One-month experience in India: three key concepts that should not be neglected

The opportunity to represent Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Santarém (SCMS), Portugal, and participate in the activities developed by Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), Bhubaneswar, India, for one month was embraced as a significant challenge: it would allow to share experiences and strategies promoted by our organisations in tackling early school leaving, promoting school attendance, providing adequate educational services and/or alleviating child poverty. Reflecting on principles of intervention and reasoning behind the management of limited resources, discussing main barriers or constraints to the activities envisaged and strategies used to overcome them as well as identify best practices that are proven to be successful and can be replicated in several contexts (of course, without neglecting specificities of different natures) were not only the main goals of this key activity of the Edu-Action Project, but also my expectations in terms of participants’ learning outcomes.

It did not take much time to realize that we cannot expect being able to import or export practices. We must understand the context, its specificities and inherent constraints. The context is, in fact, a key concept to be valued. Moreover, in order to know or get familiar with it, we must abandon our own standards, pre-concepts or any bias, because there are huge differences that require an explorer attitude instead of a tendency to compare with own ways of doing and thinking. Curiosity and interest were triggers to approach this completely new context and (politely) ask questions that helped me to understand its dynamics, main challenges and the reason why undertaking activities that appear to be isolated (but that put a smile on the children’s face) is so important as having a clear vision, plan and execute projects or even evaluate their (social) impact.

From my perspective, these challenges imposed by the context lead to a second key concept: communication. How could we understand the context and undertake relevant activities without communicating with significant actors, target groups or even wider stakeholders? How could we enter in disadvantaged territories and be acknowledged as partners if we do not relate and communicate with all community members? Furthermore, any positive change has to be based in a meaningful sense of change, a strong willingness to change and a feeling of being supported to change. These requirements are not met without effective communication and a strong commitment with the capacity of promoting education as a mean to achieve greater opportunities for these kids in a clear attempt to break persistent cycle(s) that translate the reproduction of poverty. In view of being effective, verbal and non-verbal communication are both very important strategies within a positive attitude of encouragement, engagement and willingness to promote meaningful changes.

Commitment is, in my opinion, the third key concept to be highlighted. It represents the engine that motivates all professionals and other relevant key actors involved in this challenging field. I mean the commitment that raises awareness in regards to the importance of Education and provides better opportunities to children living in disadvantaged territories. The strong commitment that inspires other stakeholders, volunteers and donors to get on board in this step by step process that is changing these kids’ daily lives. In the slums, where JRP has been working in the last two years, I was able to witness how important is to strength links and relations prior to work in a more structured pedagogical model.

There is no doubt that this was a great learning experience, both from an individual and professional perspectives. I hope the video that the project team will make available in the next few weeks turns to be a useful communication tool that illustrates the context we had the opportunity to observe and spotlights the commitment I tried to reinforce while writing these words, that are nothing more than my own thoughts…