Written by Sowbhagya and translated from Kannada to English by Devaki Samuel
It’s been twenty years since I started working as community organizer. I started as a teacher for children of 3-6 years of age. I noticed most of the time older sisters came to drop their younger siblings. The sisters were beautiful, smart and intelligent but had taken the burden of single mothers, who were involved in incense stick making. Deprived of education, instead of holding books, their hands were blackened with the ingredients of incense sticks.
Whenever I saw them, my heart ached. I had an opportunity to do something while working with an Parikrama, an organization which supports education in English medium boarding school for dropped out children and wards of poor. I succeeded in admitting incense stick maker- Nandini, sister of Vijay (student in my class) in the school along with four more girls. I heard Nandini passed with distinction in 10th standard exam, however others dropped out of school for various reasons.
In 2011 I began working with Hasiru Dala, an organization of wastepickers and mostly women. During the course of my work in the community I came to know about the imminent concerns in their families. They leave home early in the morning to collect waste from the streets. Return back around 8 in the morning and serve breakfast to their children. Either previous night’s leftover dinner is served in the breakfast or bun and biscuits with tea. They would go back on the street for picking waste and returned for the day around, 12-1, they sell the collected waste. With the little earning, groceries for the day are bought. In most of the families, female folks do all the collection, sale of waste and purchase of provisions. When women retuned from work with few rupees in hand. The money will eventually reach husbands hand who are getting up with last night’s hang over. They fight and beat their wives, snatch away all the earnings for buying liquor. When we started organizing wastepickers, they shared their bitter experiences.
With the given set of circumstances, mothers have no time to think of the education of their children. In the absence of parents at home, particularly mothers, children skip school. They are not regular. I have been very unhappy about it. I want children to study. Illiteracy is the cause why many of their mothers and families are trapped in vicious cycle of poverty. It’s my belief that if the children study well, and have good employment opportunities, their mothers will be able to have a little more relaxed life in their old age. With these thoughts in mind, I have been looking for good schools with hostel facility. I have also been discussing benefits of education with the parents and usefulness of hostels.
Littered waste on streets is reducing, and there are very little employment opportunities for wastepickers. For bringing change in the lives of wastepickers. Organization has introduced umbrella list of programmes and employment opportunities in the domains like managing dry waste collection centers, organic waste convertors, urban gardening, door to door collection of segregated waste from apartments and managing waste of the events. Training will help wastepickers have better employment opportunities and fairer future for their children. With the given interventions, children of wastepickers need not to opt for same vocation. They can learn various technologies and have better career options. I have a dream of bettering the conditions of children of the poor and marginalized. I believe we should show others a model that states the change is possible in one’s life time
Last year I facilitated enrollment of 12 children in boarding schools. I have been looking for such schools. During the course of my search I came across Dream India Organization. With the help of my colleagues in the organization, we identified 54 more children of school going age. Parents meeting was organized where with my colleagues, we shared the importance of education, responsibilities for admitting children in schools with hostel facility.
The hostel officials informed us about the documentation required to admit children in the school. We admitted all 54 identified children. To our utter surprise 13 children left hostel and came back. They came for many reasons, ranging from distinct language, fear of staying in hostel and no access to junk food which they used to relish. Some children missed the freedom of being at home, some were not used peaceful surrounding in the middle of forest, and some missed their parents, and in some places parents missed their wards, therefore the drop outs from the hostel.
Right now 41 children are studying in schools and staying at hostels. Few children are studying in Kannada medium and in Tamil medium, rest 32 in English medium. Within those 41, 2 are having in collegiate education and 39 are in Lower Kindergarten to 7th standard. Besides them, 6 more children are in need of schooling, we are preparing to admit them in Apsa institute with similar facilities. Seventeen-year-old Kasturi, daughter of a wastepicker, has joined Bala Sevika training for better livelihood opportunities.
I am grateful to serve the children of poor, as I believe the education will make them responsible and dutiful citizens.
Original in Kannada by Soubhagya
Sowbhagya is a community mobilisor currently working with Hasiru Dala; she has been in the Development Sector for 20 years now.