Leaving corporate life, Ashish Srivastava devoted himself to preparing the children’s childhood in the affected areas of Naxal

At a time when people are moving rapidly towards corporate life, Ashish Srivastava left his corporate life about 10 years ago today. Since then, he has been preparing the lives of tribal children not only in Chhattisgarh but also in Bastar, affected by Naxal.

Ashish Srivastava is the co-founder and head of the Shiksharth Trust program. Amidst Bastar’s plight, the Shikshak Trust is working to bring about a positive change in children’s lives. YourStory spoke in detail with Ashish Srivastava about the work of Shiksharth Trust and the challenges being worked on in areas like Bastar.

You have been working for the Bastar children for 10 years. What topics do you work on mainly?

We work with naxal areas and children affected by naxal. We work mainly on three topics of children.

The first topic is about children arriving at school. Because due to a conflict schools are destroyed or teachers cannot go to school or schools do not open or operate. There are too many children dropping out of school.

The second question is how a child can find a safe environment in school or in the community. A place where they can learn things like compassion, empathy, non-violence.

The third issue is to adapt the solutions provided by the government or various NGOs according to the children here. You have to do it according to the kids here.

We must differentiate between the universal concept and the local concept. There is no meaning of A by plane for the kids here because they have never seen a plane. An arrow is convenient for them. We show them A in the guava instead of the A in the grenade.

What is the reason to start Shikshartha Trust? How did you get started?

I was in Delhi in 2011-12 and did corporate work. I didn’t like it very much. I believed that when 70 percent of the country’s population lives in villages, then why the handful of people who want to do social work, focus all their attention on cities.

In Delhi I saw that between 10 and 12 people work in an MCD NGO. At the same time, nothing could be seen 50 km from Delhi. After seeing all this, in 2012 he toured India.

I thought for a year I would travel to rural India. While wandering around, I came to Dantewada and started working there. After that, in 2015, I started Shiksharth Trust. Today, the Shiksharth Trust turns seven.

What is your field of work? How many children have you reached so far?

We serve more than 140 government schools and community centers. In this we are reaching about 8,000 children. In between, we also work with the government and during that time we work throughout the district.

However, our main goal is to focus on more than 8000 children. In the last seven years we have worked with about 50,000 children in this field. Includes both with and without administration. We are also recovering children from formal education. After Salwa Judum, 97 schools have now reopened in Sukma.

We tell you that in 2005, Congress leader Mahendra Karma established Salwa Judum by handing over weapons to the common people to fight the Naxalites. He later also received his support for the then BJP government. In 2008, the Supreme Court refused to give any assistance to the Salwa Judum to the state government and ordered its removal in 2011.

Today online education is advancing very fast. How many children could you reach through offline education?

During the Kovid-19 epidemic, people sang the song of online education, but 70 percent of children did not have the facilities to receive online education. With this in mind, we have created offline learning solutions that have reached more than 3.5 thousand children through our partners.

We made our solution open source and it was editable. Our solution has been implemented by more than 2800 organizations in its own way. We are focusing on going further in the North East regions of India. We plan to reach 10,000 children by 2028.

Are you thinking of connecting?

We have an idea to digitize ourselves, but in these areas it will take time. There is no infrastructure here to be digitized. There is no internet or mobile phone here. We are doing a little study on digitization.

We don’t want to join the race to digitize ourselves by just making an app. During the Kovid-19 epidemic, when efforts were made to provide online education in the state of Chhattisgarh, the government could only reach 30 per cent of children and in places like Bastar it had only reached 5 per cent.

How much administrative support does your trust receive?

The administration never stops us. We never ask them for financial help. If you are not working, it does not mean that the administration does not know what to do. The administration knows what to do, but there are many other reasons not to work.

We need your approval, which is mostly available. However, it is true that there is not as much acceptance by NGOs in these areas.

What is the reaction of the Naxalites to your work? Have you ever faced any kind of problem?

We have never had any face to face with naxalites. However, there is no such opposition when it comes to education and health. However, security is always a concern. We avoid going to those areas where meetings are held or even very inland areas, we only go when there is full cooperation. Because of this, the pace of our work slows down a bit. While we live in Delhi or Bombay, the pace of work we take in six months or a year takes at least 3 years even at the present time.

We also have to deal with problems because we are strangers. Even people in the community don’t give us a quick answer. It takes time to build a relationship. No total cooperation but we can go to the village. Support is not there yet.

How many people are in your educational trust? How does your computer work?

We have a team of 45 people of which 30 are local young people. These young people are 12th passed, graduate or postgraduate. The remaining 15 people are outsiders who come from outside and work. This team creates new ideas.

Smriti Irani appreciated our work during his tenure as human rights minister. In 2020, we were convened to meet with the President of Basic Innovation. In this one 35 people of different zones from all over the country have been summoned.

How much funding does your trust receive on average? What is its source?

60% of our funding comes from individual donations. School, university or acquaintances always give one thing or the other. The rest comes from the foundation or CSR, and so on. However, it is less. This is a remote area and is politically unstable at the top, so there are some issues with funding.

Last year we raised 1 million rupees while our target was 1.5 million rupees. Until 2019, our spending used to be Rs 2-2.5 lakh, but now it has become Rs 8-9 lakh. Most of it goes to children’s wages and learning products.

What is the response of the parents of the children you are working with?

There is a good response from the parents of the children we are working for. Most importantly, these kids are first-generation kids who go to school. Before also studies were done but now the concept of school is new here. Due to lack of interest, the children do not go to school and then comes the problem of dropout.

A tribal child who has a habit of wandering freely. If I lock him in a wall for 6 hours, then it becomes a suffocating environment for him. By making the teaching method interesting, the children themselves connect to it. Parents are also beginning to get involved. When we do such an activity, parents see it too.

We work mainly with children from class-1 to class-8. Most are students from class 1 to class 6 and there are about 1000 students from class 6 to class 8. All of these children study in government schools and our team members go there and give classes doing volunteers.

Have any of the kids you’ve worked with particularly influenced you? Did any of the children show a unique talent?

One of the kids who taught our team is a student named Roshan Sodhi. In 2017, then-President Pranab Mukherjee awarded him the Ignite Prize for his scientific ideas. The Ignite Award was instituted in memory of former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

He said that when our teachers go to elections, the Naxalites destroy the voting machines, that is, the EVMs. This also endangers my Guruji. To do this, there should be a red button on the machine that after pressing all the votes goes to the collector. He was talking about the cloud transfer voting machine.

Scientists work on the ideas selected for the Ignite Award and, if successful, patent them on behalf of the creator of the idea. However, we still don’t have any more recent updates on Sodhi’s idea.

Another 12th grader is Edma. Edma was a member of the Naxalite Children’s Wing and worked as a Naxalite informant. He has also been the victim of one or two mine explosions. He got his income here by fleeing the interior.

He learned Hindi. He enjoys writing poems and short stories. It has its own WordPress blog. I have no record, but he is Chhattisgarh’s first blogger and perhaps also the country’s first child blogger. He has written on social issues such as drug addiction and naxalites. He has also written about his school experience.

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