Location: Rayagada District, Odisha
Since 1995, Society for Nature, Education and Health (SNEH) has been managing a fully-residential High School for Tribal Girls (from Class I to Class X), in Rayagada, a remote tribal district of Odisha. The school, Nalini Vidya Mandir (NVM), is located in an area that is included in the Integrated Tribal Development Project and Tribal Sub Plan area, but also has a significant Maoist presence.
Nalini Vidya Mandir is the only high school for tribal girls in the larger Bissamcuttack area to be run by an NGO providing education free of cost. The school, which receives support from the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, seeks to bring tribal girls into the mainstream while also keeping them in touch with their roots. An integrated residential-cum-school living situation has enabled the 332 female students to be provided with nutritious food, clothing and safe accommodation, and a specially-curated academic programme keeps them at par with the curriculum and academic instruction provided at any mainstream school in Odisha. Remarkably, in its 22 years of existence, NVM has not seen a single drop-out, even though the students come from disenfranchised and economically-depressed families, and there is a lot of pressure on them to contribute to the family income from a very young age.
NVM students not only excel in education but also top in extracurricular activities at both the state and district levels, winning prizes in sports, science exhibitions, painting and drawing and essay-writing competitions.
The students are given vocational training to facilitate future income generation by leveraging their traditional skills as Dongria Kondh tribals, but also providing them with 21st century skills. They are trained in Dongria Kondh shawl-making, tailoring, embroidery and leaf-plate making, and the older students are given basic IT and computer training as well.
NVM activities are managed by SNEH through its School Management Committee in constant consultation with a Mother’s Committee. Both these committees are drawn from the tribal community and include parents of the students. All school decisions are discussed and implemented by these committees working together.
Nalini Vidya Mandir received the popular ‘Prakruti Mitra’ award from the Odisha Forest and Environment department in 2016.