New Delhi: The boy working at a chai shop near your office, or serving you at an eatery or working at a construction site could be anyone with a different name, but most likely he is called chotu.

These young boys form an integral part of India’s unorganized workforce. They are child labourers who have no way out of their predicament through either earnings or education. They don’t have a typical childhood. No play, no fun and no education make these kids miss one of the best times in a person’s life.

A community radio station took up the cause of helping such kids and introduced them to the joys of childhood. Salaam Namaste 90.4 FM, a community radio station that broadcasts out of the IMS Noida campus on the outskirts of Delhi, started a campaign to help child labourers living near their campus with a programme called Chak de Chotu.

“Chak de Chotu literally means ‘come on, you can do it chotu’. The term chotu is causally used for the boy who serves tea at the tea shop. For us, he was a kid who pulls a rickshaw near the campus," says Barsha Chabaria, station head.

The radio station works with issues that are often not spoken about. “There are many slums around us which need voices. The kids have a very tough life. We want to bring small difference to their lives by providing them with things they don’t have access to," says Chabaria. “Being a radio station, we are a problem solver also."

The radio station did a research in nearby localities and found that though Noida, a Delhi suburb, is an education hub, it still has a high number of child labourers. These children are also a part of the community that needs a voice.

“We can’t understand someone’s problem until we relate to them on familiar grounds with them. We understood that these kids have a far bigger responsibility compared to kids of their age group. They are the breadwinners of their family," Chabaria said.

Chak de Chotu was started two years ago as an outreach initiative. Radio programmes are an integral part of this. It emphasizes on every aspect of childhood, from education to talent nurturing to physical health. “They need to have basic education, nourishment, exposure to sport and talent spotting," Chabaria says.

“The good thing was that we didn’t get negative response from parents. When the kids got things equivalent to their wages, parents were also happy. So we are not telling that leave your job and come. But you can come anytime you want," says Chabaria.

The campaign started off as an education mission for kids called Akshar Gyan under Abhinav Vidyalaya, where the children are taught how to read and write. “We provided them with stationery, books, toys and our radio jockeys turned teachers. What we needed was their time," she adds.

The radio station tied up with NGOs to help some of these kids to get admitted to schools. “We worked with Smile Foundation, Sadrags and Navodaya. We have our children studying in Delhi Public School and kendriya vidyalayas," says Chabaria. Four students are now studying in various Delhi Public School branches across the city.

“Good education and training has helped land these kids well paying jobs as well. One of our students got a job as a peon at IMS when he was 14 years old. Now he has moved to another institution with better prospects," says Chabaria.

For talent nurturing, the station organizes talent hunts like dancer chotu and singer chotu. “Not only this, we keep sharing success stories with the kids of those people who belong to similar background," says Chabaria.

Along with education, kids are encouraged to play cricket and football, among other sports. At regular intervals, the station also organizes donation drives called Daan Vardan, where they seek support from lay people.

“Earlier, we had to manage all supplies on our own but now we get so much in donations that our store room is full all year round," she says.

The other part of this campaign is online, which includes two programmes called Chak de Chotu and Bal Majdoori Hatao. Chak de Chotu is all about children, their experiences, their lives, etc. For Bal Majdoori Hatao, the content encourages children to move away from child labour and how they can better their lives.

“Children just coming to the radio station doesn’t work. Chotu doesn’t not come to Salaam Namaste, we also go to them," she adds. The show is 30-minute long and plays every six hours.

Speaking on radio has helped these children develop confidence. Their newfound speaking skills have landed them admissions in schools. Not only this, good habits such as eating properly, dressing up and communication skills that were inculcated have also prompted these kids to come back again and again to Salaam Namaste.

Salaam Namaste also goes to villages and nearby rural areas to spread awareness about the campaign.

“Our kid RJs have their own fan following among their friend circle. This also inspires a lot of children to join us," she adds.

The radio station is overwhelmed with the response it got from people as volunteers and donations from them. The children’s participation has increased considerably.

“We would like NGOs to work with us. We doing this alone will not make much impact like it will when a lot of people come together," says Chabaria.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan Awards.

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