Last year, we began a number of programmes for the unorganized rural youth of Bihar. Most of our youth attend the government or private schools in the rural areas and some study in the colleges. Contacting them was one of the most tedious jobs. I took the help of our Social Action ministry who had been running different programmes in the villages. Thus I was able to contact the youth of four villages of the Barbigha block, Sheikhpura District, Bihar.

The first meeting was a very casual meeting. I listened to their struggles, their lack of guidance and enthusiasm in studies and career and lack of opportunities to compete with the mainstream. This seemed to be their important need. These youth are primarily the Non Christian Dalits, though a few Christians have recently joined them. They are basically poor and lack facilities to improve their situation. Some of them had been spending enormous amount of money to attend coaching centers and thus manage to write their board or university exams.

The condition of our government schools and colleges is very poor. In the schools the government schemes seem to take priority over teaching. The ratio of teachers in most of the schools both primary and high is 1 per two hundred students. Very often one teacher is handling two or three classes at the same time. In the primary schools, one teacher is kept busy with the mid day meals and the logistics. The high schools are no different. The colleges have become the hub of political activities and the students or the staff is on strike most of the time. So the colleges are utilized only for registration. Since no teaching takes place in these colleges they take the help of coaching institutes which are mushrooming both in the urban and rural areas. These institutes take an enormous amount of fees. For the poor dalit student, it is a big expense as they have to pay to both sides. My contacts with them brought me in touch with this blatant truth.

The first step I took was to enable them to see, analyze and judge their plight. Instead of spending huge amounts of money individually to cater to their coaching, I asked them to come together and get the help of someone who can teach them in their own village. It was something that they first resisted and hesitated but when one of them took the initiative to see the possibility it was an afterthought.

Among them were two youth who were older and on enquiry, found that they were doing post graduation. I began to befriend them. I met them personally and made them see the need and how much they could be of help to their younger brothers. They expressed their reservation but in course of time they volunteered to teach. Thus one centre became a road map for the other centers. My regular visits evoked interest in them and their response gave birth to a movement. This was a similar experience in other villages. Now the youth are running their own coaching centre and a library. The Social action ministry was kind enough to provide books and periodicals. The youth are contributing their mite towards the payment of the volunteer teachers which keeps them all happy.

While this went on in the village centre, we organized some leadership and Motivational programmes for them. It gave them an opportunity to understand themselves better and discover their hidden potentials. We brought them to the urban centre where they mingled with other unorganized youth from the other centers run by the Diocese under the banner ‘Parivartan’. This expanded their horizons and gave them fresh air to their otherwise morose lives. We brought a few youth to take part in the Harmony and Development programme held in our Pastoral centre, Patna. Thus I tapped the available resources and made them part of it.

The words of Jesus ‘like sheep without a shepherd ‘once said when he saw the crowds applies to them. They are virtually without any guidance and without much knowledge. Whatever they seem to know is very superficial and very illogical. They lack the courage and the confidence to express their views and opinions in public and they are very shy and diffident to utter a word. They hide themselves in a crowd and say something which they will not have the courage to own it. Their values are based on what I can get rather than what I can give. Their self esteem is very low given their dalit background. They are the first generation literate – none of their parents had ever been to a school. They need skills in different fields like leadership, public speaking, language, debates, discussions, and communication. They need to be recognized and encouraged when they do or perform something. Their social awareness is minimum even though they are living in the midst of discrimination and segregation. Reading habit is not cultivated and hence deprived of the knowledge of current affairs.

Their future seems a distant dream. Lot of accompaniment and personal mentoring is needed. We need to invest time for their growth and there is a desire to grow and develop. Their receptivity encourages us. They are only too willing to be available whenever time permits them. This itself gives us hope that someday their willingness and availability will bear fruit. It’s a long way but nevertheless possible one day at a time.

- By Fr. Deepak D’Mello, SJ