Adult and Children's Education Programme
The seed of education was sown when RLEK began its work amidst the Van Gujjar community in early 1990’s. The Van Gujjars are an indigenous, nomadic tribe practising transhumance. They are true followers of Gandhi, as they believe in need and not greed. They feel that one should have this much of belongings that they can carry on their back or mules’ back.
Over the years, illiteracy and ignorance threatened the very survival of these vulnerable Van Gujjars by the forest officials. The corruption was so rampant that a mere piece of paper could be misinterpreted as an order from the government asking the Gujjars to move out of the forests. Scared, the Van Gujjars would have no option but to pay heavy bribes to the forest officials. It was during this interlude that RLEK realized that long-term solutions for the problems faced by the community lay in empowering through education. For illiteracy was at the root of their exploitation and victimization by traders, middlemen and officials. But then the task of educating Van Gujjars, who had for long remained aloof from the mainstream society, was far from easy. Their nomadic lifestyle, habitation deep inside the forest and a thinly spread population over a vast geographic stretch made the task of turning them literate really challenging. Moreover they were not mentally attuned to getting exposed to literacy and education. But then RLEK was against the idea of forcing them into a settled mode of living to facilitate the smooth implementation of the adult literacy programme being designed for them. Thus, RLEK started its innovative Adult Education Programme drive for the Van Gujjars adults between the age group of 15-35.
To support this ambitious and innovative adult education programme, a forest academy of sorts was put in place with 350 highly motivated volunteer teachers. These young barefoot “literacy missionaries” were trained and deployed in the Van Gujjar settlements to teach the tribals at their doorsteps. The program was unique in its own way where the reading material consisted of three primers, especially prepared in their colloquial language (Gujri) so that the Gujjars could identify themselves through these primers and not resist the education program. Normally, classes used to be held under the shade of the tree, close to their dwellings and in their huts, both at noon and night. The timings of the teaching were decided upon after taking into account the daily routine of the community. After a concerted effort of about 3-4 years 21,000 Adult Van Gujjar made literate. Thus, RLEK was able to overcome the challenge of teaching the nomads. RLEK was conferred with the prestigious NLM - UNESCO Award in 1998 and the Rotary International Awards for Service to Humanity for RLEK’s Innovative Education Programme for the Van Gujjars in 1998.
Since Computer literacy has become an important component of the modern education system, RLEK too has incorporated Computer education in its curriculum. One computer each has been provided in our schools but that has proved to be inadequate since the number of children is high.