Himalayan villagers take #UpForSchool message to their hearts

Up for School or #upforschool campaign

As a newly appointed Global Youth Ambassador, I decided to travel to remote villages in the Himalayas (my home area) to mobilise people for the #UpForSchool campaign.

Pithoragarh (often referred to as “Mini Kashmir”) is the easternmost district in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, wedged between Nepal and Tibet in the tiny Soar Valley of the Lesser Himalayas. It is absolutely lush green and picturesque and is dramatic in its beauty.

During this transformative journey, I woke each day at 6am to ensure that I could go around to all the schools, colleges and communities to talk about the importance of education for all and gender equality.

In rural Pithoragarh, most people are oblivious to the outside world. While many locals enjoy modern amenities like TV and internet, their lives are family-oriented and embracive of their colourful mountain heritage.

Heavy rainfalls lashing in the entire district made it very difficult and dangerous to travel. But people of that area are very resilient and have found ways to survive and thrive.

Parents have seen how their children’s lives can be transformed through a good education. They know that with an education the next generation will be able to stand on their own two feet and be independent. This independence is particularly critical in their native community, a region known as much for its stunning beauty as for its isolation and harsh climate.

There were times when people had tears in their eyes because their children, particularly their daughters, had to travel to distant places to study because the local town had no schools. They pleaded with me to encourage the government to build schools in their localities.

They were hopeful that the #UpForSchool campaign would bring about tremendous educational opportunity and progress. Poverty often drives children to work in the fields rather than attend class. Many poor nomadic families miss out on education altogether, though the government has experimented with mobile classrooms, with limited success. 

Children have to walk miles to reach an ill-equipped classroom without heating or electricity in temperatures as low as -20C, typically to find out that no teacher is present.

I saw first-hand that in very remote areas it is difficult to recruit qualified teachers – village locals and high school students all seem unhappy with the educators. In fact, the teachers themselves are not sure of how to cope with the new syllabus. Much of the curriculum originates by texts produced which are non-relevant and out of date.

When I would go to colleges or interact with my peers, they showed immense support for the campaign (including college staff). I collected 2000 commitments in two days in those remote locations.

Sometimes, I would also get requests to sing and I would perform (without music) the song I wrote for #UpForSchool and HeForShe. It was heartening to see people thump their hands to substitute for the lack of music. I’ve always wanted to inspire people to a cause through my music. If we can use pamphlets and speeches to explain policies then why not music since it transcends the boundaries of language, country and customs.

Wherever I spoke, I added the concept of HeForShe, a solidarity movement for gender equality initiated by UN Women to engage men as advocates and agents of change for the achievement of gender equality and women’s rights. I felt it was very important to harmonise #UpForSchool and HeForShe because of their inter-relatedness regarding advocacy and girls’ education.

Even though HeForShe is directed towards the male gender, I felt that women in those regions needed to get that perspective that men must support women to achieve Planet 50-50, a more equal world for all.

The more I travelled, the more I was eager to reach out to more than 11,000 people and make them aware about the importance of education, gender equality and Music for Development.

As of today, I have managed to collect 11,200 commitments in the last 11 days with the help of a few volunteer friends from Pithoragarh. When my fellow Global Youth Ambassador Saket Mani explained about advocacy and outreach, I had thought it to be very simple.

It was only when I was on the ground in a remote area that I realised how difficult it can be to explain and secure adoption for a programme. We are planning to find a way to present the petition to our prime minister and the Indian government, in addition to the handover to world leaders on September 28 at the #UpForSchool Town Hall event held in New York City.

Kundan Saun is a GYA and a passionate musician (lyricist, singer & composer). He is of strong conviction that music has a vital role in global development. According to this 22 year old, music empowers, inspires, motivates and gets our creative energy flowing. He is a strong advocate of education for all and gender equality. You can follow him on Twitter.

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