Saturday, February 11, 2012

Future awaits us at a construction site...

I work with Every Child Counts campaign, which aims at enrolling all six years old children in corporation schools by June 2012. Mostly, these children are from migrant labor families, working at construction sites, brick-kilns, and other such places in Pune. As there is no other pre-schooling facility for these children, ECC tries to conduct school preparation classes, wherever possible.

Visiting a school preparation class at a construction site is not new to me. And yet, when I visited the construction site where Every Child Counts is yet to start a class, reality continues to shock me. In spite of being aware of the statistical data of out-of-school children, when you come face to face with these unseen, unaccounted children, how can you remain unaffected?

So many children! Today these children have gathered here not by chance but by the determined efforts of a few at ECC. After an initial survey of the construction site, permission was taken from the concerned builder to allow us to meet the children’s parents - the laborers who work on the site- and gather some basic information about the children living in the labor camps in the vicinity. The builder has allowed us to hold a class for the ECC campaign. And today, here they are…..all the children in full force!

But there are so many children! A four or five month old baby fast asleep on a cement sack and 36 other kids sitting around a teacher with curiosity written all over them. Those who should be in school (about 6-7 of them) have younger siblings in tow. Their once-upon-a-time school days almost belong to another world. Being uprooted is linked to their parents’ livelihood. A new place, a new language, new insecurities….so school remains a thing of the past and a distant dream for most of them.

There are about 12 children 6-7 years of age. They are on the centre stage for the ECC campaign but they are not aware of it as yet. All the children are asked if they would like to go to school and the answer is a resounding ‘yes’!

Of the others, most of them have never been to a school of any sort. Nursery/pre-primary schools are unheard of. But their faces light up when they play with puzzles, repeat an action song line by line, or listen to a story. They may not be six years old but they sense there is something exciting happening here. The teacher distributes a few picture story books. They hold it hesitantly but then soon turn pages and point out interesting things they’ve discovered in it. They are waiting and ready to be guided towards the learning mode.

After some time all the children play a game: “Majhya aaiche patra haravale…..te mala sapadle…”. An enthusiastic group has learnt two sentences in Marathi without realizing it.

The builder has arranged for some biscuit packets to be distributed to the children. And as we say bye- bye, they ask us to come the next day and the next and the next!

Yes, that is exactly what we would like to do, but we have to overcome many obstacles in the way: permission from the builder, identifying and training teachers, paying their salary, collecting and making suitable teaching aids and so on. We hope the builder agrees to sponsor this site. That will not only help and encourage us but also develop a symbiotic relationship essential for development in the true sense.

And of course, every child counts, has a right to education, and deserves every opportunity to attain it!

Archana Vyavaharkar

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