It takes a whole village

Recently I was lucky enough to get a chance to visit the work Save the Children are doing in the cotton growing areas of Gujarat, India.

It was an opportunity to get to see first hand how communities are working together, with IKEA Foundation funding and Save the Children’s support, to make dramatic and lasting differences to the lives of children both in their community and beyond.

Ramesh in Gujarat
Ramesh, 10 (centre) ©Emma Harbour/IKEA Foundation

I met Ramesh, 10, in the village of Morasiya. Until last year, every cotton season he dropped out of school to work in the fields. Now thanks to the work of the IKEA Foundation and Save the Children, his parents have agreed for him not to work and to instead attend school full time.

Ramesh is one of many children in the village who has been helped back into school – 3 years ago attendance was around 52% and now it is 100%, an amazing achievement in a short space of time.

In fact, in the first three years of the project in Gujarat, 45,000 children have been helped back into school.

Cotton farmers who admit to having used child labour
Cotton farmers who admit to having used child labour in the past; ©Emma Harbour/IKEA Foundation

Changing attitudes among families and farmers is a crucial step in the work – here in Rampur Fueda, farmers admit to having used children as workers in the past. And yet now 37 of them have signed pledges not to employ children. Hearing them speak about their lives and how they wanted the children in the village to have more opportunities and the chance of an education was particularly inspiring – especially as nearly all of them had no education themselves and many were illiterate.

©Emma Harbour/IKEA Foundation

I was surprised to learn that looking after younger siblings was one of the major reasons children in these villages dropped out of school.  In Magnad village, I visited an Aanganwardi centre. This is a pre-school where children receive the government´s free meal scheme, but now with Save the Children´s help it’s also running education and play schemes.  Not only does this help prepare the children for school but it also means their older siblings can attend school themselves, instead of having to look after them while their parents were at work.

Nava Vas village, Gujarat
©Emma Harbour/IKEA Foundation

As the saying goes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. When I arrived in Nava Vas, the whole village turned out. It was incredibly inspiring to see children, farmers, women and men all gathered and so fired up about the importance of children´s rights and their right to go to school and be children.

I left my three days in Gujarat in no doubt that this was a change that would not be reversed. Whole communities have come together and looked for ways to make a real difference that will have an impact—not just on the children living there now, but on their children and generations to come.

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    Emma Harbour