Sushila Jadhav, 12, had never been to school until her parents came to work at K. Raheja Corp. Construction’s Vivarea project, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai. She took care of two siblings while her parents laboured at construction sites. Today, her siblings are taken care of at the mobile creche on the site while she studies at the creche.
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Expecting a dusty site area, with noisy children and jaded teachers, I head for the six-month-old residential construction site where at least 80 families work. But as Vasanthi Ghadi, a 58-year-old kindly but sharp programme officer, guides me to a large brick structure, I am in for a surprise. The school is noisy alright, like any place with at least 60 kids should be, but it’s clean, airy and spacious, with cheerful artwork on the walls. Children of the migrant labourers, who live and work at the construction site, study, eat and play here till their parents return from work.
Mobile Creche aims to give these children an opportunity to be a part of mainstream society by providing day-care facilities for the smaller children and empowering the older ones through education. In the past 35 years, Mobile Creche has set up about 550 day-care centres at construction sites in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. They keep a database of the children and build creches at as many sites as possible in these cities so that the children don’t lose out on a stable environment even as they move from one construction site to another with their parents.
The creche at the Vivarea project site has three rooms: The first has babies (under three) lying in makeshift cloth cribs, sleeping or chewing contentedly on plastic toys, while two caretakers bathe and feed toddlers, play with them and teach them. The second room is for three-to-six-year-olds and the third for older children. These rooms double up as classrooms.
The class for the older kids has desks and benches and the walls are covered with artwork and diagrams. There are also two computers which are not yet functional. Children in this class are learning math, and I teach little Aparna to write the number 6 in Hindi. Soon, other children crowd around, demanding attention from the “new teacher”.
“We are very strict about the teacher-child ratio, which can’t be over 1:25,” says Neeta Khajuria, general manager of the creche. Regular PTA meetings, called chai parties, are held to give parents detailed progress reports. One of the aims of this organization is to prepare the children for admission at local municipal schools, which is difficult for migrant parents to do on their own.
Mohammed Shafique, 14, used to work at a tile shop before the staff at this creche convinced his parents to allow him to study. He is the oldest student in his class, and the teacher gives him extra classes so that he’s equipped to attend a municipal school soon.
The children also get their first lessons in sex education. In fact, even the parents are brought in for these lectures, where they are given information on AIDS and family planning. Khajuria adds that there’s a huge risk of young girls getting molested when left alone all day at home and that’s why they encourage parents to send them to the creche.
Work and play: Toys and picture books keep the younger children. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
On my way out of the Vivarea project site, I see a 12-year-old girl washing dishes outside her home. Khajuria tells me that the girl’s sister, who works as a maid, doesn’t allow her to join the creche because she needs her to do the housework. A boy of about 18 steps out of the house. Khajuria is worried—she has never seen him there before. The girl says he’s a cousin who has come to the city looking for work. Khajuria takes her inside her house, and asks if he has tried to touch her. I leave Khajuria and Ghadi there as they explain “good touch and bad touch” to her.
If you want to volunteer
The organization requires volunteers who can raise funds to sponsor events, equipment and technical guidance. Other volunteers can spend time at the creches and help teach and play with the children or cook for them. “Anyone is welcome to volunteer as long as they are dedicated. We need people who can take an initiative and add to our efforts. They need to spend a consistent amount of time with us,” says Neeta Khajuria, general manager of the creche. You can also donate toys, books and stationery, besides clothes for babies.
Rs5,000 for this charity can
Support comprehensive development—health, education and nutrition expenses—for 10 children a month
Support nutrition expenses for five children for a year
Support one ‘balwadi’ teacher for a month
Rs25,000 supports a small child development centre for a month
People like us
Money: There are two main sponsorship programmes. The integrated child development sponsorship, which includes education, health care, field trips and talent development, costs Rs7,000 per child per year. The education sponsorship, which covers only education fees, costs Rs4,000 per child per year. Donors can contribute any amount to other initiatives such as the mobile health clinics or the emergency medical fund.
Time: People can volunteer in a number of areas, including education, community programmes, talent development and administrative duties.
Contact: ‘www.deepalaya.org’ or call 011-28525788
Akanksha, Mumbai and Pune
Money: Any sum can be donated to sponsor computer classes, art classes or a sports programme. People can also buy products bags, cards and photo frames made by the children.
Time: The Akanksha volunteer works directly with the children. Volunteers need no prior experience.
Contact: ‘www.akanksha.org’ or call 022-23700253.
Money: Donors can specify which Butterflies’ initiative (education, health care, etc) they want to donate to. During Diwali, they can also buy candles and ‘diyas’ made by the children.
Time: Volunteers can help with their education, health or alternative media programmes, which include a newspaper, radio programme and bank run for working children. Food can be donated to a community kitchen run by some of the children.
Contact:?‘www.butterflieschildrights.org’ or call 011-26163935
Door Step School, Mumbai
As she walks through the bylanes of cramped concrete tenements in Colaba, Vijaya Dalvi calls out to the scampering children she passes on the way. She wants to know why one little boy didn’t come to school yesterday, and why another, carrying his baby sister in his arms, missed his computer class. They smile sheepishly and promise didi they’ll be there tomorrow.
Dalvi is one of dozens of teachers at the Door Step School, an NGO founded in 1989 by Bina Lashkari and Rajani Paranjpe, to educate children of labourers and other underprivileged parents. Their aim is to bolster an already overwhelmed municipal school system by providing extra tuition and classes to children who drop out of school, are unable to cope with their studies, or are prevented from entering any kind of formal education system.
Sweeping change: From 25 children in 1989 to 5,000 children in 2008. Abhijit Bhatlekar /Mint
Over the years, Door Step has educated thousands of children through a school on wheels, makeshift classrooms in slums and a school adoption programme that tries to place the children in municipal schools throughout the city.
“We started with just 25 children,” Lashkari says. “But now we have 5,000 children enrolled in municipal schools.”
The centre in Colaba, a series of rented garage spaces around a dusty courtyard, is modest, but bustling. There are 10 classes in session, with children between the ages of seven and nine. Raveena, a shy eight-year-old who Dalvi has brought along, is sent off to her class, where they are learning the months and days of the year. Though bright, she is often kept away from school by her mother, Dalvi tells me. Her case, in many ways, is not so different from that of dozens of her classmates, seated on the floor. Most of these children come of their own volition, bringing along siblings, who are dispatched by parents too busy working to look after them.
Anita, a slim, brown-eyed girl standing outside the classroom, is proof that enrolling in the Door Step School is a ticket to a better life. Her parents are both fisherfolk, and Anita has spent her life in this neighbourhood. Now 18, she is enrolled in the arts programme at Elphinstone College. Her goal, she says, is to eventually become a teacher, to educate children so that they, too, know that outside the four walls of their cramped kholis lies a world of opportunity.
Donors’ contributions are put to varied use—to help pay for teachers’ salaries or buy supplies such as sports kits. Volunteers can assist teachers or help out in other areas, depending on their skills.