The inspirational story of Lopamudra, Rachna, and Priyanka who broke stereotypes.

ThinkZone has been working with women across rural areas of Odisha. In one such remote village of Cuttack District, Babujanga has ThinkZone’s one of the first learning centers. ThinkZone’s learning center is a place run by a woman where kids are facilitated to learn in a new way, using activities and technology. Babujang center was started by Lopamudra Bhuyan, a girl in her early 20s, just out of her college with little experience in any job beforehand. Back in 2014 when it started, Lopamudra established her learning center against all odds. In a village, where women are not encouraged to work, Lopamudra had already broken the first of the many barriers by not only starting to work but also by bringing something new to the village.

Lopamudra at Babujang Center

Apart from running the learning center, she supported her family and did most of the household work. At that time the strength at her center was just 8 kids. And every time our then operations manager Manoj Malik visited her center she would assure the manager it’s just a matter of time when the room would be full of kids eager to learn. Her confidence impressed him. Manoj was our operations manager who was instrumental in setting up of our Learning centers in Nischintakoili block, He was also a social worker and was driven by the idea that ThinkZone’s approach can bring change in the villages. He supported Lopa in all possible ways like conducting community meetings, regular parent-teacher meetings and conducting tests at the center. Lopa embraced ThinkZone’s ideology to the core and that reflected in her teaching as she adopted Activity-based learning. After 6 months the 8 kids did excellently in their school exams.

This gave Lopa’s confidence to teach through activity-based teaching methodology a boost and her efforts gave results. This was the moment the cluster manager latched upon and sensitized the community about this teaching technique and how it is proving to be successful. The parents gradually accepted the idea and started to believe that learning can also be fun.

Now, after 6 years that center has 30 kids coming in batches. The parents love and respect Lopa as their kids’ can now talk in English apart from performing well in their respective schools. Lopamudra is now the Cluster manager of the Nischintakoili block. the center is running with another passionate teacher and Lopa has moved on to take more responsibilities. she is now supporting 15 Thinkzone fellows, 20 Anganwadi workers. The people who mocked at her are now proud of her; she is an inspiration to many girls of her age in her village.

Not far away from Lopa’s village, there is another village called Bhuyan sahi. This village inhabited majorly by Scheduled Tribe families. Their occupation is mostly daily wagers. The adults are mostly illiterates or just didn’t get the chance to complete school. For them, education was never a priority it was always about survival. The only school they have access to is cut off from the month of July to September every year due to flood water. Lopa knew kids of that village have no other avenues of education and she brought up the idea of ThinkZone center at that village. The rest of the team agreed unanimously that a center in this area could greatly benefit kids.

Apart from the challenge in the demographics, the other challenge was that education was so cut off in this little village that even kids who were in class 9 could not even identify alphabets. Who would take up this big challenge to teach and put that much effort? Who can convince the parents to send their kids to a learning center where education is not even a priority? These implementation issues bugged the team. But Manoj and Lopamudra took the challenge.

Manoj and Lopamudra scouted for someone who was from a nearby village. After the usual selection process, they shortlisted two girls who were driven and eager to work with ThinkZone. Actually more than ThinkZone, it was Lopamudra’s influence which became a reason for them to join ThinkZone. For them, Lopamudra was a role model whom they wanted to emulate. Those two girls were Rachna Bhuyan and Priyanka Bhuyan. Rachna and Priyanka both come from a very low economic background.

Rachna and Priyanka had their own fights to win before they could start their own learning centers. There was resistance from families as the distance to the probable center was much and the location being a scheduled caste village and thus looked down upon didn’t help. Manoj and Lopa went to their respective villages and talked out of them of their stereotypes making them see the bigger picture of what ThinkZone was trying to do for the communities.

And thus started their center; these girls would travel every day for 5 km in a cycle and cross a bamboo bridge to reach their center. They went there shift wise. There were a lot of challenges, but Priyanka and Rachna under the guidance of Lopa made it possible to bring a major change; from creating awareness among parents to improving the learning outcomes of kids. The kids who couldn’t even identify alphabets can now read stories. Priyanka and Rachna received a lot of appreciation and respect in their villages.

The change that started with Lopa breaking the barrier caused a ripple effect where other girls from nearby villages started believing in them.

The one year initially when Lopa struggled and learned how to bring change at the grassroots level led way to many success stories like Rachna and Priyanka. Rachna and Priyanka did not only just brought an educational revolution in the small village of Bhuyan sahi, but they are also now financially independent and support their families as well. These success stories have been inspiring each and every one of us. Even during the hardest days of the organization, we look back and remind each other through these stories of what keeps us going.

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