Amongst several powerful experiences during our field visit to Visakhapatnam , the time spent in Zila Parishad High School of Thotagaruvu stands out. We were interacting with standard 10th students who had been religiously studying algebra. One of the students mentioned that while she really enjoyed the classes she wished she had a chair to sit on, as spending an entire day sitting and studying on the floor was a big challenge. The high school had furniture in only one room. The class teacher told us that on one special occasion she took the students to the room for an hour long class. She said that she had never seen the students happier. She said that classroom furniture for students was like an ornament and attending a class sitting on benches lifted their spirits. It was as if they had been rewarded.

A couple of weeks back, Swaniti Initiative set out to support the vision of the Member of Parliament of Visakhapatnam, who wanted to provide furniture in all government schools in the constituency. The engagement seemed much more specific than most other constituency level interventions that Swaniti has been a part of. However, the unique thing about the engagement was the scale at which the intervention was being envisioned. Instead of trying to create a model school the idea was to saturate the entire constituency, providing necessary inputs to improve education outcomes, one by one.

The process began with an exhaustive constituency level survey covering all government schools. These included Zila Parishad schools as well as Greater Visakhapatnam Municipal Corporation (GVMC) schools. The role played by the local party cadre in going to each and every school and verifying the exact level of requirement was inspiring. They formed a great partnership with the Swaniti team allowing both to learn from each other. While in many schools the ground level requirement was close to government’s estimate, in some it varied by a huge margin. However, a comprehensive survey, followed by coordination with the office of the District Education Officer (DEO), ensured that we had reliable data with which we could proceed.

The next big challenge was to figure out the right source for the furniture. The priority was to create maximum social impact and bring on board diverse stakeholders. Keeping this in mind we headed out to the Central prison to study their manufacturing unit and to explore possible ways in which they could be a part of the process. We were delighted to find that the central prison was capable of producing high quality furniture and also had an impressive capacity. Talking to the Deputy Superintendant in charge of the prison we found how involving prisoners in creating social impact can play a major role in their own transformation. The next stop was the local ITIs, which had their own manufacturing unit. While the capacity was limited, the manufacturing quality was great. Moreover, the process of manufacturing was a great opportunity for ITI students to hone their skills and exhibit their talent. Manufacture of roughly 300 units directly and indirectly contributed to the skilling of a minimum 150 students, as per the institute’s estimates. A project set out to provide basic infrastructure to schools was now having an impact beyond school education.

While the project has been comprehensibly conceptualized, the work is far from done. End to end implementation requires effective monitoring. This is where we seek to involve the local community as much as possible. This would hopefully lead to a healthy dialogue amongst diverse stakeholders around the existing bottlenecks in education and ways to tackle them. We believe that while the engagement focuses on only one sector, the impact as well as the learning would go beyond the same.

The beauty of successful interventions is that they create replicable models. Not only does one learn from the achievements, but also from failures and miscalculations. The bottom line is to go out there and take up causes. It might be small or big, but if we manage to work tirelessly right through to the end, it will enrich us beyond our expectations. With this in mind, we look forward to the rest of our journey in Visakhapatnam.

Devashish is an Engagement Associate at Swaniti. He is a graduate of BITS Pilani with a B.Tech degree in Chemical Engineering. and previously worked with Oracle Financial Services. He can be reached at devashish.c@swaniti.in