MelJol: Catching them young

Thursday, June 10, 2010

: : Amola Panda : :

meljol6 A teacher, a chalkboard, a desk, a ruler, pencil, and a textbook are no longer the only prerequisites for learning in Zilla Parishad School, Guravali, Kalyan in the Thane district of Maharashtra.

The same is true for several municipal and ashram schools in the State. Here comes Aflatoun- a little fireball from outer space, which provides children social and financial education through fun games, activities, songs and workbooks.

The figure of an Aflatoun (explorer in Urdu) forms the central trope and vehicle of NGO MelJol’s teachings. Since its inception, MelJol has been focussing on fostering healthy attitudes among children, creating awareness of the different needs of children from different backgrounds, and building the spirit of confidence and entrepreneurship.

There has been tremendous amount of hullabaloo on human rights, intended to promote and protect the well being of children. However, very few organizations focus on enhancing a child’s self-confidence, rights and responsibilities; most importantly imparting financial literacy.

MelJol, which was initiated in 1991 as a field action project of the Department of Family and Child Welfare, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, does exactly that. Currently it works in urban as well as rural areas. Apart from Mumbai, MelJol works in Thane, Chandrapur, Yawatmal, Nanded, Kolhapur, Osmanabad and Raigad districts of Maharashtra.

MelJol works towards developing citizenship skills amongst children by focussing on their rights and responsibilities, and providing them opportunities to contribute positively to their environment.

Its mission is to work towards an equitable social structure within a pluralistic society i.e. one that is an integrated society and where different cultures coexist.

“We operate within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990). By educating children and their significant others on child rights and responsibilities, we address prejudices focusing on the following key concepts - equity, ageism, gender, ethnicity, classism and ableism,” says a MelJol official.

MelJol’s financial education primarily relates to personal finance, which enables individuals to take effective action to improve overall well-being and avoid distress in financial matters.

In India, financial literacy is seen as a means to achieve financial inclusion. The thrust is on rural areas. This is not surprising, given that 5.7 lakh out of the six lakh villages don't have a bank branch.

Informal surveys in the schools covered under the MelJol programme showed that approximately one-third of the students came from homes where there is no habit of saving.

Hence, MelJol came up with child-friendly banking system known as ‘Aflatoun Banks’ to empower children and spread awareness about their rights and responsibilities, and equip them with the tools to put those rights into practice. It aims to provide education to children aged 6-14 through ‘learning by doing’ exercise.

“We have training programmes for NGOs in states of Orissa, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat. Our staff train teachers on how to educate kids morally and financially,” says Sameer Shirodkar at MelJol.

“We educate children about healthy habits, importance of saving electricity and water through fun activities, songs and games,” says Sumita Astvekar of MelJol.

meljol2“Children can save small articles like clips, erasers etc in the Aflatoun box. At the end of month, these kids with the help of their teacher come up with some decorative product made out of these articles. By this, they realize the importance of saving. Formal ways of saving are introduced to students from 5th standard onwards,” says Astvekar as she demonstrates the bright yellow Aflatoun box made by kids at the municipal school.

“If a person is educated, it does not imply that he or she is financially educated. Informing children about financial opportunities serves dual purpose of educating them as well as their family,” says Astvekar.

MelJol plans to build a research network to support programme development with 10 ongoing research partners.

Needless to point out, MelJol endeavors to transform every child into a change maker.

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