Wednesday, August 5, 2015

We rise by lifting others - A project visit to "Pahal" by a CRY Volunteer

On a sunny winter morning, I accompanied one of my friends to her daughter's school. We dropped her daughter in a chauffeur driven car and carried her princess tiffin with us to her classroom. The school premises were beautiful, with freshly painted walls, beautiful green grass, swings and ample room for kids to run around. The children were in comfortable red and blue track suits and one was cuter than the other. I was so pleased to see all the amenities available for these children.

Later that afternoon, I made my way to Badli, an industrial area outside of Rohini (near Delhi)
Upon arriving there, I was greeted by the Pahal team led by Mr. Jeetendar Singh. After receiving a small brief about Pahal's work and CRY's contribution to the project, the Pahal team took me on site to see where the actual change was taking place. What I am about to share with you next was astonishing!

Our first stop was near a massive garbage dump - by massive I mean half an acre - it looked like a big dumpster had spilled open. For those of us from India, this is something we all have probably seen at some point and also experienced the mob of flies that attacks you as you go closer. However, what most of us don't know is that some of the garbage filled land masses have slums established behind them. Within these slums reside the rag pickers. The rag pickers take heaps of garbage into their homes and then separate it for strands of hair, bottles, cloth etc They then sell their findings for food and water.

This group lives in extreme poverty, lacks hygiene and basic survival conditions. What is worse is that other underprivileged communities look down upon these rag pickers. Seeing this oppressed class of people, I felt extremely sorry for the current generation and wondered what happens to their future generations - is there any hope for them, or will they continue scavenging through garbage? How long do they children survive without basic means? Are there any opportunities for their condition to improve?

This is where the CRY/Pahal team takes action. The Pahal team interacts with the slum dwellers and educates them about hygiene and vaccinations. They bring them upto par with our communities in the area so that their children are welcome in nearby schools and community groups. They make them realize the value of education so the next generation does not have to face the same struggles.

From there we continued to the residential colony across the industries of Badli. We walked through the narrow streets with semi temporary living arrangements and made it to a small concrete building with blue walls and a 400sq feet room. In this room, awaited our greatest fans. I was greeted by 30-40 smiling children in the Pahal community center. Unlike earlier in the day, these children wore very ordinary clothes, did not have tiffins packed by mothers, many did not even have shoes and yet walked a long distance to make it to the center.  However, what they did bring with them was Hope - Hope for a better future, Hope for a protected environment, hope to have fuller stomachs, hope for a childhood. 

The ages of the children ranged from 5-15 years. Many of the older children had never been to school because they were taking care of their younger siblings while parents worked, or they had been employed to supplement family income. These children were victims of child labor and had been rescued by the Pahal team. Thanks to Pahal, these children now have a place where they can interact with other children, learn how to read and write, but most importantly, a place where someone wants to see them prosper. 

Once the children learn the basics, they are enrolled in the nearby government schools. Pahal has made these children feel so welcome and aroused such a strong desire to learn that many of them show up at the center even on holidays. In my interactions with the children, many of them said "humme yahan aana acha lagta hai" (we like coming here); "yaha didi humme bahut kuch sikhati hai"(The teacher helps us learn a lot of things); "hamare dost hai, hum baad mein khelte hai" (we've made some friends here, with who we go play later)

The female children prepared a small skit for me which depicted their situation - the main takeaway was that they want to go to school but family demands did not allow them to study. In some cases, they had to take care of younger siblings, in others had to take care of their home or had to go work with their parents and in a few situations, they were  promised for marriage and therefore did not need to be educated.

The interactions concluded with a dance by 2 teenage girls - looking at them made me realize that they are just like any other children I know. They also want to have fun, sing, dance, draw, color, paint and play. These children were bereaved of a childhood until Pahal came along.

I left the center teary eyed as I had never felt so much love and gratefulness in the past. The children were so thankful for everything Pahal was doing for them. As much as I was pleased with the work we had done, I also realized that we have a long way to go. 

This thought process was reinforced when I met a  mother of 2 children - One 6 year old and the other  3 days old. I visited their single room home where i met a mother sitting on the bed, with a small bowl of rice in front of her, the newborn wrapped in a duppatta and the elder one sitting next to the baby. We decided to visit this home because the older child had not been coming to school. When we asked the mother why she didn't send her older daughter to school, she said she was taking care of the newborn baby. If the older daughter went to school then the mother would have to miss work to take care of the baby, which would put a dent in their family income. It is a big challenge convincing some of these parents to send their children to study, however, Pahal's constant counselling has made many families realize the importance of proper upbringing which comprises of both education and healthcare.

In our day to day lives, we often take so much for granted - food, shelter, clean drinking water, water to run our homes, electricity, healthcare, education, safety...the list is endless. It is when i visited Pahal, I realized how blessed many of us are and how important it is for us to give to those who need it the most. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference, all it takes is 1) Awareness - to identify those in need and 2) Dedication - to ensure help is being provided.

I urge everyone reading this blog to become more aware of their surroundings - if you see a child laborer, please report it and if you want to help, please get involved with CRY.

"We rise by lifting others"

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