Monday, April 24, 2006

Beach Fun!

Sunday, the 23rd of April is a day which these 12 kids from the pada will never forget in their lives. We, from DreamIndia, took them out for a visit to the beach at Juhu at 7 in the morning and the children could not get enough out of their first ever trip to a beach!!

The four hours that we spent there, were absolute fun and with actvities like building castles, bathing, playing cricket (and football and running races and kabaddi), trips on the merry-go-round, there was not much left to do on a beach.

With the hot dosas and the nimbu panis rounding off the trip, this was a trip that would last in all our memories for a long time to come...

Shunted into the boot!

Magnificent waves at the JUHU

Making a collective splash!

The little mermaids (and mermen)!
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Painting a beautiful picture

This was the recent painting class conducted by one of our volunteers in Gaudevi pada (Bombay). The children were very excited seeing so much color as is evident from the grins on their faces. Beginning with using vegetables cut to resemble various flowers to create impressions on the paper, the kids moved on to spray painting and eventually made lots of greeting cards. This is the first of a lot of activities we plan to conduct for the kids during their summer holidays.

Eswar is all smiles!

The girl gang flashing its cards!

Washing at the water hole!

Teacher Teacher Burning bright!

Spot the tiniest of em all!

This ones for posterity

Watch this space for more updates!
For more info about DreamIndia2020, visit DreamIndia2020

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Lonely Wanderer

I first saw the boy when lunching at the hotel some days back. On enquiry, I found out that he was from South India and had come to Bombay for work. Curious to know more about such an itinerant, I fixed an appointment with Mr. Seth the hotel owner, to find out whether we (me and the social service organization that I volunteer for) could help him out in any way.

Claustrophobia engulfed me as soon as I sat in that dingy 4-table hotel in Andheri. Mr. Seth made me comfortable and I wasted little time in discussing the boy. “Chai,” Mr. Seth called out. Fourteen year old Ramu kept a glass of tea before me. As he turned to leave, I caught hold of his wrist and said ‘Wait.”

Though short in height, he had a surprisingly good physique for boy just into his teens. ‘These people are here to provide you education and they want to know more about you. Tell them about your past and why you came here,’ Mr. Seth explained my purpose. With a pleasant smile, Ramu started narrating his tale and I listened with rapt attention.

Ramu came to Bombay two years back when his parents decided to discontinue his studies for want of money. His father is a farmer and that fateful year the crops failed badly, thanks to the poor rains. This forced him to send his son to work. With three children, he had no other option but to send the eldest into the wilderness of Bombay to shield his other two children from illiteracy. Ramu lived with an uncle in Bombay.

Ramu was working in a hotel when another uncle of his, Singaram, approached him. Singaram is a contract engineer in Punjab and works in a big factory. Due to reasons of a slight build, Singaram declined Ramu the job. Since Ramu had come to know that the job in Punjab would involve a lot of physical effort, he started working out in the gym everyday and is still awaiting the day that he would attain sufficient build to work in the factory along with his uncle.

The most difficult part of his work in the hotel is the long working hours and the six-day week. The boy travels 30 minutes by foot to and fro between his home and the hotel and works between eight in the morning and nine in the night. Waking up early mornings and going to a gym in the nearby playground has become a norm for the little fellow. This leaves Ramu with only six hours of sleep.

He lives an uncertain life in the middle of well to do cell phones toting teen aged children racing about in cars. At an age when most of us would not even have ventured out of our cities, leave alone states (except maybe on excursions), the thought of leading such a nomadic life – Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra to Punjab – seems scary.

‘I’ll manage. Just as I managed to learn Hindi here,’ he says with a smile that spills forth his innocence. With a tough life ahead of him, he has learnt to live life the tough way. Luckily for him, he has not yet taken to smoking or drinking as have children of his age in similar situations.

‘I have passed sixth standard,’ was the proud answer when I asked him about his studies though one could see sorrow in his eyes. He exuberantly nodded his head when presented with the chance to start studying again.

‘Try!. Teach him something for a month and see if he is really interested. For some, formal education will never be their cup of tea. Maybe his interests lie somewhere else. We have to find out what interests him and make him pursue that, maybe a welding profession or one as a car mechanic,’ Mr. Seth voiced his opinions.

We started teaching him mathematics and despite knowing only addition, he is a quick learner. Thought just two days into our classes, he has already shown the will and interest to continue learning and sometime in the near future, we plan of putting him in a night school.

There are such Ramu’s everywhere around us. Child labour of any form is nothing but pure injustice. Not only does it amount to exploitation, it also prevents the child from getting qualified for higher paying jobs, which invariably require at least a tenth standard passing certificate. The least we could do as responsible citizens of India is to speak out against this ugly practice of child labour and also try and educate such children by spending some of our time on them every week.

*All names changed for sake of privacy
*Boy in the picture is not Ramu, but just a represetation of this evil called 'child labor'

The Study Circle

With the double distress of not having a regular job years after graduation and the possibility of a bleak future staring at their faces, many a youth is lost wanting an answer to such a situation. It is to such youngsters that Suresh Kumar acts as a guiding light!

Tall, with a thick beard, a thoughtful countenance, and simple talk –These characterize Suresh who works as an assistant director in the Employment Exchange in the district of Tiruchy.

‘The way to your bright future from the dark present that you are surrounded by now, is right in front of you. Come with me and I shall lead you to your future,’ speaking thus, Suresh manages to infuse the much needed confidence in the minds of the youth. But unlike most others, he converts his speech to action.

To help precisely such kind of people, he has started an organization called “Study Circle” and it has been approved by the government of Tamil Nadu itself. This forum is now successfully functioning throughout the district. Even during Sundays local businessmen come and lecture the youth about their own success stories and how one can realize one’s dreams. Inspired by such tales, some come forward with ideas for starting a business and Suresh takes it upon himself to arrange for bank loans for such people.

Suresh has even managed to turn the system upside down at the Employment Exchange where he works. Gone are the days when the exchange was used only to register oneself in its database and then make the occasional visit to renew the registration. Suresh has converted it into a place where youth come and discuss various career options and also get their numerous queries on various exams clarified. Till date, about ten students from the forum have made it into the Indian Administrative Services and more than thousands have got government jobs. In fact the Jechinda, this year’s IAS topper, is also a student of the Study Circle.

Suresh Kumar was born in a non-descript village called Kadampatti, in the district of Madurai. As soon as he graduated from a college in Madurai, he got a job and worked in that company for 19 long years. Resigning from that job, he wrote the Group I examinations and got a job in the Employment Exchange itself.

‘That was the tuning point in my life. I saw hundreds of youth walking around having lost all hope in life. I targeted this group precisely when I started Study Circle. The number of people taking up various examinations after joining the forum touched 600 in the initial stages. Then I shifted the classes to Virudhunagar and met with equal success.

One boy called Ramesh. Both his legs were paralysed. Perchance he heard about me somewhere and came to me. “Sir! Please get me some job. Any job! I will do well” Hearing that pleading voice I did not what to do. I was stunned at the self confidence that boy had. We got him a job and now he sells newspapers and adverts in front of our office itself,’ narrates Suresh enthusiastically.

P S : Translated from a Tamil weekly for a wider audience

Humane Hearts

Krishnan finished a course in Catering Technology four years back and was employed in a star hotel in Bangalore. He got an offer for a job in Switzerland one day. It was too glamorous to be turned down and he went back to his home town of Madurai to spend a week before leaving India. This journey was a turning point in his life and in fact, he was never the same Krishnan again!

“I did not want to sit alone at home after my parents left for work. So I decided to roam around the city. Cycling my way to the railway station, I was not ready for the shock I received there. Near the highway, on the road, an old man was shrivelled up like a rag. He was mentally retarded and was eating some unmentionable from the road. I could not bear the sight and quickly went and shook his hand free of whatever he was eating, cleaned him and made him sit up. Some hot idlis from a nearby hotel rejuvenated him a bit. Tears welled up in his eyes.

From then I could not erase the sight from my mind and cried thinking of all such injustices against humans in this world. I did not want Switzerland anymore. It seemed so distant, so superficial, and so irrelevant. Instead of serving people who buy a plate of rice for five hundred rupees and waste most of it, my time, I realised, was better spent in serving the hundreds of discarded people who dotted the landscape of the city. I cancelled my tickets, shut the Alps from my mind and stayed at home,” says Krishnan as if it were the most natural thing to do.

Currently this noble soul serves three meals a day for 120 such people who were earlier wasting away on the streets of Madurai. This lot includes people affected by various diseases and complications like AIDS and mental disorders- All of them are too senile to work for a living.

“Seeing me walk around with these thoughts all the time, my relatives decided that I have been taken over by the spirits of the land. This inflamed the fantasy of my parents who wanted to take me to a spirit doctor to chase away the bad influences. I said I’d go but asked my parents to come and have a look at the people that I was serving. They came and they saw. Back home my mom said ‘My dear child! We are so fortunate to have given birth to a person like you. Words cannot express my feelings now.’ I wiped away her tears with my fingers. From then on I did nothing else but serve these people day and night,” narrates Krishnan proudly.

Today it costs Rs 3000 per day to serve three meals to 120 people. Moved by the intense passion and humanity of Krishnan, 20 of his friends contribute Rs 3000 every month to sustain the daily food costs. Krishnan’s parents take care of two days’ food. “The remaining eight days are a struggle,” says he with a sigh. He requests people who conduct marriages and birthday celebrations to offer some food and tries adjusting for the remaining days.

Apart from the time spent on sourcing food supplies, he spends the rest on scrubbing and cleaning these people in nearby public baths and clothing them neatly giving them their much desired self-respect. He even trims the hair of those who have mini undergrowths on their heads.

Krishnan, 24 has completed a full course in Vedas and has offered his life-long services to charity. The sacrifices that he has done in life, at a time when going to a foreign nation is a craze among the youth, have raised him on to a pedestal where mere mortals can only dream to be. All this coming at such a young age makes it all the more marvellous.

P S : This is another piece which was originally in Tamil. I translated it for a wider audience.