Where are the children?

By Nandita Banerjee

Coordinator HR, ASER Centre

                                                                                                                                                 Country roads take me to a home…

         Where I can assess children on what they know…

It’s the first weekend survey in Ernakulam district of Kerela. Soumya and I boarded a bus to reach our assigned villages to join the surveyors and monitor the survey.

I was slightly early so I walked to the Village Panchayat Bhavan since on the first day of the survey the surveyors would start with the Panchayat and then proceed to survey children in households. It was a Saturday and the school was closed. It would be surveyed on Monday. The Panchayat Bhavan was impressive looking as you can see from the photographs below. However, it not only looked impressive but functioned well also. I saw common village folks walk in asking for information or submit documents quite easily.

Soon Retnamma and Anjali joined me at the Panchayat Bhavan. We met the Vice President and member of the Panchayat who courteously took us to their office. There we discussed the purpose of the survey and its methodology. The Vice President and the member of the Panchayat gave us the village map and helped in selecting the four wards (hamlets) to be surveyed through the “lot” system (random selection) as there were 13 wards in total.

So, with the blessings of the Panchayat members we started the survey. The village was large and had

One of the nicest Panchayat's I have ever seen!
One of the nicest Panchayat’s I have ever seen!

uneven terrain. Clusters of houses in a ward were separated by rubber plantations and paddy fields. Walking into the middle of the ward, we began selecting households to survey. The walk was scenic with paddy fields in striking green in color encircled by tall coconut trees. Kingfisher, Pond Herons and Egrets waited patiently on their perches searching for their meals.

However, our patience was being tested as we completed the first ward without finding any child of between the age of 5 to 16 years old in the surveyed households.  Slightly disappointed yet hopeful, Retnamma, Anjali and I began surveying the second ward. After the eight household, we were still far away from assessing a child in a surveyed household. The walk continued. I must add here that Retnamma spoke no English or Hindi and I speak a total of ten words in Malayalam. Anjali understood English but was shy of speaking it. Surprisingly, we had no problems in communicating. The common purpose of doing the survey properly and most importantly finding “Kutty” (children) was our link and we communicated with gestures, facial expressions and by referring to the survey sheet.

Approaching the ninth household, we found an elephant in the backyard of the household! But no children.

Continuing in our quest to find children, we walked past pineapple cultivations said to be full of snakes. The road was on the incline and uneven. As we turned left and identified the tenth household with apprehension, out came a girl of 7-8 years old. That we were overjoyed and excited would be an understatement. 

We found a child finally!

So, with a spring in our step and with renewed hope we continued the survey of the village!