OUTSIDE EVERY CLASSROOM in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya, a government-run residential girls’ school in the tribal village of Aligaon, is a bulletin board with pages and pages of news from the area. There are stories on alcoholism, failing government programmes, and the harsh realities of life here, deep inside Odisha’s impoverished Koraput district. But these are not stories from major national or state newspapers, or local media organisations. They are produced by a group of students at the school who are part of Odisha’s Child Reporters programme.
On a sunny Tuesday in August, Santakar Chelapila—a 46-year-old, ever-smiling Koraput native and freelance journalist—walked into a classroom at the school to check on the young journalists. The girls stood up to greet him, and he started asking what they’d been writing about. The answers ranged from homework woes to a village’s difficulty accessing clean drinking water.
Chelapila, alongside a small group of socially conscious citizens, started training a handful of Koraput students in the basics of journalism and posting their stories on school walls in 2004. The idea soon attracted support from UNICEF, and the Child Reporters programme was formally launched the following year. Volunteers trained a hundred children, and asked them to write every day in special notebooks. “At first, they wrote about school,” Chelapila said, “but then they dove into the bigger social issues.” Soon selected stories were also being published in a bi-monthly magazine called Ankurodgam—roughly, “the sprouting of the seed”—distributed to parents, district officials and journalists. The project grew, and by 2007 it involved over five thousand children in 539 schools, whose best contributions were published in a monthly inset, edited by children, in Anupam Bharat, one of Odisha’s leading vernacular dailies.