Abdul Jabbar / Plan International in India
"I love the bright smiles of Indian people."
Mariko Abe, brand director and designer of ARTIDA OUD, has been thinking from her standpoint whether there is anything she can do to protect their smiles long before the launch of the brand. Here came the summer of 2019.
She started the donation of “I am” with the expectation that the environment in which they can thrive in their own way will be expanded by each of them telling the world "To be what I am (= I am)". This project in which part of the sales is donated to support the developing countries has received support from many people and has raised 15.994,000 yen (※1) so far, leading to the construction of a school in India.
What kind of place is the local area and what kind of life do people live there?
On October 11, 2021, the " International Day of the Girl Child", Abdul Jabber of the International NGO Plan International, who is responsible for the "Children's Educational Environment Improvement Program" in Bihar, northeastern India, gave us the details to the questions below. Let’s have our thoughts go to this remote place together.
Bihar, India-a heartwarming place. The importance of education for the future.
――― What kind of region is Bihar in northeastern India?
About 80% are rural area with the economic activities completely depending on agriculture. People there live a simple life. Peaceful coexistence, warm hospitality and intimate community connections are the features of Bihar culture. Folk songs are very popular and are sung in every ritual that is rooted in the lives of ordinary people. There is also a special song named "Bihari Marriage" sung by women, which is filled with warmth, energy and hearty celebration.
―――What kind of issues do you think the region has from the perspective of Plan International?
First, there is a shortage of kindergartens for children aged 3 to 6 years, which leads to the problem of low enrollment rate of the children.
The reason is that even if there are kindergartens in this region, there are still the problems of the shortage of basic facilities and equipment, and most teachers and female nursery teachers have not received specialized training and are not sophisticated enough to teach children in the kindergarten classes. On the other hand, about 40% of Bihar's 104 million population live below the poverty line with per capita income only one-third of India's national average. Not only are they in financial difficulties, but most people living in rural areas do not have land and their economic activities and daily lives are hindered by the frequent floods.
――― Are there any differences in opportunities to receive education depending on age or gender?
Well, the literacy rate of women is always lower than that of men, which leads to a large gender gap in education, health and economic activity. In addition, most parents in this region are barely literate, which make it difficult for them to realize the importance of infant education and support education of their children from an early age. As a result, in rural Bihar, many children enter elementary school without acquiring the essential preschool knowledge and learning attitudes, making it hard for them to adapt to the school environment and curriculum. That's why Bihar becomes a priority destination for the donations. Your donations will help children promote basic abilities, social and emotional development that they should acquire at an early age.
――― What is the impact of the spread of the new coronavirus on the local area?
It exerts a profound impact on the growth and development of children and adolescents, especially girls. Since the school has been closed due to a pandemic, the girls who have been waiting at home without the option of taking online lessons have not only lost the opportunity to receive education, but also is deprived of the means to obtain information about the protected environment to defend their lives and the opportunity to receive the psychosocial support. The dropout rate has increased as a result of the school closure and many girls may not be able to return to school again, which will further widen the gender gap in education and the girl will be deprived of various opportunities in the long run.
As a result of resource reallocation and school closures due to the new coronavirus infection, important services such as school and kindergarten lunches and early childhood education have been disrupted for vulnerable families and children, and the majority of children, girls and young women in rural areas are under economic and social stress. There are concerns that it will have a long-term impact on the people who are most vulnerable and left behind, which will widen the gaps that already exist in education.
The best elements that make a person beautiful are the "kind words" and "forgiveness" emanating from him.
――― ARTIDA OUD has donated an amount of 15,997,000 yen so far (including 9 million yen in funds accumulated in the " Project to Build a School in India" as of the end of September 2021) through donations. Has the way to use it been decided?
Plan International in India has applied the donation to kindergartens in three poverty blocks in Bihar. It will be used to restore and build basic facilities and equipment, and create a place where children can receive high-quality infant education. The project team enhances awareness of the entire community by appealing to teachers, children, parents and community residents to raise awareness about health and hygiene and providing information for the appropriate prevention of new coronavirus infections.
―――Have there been any kindergartens in this region so far?
This region used to have kindergartens, but they were generally not in a good condition in terms of the services provided and the quality of the basic equipment and facilities. Except for several kindergartens, the facilities of most kindergartens which receive support are simple and fragile. Most of them are not equipped with water and sanitary facilities, and the roofs, walls and floors are made of simple materials such as thatch, bamboo, asbestos/tin plates, straw and mud. These facilities are particularly susceptible to harsh climatic conditions, such as heavy rains in the summer and monsoon season, which exert an effect on the quality of education provided to children as well. This situation has a negative impact on children's future learning and life.
―――What kind of comments were received from the local people about the establishment of kindergarten?
Regarding to the activities of Plan International in India, the local people are very pleased and looking forward to the completion of the kindergarten. The project team kept in touch regularly with parents, children and community members and had multiple meetings to explain the benefits of developing water and sanitation facilities, the necessity of clean infrastructure, the importance of early childhood education, appropriate actions to protect children's safety and the way to prevent the new coronavirus by breaking the chain of infection. Local government officials and members of the village Panchayat (autonomous organization) are very happy with the activities that are taking place in the local area.
――― What kind of dreams do the children who go to the kindergarten have for the future?
It is said that the basis of lifelong growth lies in the development of infancy (0 to 8 years old). Recent neuroscience studies have proven that brain development based on childhood experiences forms the neural and biological pathways that will affect lifelong health, learning and behavior. Therefore, the children who can receive high-quality infant education with your support can enter elementary school with confidence and motivation through various experiences in early childhood. In the future, these children will be able to receive a good education and lead a quality life for themselves and their families.
―――I think it is not just about building the school, but a lot of energy is still needed for management. Please tell us what you think about the issues or whether you have determination to run the school.
As you pointed out, even if high-quality support is provided to build the kindergarten, not only a system should be established for the operation of the kindergarten, but the active involvement and support from the community residents and parents are necessary in order to continue the facilities and maintain the equipment to be kept being used effectively by the children.
In addition, since Plan International in India has been active in Bihar for a long period of time, the region where this project was implemented are supported through the involvement of various stakeholders under the “Child-centered Community Development” program. Therefore, in collaboration with the government and local governments, the kindergarten will be properly maintained and will benefit many children over the years to come, while giving priority to improving the abilities of the teachers.
――― ARTIDA OUD has put forward the theme of “Beauty as it is”. What is your idea about "beauty"?
In my opinion, the best elements that make a person beautiful are the "kind words" and "forgiveness" emanating from him, both of which will prove the beliefs and beauty in that person's heart.
As a human being, I am constantly striving to be a better version of myself every day. The idea of "beauty in kindness" has been a great help for me to stay humble and bring good results to the work I have engaged with.
―――Finally, do you have a message for those in Japan who are interested in the social issues facing developing countries?
As mentioned earlier, there are various social issues in the world. I would like to ask the Japanese people to further support Plan International in India to develop beneficial activities for poor marginalized children and young women, and to solve key issues in India.
(※1 The total donation amount including 9 million yen as the target amount for the "Project to build a school in India" as of the end of September 2021 + 4,953,300 yen for the "Children's Educational Environment Improvement Program" in Bihar, northeastern India,)