How a village got its groove back with ‘Pencil’

Fine zine

The people of Bellagurki, a village in Sindhanur taluk of Raichur district, don’t get newspapers, at all. But don’t assume they aren’t reading.

They wait for the Pencil.

For, Pencil is the four-page, bimonthly zine brought out and distributed by the students of the only school in the village. 

Among stories of and artwork from students, two sections are popular: Kelona Banni — where interviews with people in power responsible for the state of the school are published.

Going beyond school, Nammoora Parichaya features the village’s diverse talents, achievements and literature.     All 450 households get the zine.

As one ajji (grandmother) exclaims, “I look forward to it! I want to see my grandkid’s photo and artwork in it.” 

This has been a slow, but positive development for the village as well as the kids.  

The newspaper started five years ago, conceptualised by Kotresha B, a then new teacher to the school. 

When he arrived, he noticed that the student drop-out rate was high, understood some children had to follow their parents into the fields, and the school had fractures in its building and facilities.

His students’ interest in studies was next to nil.  So he began with the students who attended the school and adopted the ‘India Foundation for the Arts’ project. It’s an art-inclusive experiment. The school began its journey of transformation.

The students were taught skills like drawing, reading, writing and their works went into the making of Pencil.

The language of the countryside found representation in it.

It found its readers in the students as well as the villagers. People began speaking about their village and school’s problems. 

In effect now, “People read the paper, observe the activities of our school, and this encourages them to send their children to school,” the teacher says. The students have returned to the school to full capacity; that’s 310 students. Their writing, reading and artistic skills have improved.

The school itself has a makeover. Due to the zine’s constant engagement with the village panchayat, the school has been sanctioned a compound, infrastructure, drinking water, high-tech toiletries, a sports room, and four new classes!

Lakshmipathi, a panchayat member, recalls: “Only when the students came to us did we realise their problems. We got into action as soon as we could.”

Edit meet 

The students are editors and collaborators of the newspaper. Companion board members discuss which stories get priority for the upcoming issue. Columnists have to submit their stories within a day. There is a review of the previous issue as well.

The stories through Pencil not only circulate within the village but also reach more schools across taluks, education officers, gram panchayats etc, as the students post them.   

First, teachers would bear the cost of the zine production. Now, parents have come forward. Not only this, parents are willing to participate in school programmes as the events are listed in Pencil!  The happiest of them, of course, are the children themselves. Teachers have observed healthy competition among students for bylines. As a panchayat member says, “Before, children didn’t want to go to school. Now, they don’t want to leave!” 

This just in

Pencil has an editor now: Khasimsab Bellagurki, from Class 8. 

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