Project Unnati days with Pardhi & Baheliya kids of Panna – Manil Agarwal

I do not generally let anyone write in this space…in fact i have never let anyone else write in my ‘open diary’.

But then, this is different. Manil is a good friend of 11 years, from hostel days to his jobless (pun intended) today. I have seen him transform over these years. At times I have looked at him with admiration, like for his eloquence in a language i barely knew (English) in my college days. And he manage to surprise me very often.

He quit his job with Yes Bank few months back and started on a volunteering journey to inspire more folks, especially young minds. He is currently in McLeod Ganj teaching autistic kids. 

So he called me the other day and asked whether he can share a write-up on his experience at Panna in this space.

Well, I am honoured to host this post brother.


Recently The Last Wilderness Foundation gave me a brilliant opportunity to work with the kids of the Pardhi Community in Panna, Madhya Pradesh. Having resigned from my job I was looking to volunteer for a social cause before moving onto whatever I could do to make a living. Luck and I had a pretty little moment and this opportunity to work with Pardhi kids fell in my lap!

The role required that I spend time interacting with the kids and learn about their ways of life and share about my ways of life and it panned out beautifully! The kids were the teachers and I was an impatient learner. Here is what I learnt and experienced while spending time with these little gems:

Pardhis or Baheliyas are a community of nomads who have typically become infamous for poaching tigers and causing their eventual decline. Governments across states have been intervening by either arresting them or talking to them and getting them to give up on the practice of hunting and settling down in an urban life. A number of Pardhis have indeed settled down and are now trying to integrate into the daily urban rigours but have typically been facing challenges in seeking employment that anyone would without conventional education.

To tackle this issue WWF and Madhya Pradesh Government established a school for the Pardhi children in Panna under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2008 to educate the children and help them seek employment in future. Since its inception the school has grown in size and today has a total of 200 students.

Despite these splendid efforts there is an issue at hand and that is giving the children life skills.

Though the school covers the text book education required by the children it has had limited success in providing life skills and a wider perspective to approach urban living. One of the reasons for this is that during summer vacation the kids end up going back to the forest with their parents to gather and hunt thus sweeping away all that was learnt through the year and once again reinforcing in their minds that their way of life is still nomadic in nature.

Project Unnati by The Last Wilderness Foundation aimed to counter this issue. The idea was to keep the children in school during their summer vacations (sounds like a punishment, trust me it was a good move) and give them vocational skills and expose them to people from various walks of life. During my stay the girls were given tailor training and the boys electrician training. They got to meet service professionals, environmentalists, photographers and bloggers.

Staying away from the details of each hour spent with them I would like to share what I learnt about them.

Given their immense exposure to the forests and its surprises the kids have learnt to take on challenges, be adaptive and learn quickly. They have endless questions and energy levels of gummi bears on gummi juice!

They are gifted kabaddi players and sprint like deer. Their attention span for the teachers is less than a peacock’s flight but their willingness to learn hands on is immense. These kids now need to be exposed to more people and a wider spectrum of thought, professions and practices so that they can make more informed choices for their future. They are now tasting the first drops of success, the way we urbanites define it.

They have the first 10th pass individual in their lot and more will be attempting the same later this year!

For those of you who have read this far I request you to please take out some of your valuable time and go meet these kids, spend some time with them, understand them, answer their questions to the best of your knowledge, sing with them, play with them, just be with them.

Contact Bhavna at Last Wilderness Foundation and she will be more than happy to guide you on how to reach them!

Parting words: Get Fit, they will want you to play with them and like I said, they sprint like deer!

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