out larger loans in order to grow their respective businesses. The SHG to which she belongs has been operating since 2008 and is now 13 members strong. Rashmi recalled how her SHG experienced some difficulties in the beginning when 2 members were late with their repayments. Staff from SST (a.k.a. animators) intervened by teaching SHG members bookkeeping and giving them professional development trainings.
SST’s involvement with growing their business gave Rashmi’s children better access to education. Today, Rashmi’s oldest son studies business administration at a university. Rashmi and her husband- who taught and trained her how to weave- hope that their son can obtain a government job in the future. They do not want him to work as a silk weaver. Silk weaving is a time consuming and laborious process that requires Rashmi and her husband to separate the silk, turn silk into thread, and operate a large machine that organizes the thread into patterns. In addition, Rashmi cooks and cleans for her family. Rashmi’s time commitment to her trade and family reminds me of a phenomenon called “the second shift.” The second shift refers to the overwhelming duties that disproportionately affect women all over the world stemming from their roles as providers and caretakers.
In addition to visiting SHGs, we also visited several schools that collaborated with SST to secure safe and constructive learning environments. SST engaged in construction projects with balwadis (pre-schools), primary schools, middle schools, and high schools to build school compounds, communal toilet facilities, and teachers’ quarters. These construction projects require a substantial portion of the funding to come from the community directly. SST believes that only through community involvement and contribution will projects be sustainable in the long term.
One SHG said that they donated the prize money they received in recognition of their fiscal responsibility to one such a school initiative. SST has also provided computers and resource centers with art supplies and toys. Teachers say that they benefit from the different learning modalities students can now use. SST Animator also go on house visits to speak to families who are at risk of having a student fail national exams or have prolonged absences. Animators intervene on behalf of agencies or schools when they suspect there are barriers to families supporting children in education.
One resounding theme that rang throughout our visits to SST sites was the undeniable presence of a generational education gap. We visited skilled artisans, shopkeepers, and farmers who started and maintained SHGs in order to provide their children with a high level of education. Members of SHGs were adamant that they did not want their children to be resigned to the same livelihoods they themselves have. One skilled pottery maker, whose craft has been passed on from generation to generation, took pride that his son is an engineer and will not have to subsist on pottery. I felt a tinge of sadness at the thought of this artisanal craft-an important part of cultural heritage- dying out after his generation. However, I was more inspired by how someone could put all their life’s work into someone else’s future.
Teachers discussed some problematic facets of the generational education gap. The high school students who have difficulty passing their final year’s exam were predominately students from the tribal region near Padavedu. While many parents push for their children to pursue education, high school teachers claim that some parents from that region do not understand the value of formal education and they would prefer their children to stay in the field farming. Even when the parents are supportive of the education, students have problems with homework when they go home to parents who do not have sufficient literacy to assist them. Such circumstances further complicate teachers’ tasks as there are already staff shortages throughout the government run schools.
The generational education gap is complex and layered. I would like to further observe how the generational education gap manifests itself in Padavedu and surrounding regions. The more I can learn about this phenomenon, the more we can develop effective strategies that can allow educators, parents, children, and agencies to work towards a more complete understanding of one another. I am so thankful for this opportunity to be a part of an experience that allows for this dialogue to occur.