Balamitra (Friends of Children) Badis are small community schools for adivasi (indigenous)
children who live in the hills and forests of Andhra Pradesh (AP), India. Many adivasi children have no
access to primary education as they have to either walk long distances, crossing streams and forests
or remain illiterate. This prompted Samata, a not-for-profit social justice organisation working for the assertion of the rights of the indegineous people, to initiate the Balamitra Education Programme in 2004. Balamitra was started with the single objective of ensuring primary education to every child in the adivasi villages of Eastern Ghats, Visakhapatnam, where Samata has been working since 1987. Samata believes that education is an important vehicle of self-assertion and through its Main resource centre, it helps adivasi communities in 40 villages in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts of AP, run their Balamitra Badis and ensure that each year around 750-800 children receive meaningful education .
The greatest challenge of education in the adivasi context is in bringing a balance between imparting literacy skills which enable them to deal with the mainstream society, to help them gain competence to enter into mainstream professions and occupations while strengthening their cultural identities, knowledge and life skills which are so strongly linked to land and nature.
The Balamitra Badis exist for this purpose. We want every adivasi child to have the fundamental right to education. We want to redefine a school which has always been a place of terror and punishment for them. We believe in making school a joyous experience where they grow up with a strong understanding of their adivasi history, knowledge and skills. Balamitra Badis provide primary education for children between the ages of 5 and 12 with a strong focus on strengthening the mother tongue.
We have a residential school and a research and training facility at Visakhapatnam. We focus on developing a contextual education for adivasi children by looking within. Our adivasi children and teachers are our primary researchers and resources for documenting their own languages, histories and sciences. We are also inspired by Steiner education and teachings and work closely with the teachers and volunteers from the Waldorf community to develop strong linkages on education for life skills.
Through our Balamitra Badis, we want to give our children a healthy education while helping them rediscover their knowledge and roots. In this harmony and joy we give hope to tomorrow’s earth.