[i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] is a community-based education initiative in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India that gives marginalized lower caste Merasi (musician) children an opportunity to ignite and sustain constructive community change. The Merasi descend from a 37-generation old folk music legacy that is now threatened with total extinction by rapid Indian modernization. Due to their outcast status, Merasi are born without birth certificates, omitted from local histories, denied access to education, and live on less than a $1 a day. Recognizing that illiteracy inhibits social improvement and cultural preservation, a critical mass of Merasi identified education as the axis of change. Caitie Whelan, a Brown University senior, and Merasi community representatives put their heads together and designed a school that educates children to be powerful advocates for their social rights and musical heritage through meaningful engagement in the society, politics, and economy of a rapidly changing India.
Caitie spent the spring of 2007 writing a curriculum and raising funds to launch this movement of educational possibility. Onsite in Rajasthan, Caitie recruited students, hired and trained Merasi Anwar Khan to be the teacher, and designed lesson plans for Anwar that will take the school through December. In June of 2007, [i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] opened its doors to 18 students, two teachers, and five adult tutees who regularly attend school six days a week.
[i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] emerged out of community desires and is structured around the Merasi belief that community members empowered with education are the best engines of social change. Students attend scholastic classes taught by Anwar Khan, a Merasi who went through our pilot Teacher Training program, and music classes taught by Lune Khan, a master Merasi musician. School is held in the early afternoon when both children and teachers are free from domestic or employment obligations. The integrated curriculum is tailored around expressed community need; students develop skills that facilitate cultural preservation and access to social choice. Seema, a little girl who could not recognize the alphabet before, now can write her name, parents' names, and address. Akram, a young boy who could not count before, now accompanies his mother to the market to make sure she is not overcharged. Every student is actively preserving their musical heritage through daily music classes.
[i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] is the only educational option for the sweeping majority of Merasi children in Jaisalmer District. Merasi are unable to attend existing schools because of caste discrimination or, if they can matriculate, are inhibited from integration into the classroom. Children are forced to sit outside the classroom with their peers' shoes, drink from different water sources, and perform music per the teacher's demand. School occurs during valuable labor hours and the few families whose children can attend opt to employ their children in low-wage work rather than lose income for a discriminatory educational experience.
[i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] is poised to become a replicable model of educational reform for the Merasi community through out Rajasthan, India. The initial class of students has been kept intentionally small to build up new teacher confidence and comfort in the classroom. With each phase of development, we will grow [i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] by decreasing external management and increasing internal capacity towards complete programmatic growth. Every student that walks into [i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] is treated as a potential future teacher, administrator, or principal. As we look to the future, Caitie has designed a website (http://merasischool.org/) and is raising $15,000 to purchase the building [i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] is taught out of, hire and train two female community members to be the next group of teachers, and coordinate the organization of a Merasi Board of Directors. She will return to Rajasthan in December after graduating from Brown to work with community members to launch this next stage of development.
[i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i] works to develop a generative, replicable educational infrastructure by providing relevant training, resources, and support to a core group of community members who become the trainers and teachers for future generations. In this way, Merasi children are supported towards being exceptional agents of change in their communities and the world. With [i]The [b]Merasi[/b] School[/i], children learn practical tools to transform their community from a culture of poverty into a culture of possibility.
For more information, please visit our website: http://merasischool.org/.