New Delhi: Everyone sees struggle, only the intensity differs,” says Hari Das with a big smile. For Das, the intensity was always “more than too much”.
Farming had left his family in debt, so his parents moved to Delhi from a village near Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh in 1986, in the hope of making money. “They started working as labourers for a construction site which was to become a part of the American Embassy School (in south Delhi’s Chanakyapuri area),” says Das, who was born in Delhi.
Five years later, his father died of a brain tumour. “It must have happened because of the weight he used to carry on his head every day,” believes Das. The tumour was diagnosed at the last stage; “even if it was detected earlier, we couldn’t have done anything. Ma and pa used to earn Rs10 each a day, which was never enough to feed a family of five,” says Das, who has two siblings. From then on, his mother was the sole earner.
Das must have been three years old when his mother put him in a crèche, organized at the construction site by Mobile Creches, a Delhi-based non-profit that offers day care and education programmes for children of construction workers. “Initially, I wasn’t too keen but my mother insisted. Our house (in Sanjay Niwas slum) was 5 minutes away from the site, so I used to go to the crèche every day, along with my sister and brother at 2pm, study, eat and play games,” recalls Das whose favourite part of the day was eating bananas offered at the crèche with the other 10 children.
He continued going to the crèche even after joining a nearby government-run school at the age of 5. “Our mother was very particular about education. She would work extra hours to ensure that we went to school,” he says. Till the age of 10, Das used to spend his mornings at the crèche and the afternoons at the school.
Mobile Creches helped too, with its scholarship scheme. “Till sixth standard they offered Rs900 if we passed a year, from Class VI-X, it was Rs1,200 for passing each class, and Rs1,500 for the last two years,” says Das. Each year, Das secured the scholarship, which helped him in his education and paid some expenses at home too.
The crèche was removed after the completion of the construction. But another learning opportunity arose: as part of an initiative by the American Embassy School, children living in the slums were offered the chance to spend every Thursday with the children inside the school. He made the most of these visits. “It was by interacting with those students and teachers that I learnt English,” says Das, who used to spend most of his Thursdays in the computer activity room.
He also started working at a dhaba, which fetched him Rs50 and two meals a day. “My summer holidays were also spent working as a cleaner and waiter there.”
Those Thursdays continued till Das completed his Class XII. By then, he had decided to pursue a career in computers. Aware of his ambitions, one of the teachers at the American Embassy School helped Das secure admission in a computer learning centre at South Extension. After completing a one-year diploma in hardware, Das started working with Mobile Creches as part of its technical support team. While working there for three years, he did a six-month course in Linux as well as completed his bachelor’s in arts through correspondence from Delhi University.
“Those three years taught me lot about what I wanted to do with my life. Things at home also improved; my mother was no longer a daily wager (she had a fixed job as a construction worker with a company and earned Rs1,500 a month),” says Das, who earned Rs7,000 a month at Mobile Creches.
Das then applied to a few multinational firms through a job portal. After six months he got a job and is currently a senior engineer at IBM in Noida. “Had I refused to go to that makeshift crèche that day, my life wouldn’t have been the same,” he says.
Like Das, Mobile Creches has helped shape many a child’s life. “Each crèche is divided into three groups—the crèche, the balwadi (community preschools) and the non-formal education (NFE) area. In the crèche, infants are provided with a cereal and milk mixture; at the balwadi and NFE they are given dalia, khichri, eggs and bananas. Older children participate in various activities such as storytelling, painting, dancing and singing. All meals are provided twice a day, six days a week. At NFE, some older children are also coached for admission to government schools,” explains Mridula Bajaj, executive director of Mobile Creches, whose sponsors include KPMG, DLF Foundation, Roselle, Oracle, Plan, Unitech and PNB Housing Finance.
The non-profit provides services to more than 3,000 children a day across the country with the help of volunteers. The scholarship scheme which helped Das has, however, now been restricted to Class VI. “It was getting very difficult for us to keep a tab on how those funds were being used, and, after much deliberation, we decided to shift our focus towards research and advocacy,” she says.
Talking about the importance of donations, Bajaj says, “Of course, every drop counts and every single contribution, big or small, helps in the development of these children. Like everyone else, they too have the right to a better future. Beyond the monetary help, it also helps sensitize people and bring more people into the fold to work towards ensuring a better life for everyone.”
Das, who continues to live in Sanjay Niwas slum, too wants to help a child create a better future. For him, things are very different today from what they were 26 years ago. He earns Rs35,000 a month, is married and has a one-year-old daughter; his brother is a chef at a five-star hotel while his sister is married, and his mother now stays at home. “If you can give, then give. It can change someone’s life. Look at how mine changed,” he says.