In the last one year that I have been working in the village, I have often thought about these questions. What is Masti ki Paathshala? What are our goals? What do we wish to achieve? What values do we stand for?
Let me take a step back and inform you a little about our history.
Masti ki Paathshala (which literally translates as ‘school of fun’) is a democratic learning centre set up in this village called Agar, in the Alwar District of Rajasthan, India, about 30 kilometres from the Sariska Tiger Reserve. We set up the first learning centre in 2017 and have plans of setting up such learning centres in villages across this entire region. To decode that term, a democratic learning centre is a place where children ‘call the shots’. As I write, we are now in the peak of the kite flying season. As a result, our attendance has just dropped over the hill. Our learning centre bears such a deserted look. However, we are really happy since the children are happy flying kites. As per our philosophy, ‘free play’ is extremely important in the whole process of education. Why don’t you watch this short video to get a better sense of our work so far.
When we were designing Masti ki Paathshala (and to be honest, the design is ever evolving), we were confronted with various questions.
- Is Masti ki Paathshala only an educational organization or something beyond that?
- Is education only about K-12 or is it something more than that?
- Is our role as an organization only about the K-12 or is it about also ensuring that the rural folks get work at their doorstep, rather than be forced away into the city in search of work?
- Could Masti ki Paathshala be used for solving real life problems that are faced by the rural folks?
- Is Masti ki Paathshala an educational organization or could we use education as a tool for broader rural development?
It is from questions like these that we found our raison d’etre:
- That the rural folks should be able to find work of their choice within the village itself.
- That our work should promote community living.
This would solve the twin problems of infrastructure bottlenecks in the cities and that of family distress (caused by forced migration) in the rural areas. Besides, it would put a stop to the erosion of social capital which was prevalent in our villages not very long ago. Thus, Masti ki Paathshala is not really an educational organization but an organization that wishes to use education and healthcare as a tool for broader rural development. The livelihoods just complements these 2 verticals very beautifully. It is the blood that provides the oxygen. The livelihoods projects would help generate employment in the village. Besides, it will provide the financial muscle to fund the learning centres and the nature cure hospitals. It is a dream to once again see the rural folks live together as a community, rather than be sucked into the capitalist world.
You could view this presentation to get a sense of what has been mentioned above.
While the work on education and healthcare would be handled by a non profit entity (which has already been set up and is called the Centre for Health and Education Reform), the work on livelihoods would be undertaken by a for profit entity, with an overriding profit sharing agreement with the producer. The remainder of the profit would be used to fund the learning centres and the nature cure hospitals and provide a return on capital. The long term goal is to convert this for profit entity into a co-operative, which is democracy in the truest sense.
As already mentioned above, the learning centres will be democratic in nature, which means that the children will decide how they wish to spend their time. Of course, there will be certain restrictions in place, which too would be decided democratically.
Nature cure, I believe is the most appropriate healthcare model especially for rural India. Nature cure mainly needs mitti (earth), hawa (air) and paani (water), which are in abundance in rural areas and can be obtained almost free of cost. It does not need any external inputs such as the expensive pharmaceutical drugs. Thus, nature cure is a low cost, local solution to the healthcare needs of rural India. Besides, nature cure can easily be learnt by anyone which reduces the reliance on doctors and other medical staff.
On the livelihoods side, the idea is to set up various livelihoods in the village, such that the rural folks are not forced to migrate to cities. With life revolving around this economic institution, I think that it would bring about the community feeling that I so yearn for. We have already started work on stitching bags, pouches, laptop covers, etc. We should hopefully very soon also launch a small pilot on food processing.
So, we have set the ball rolling. Only time will tell how far the ball goes!