Every year on June 12, the World Day Against Child Labor is observed, reminding everyone that all children have the right to be free of child labour. However, youngsters are still being forced to work illegally in numerous places. One such group of children from a rag-picking community overcame numerous obstacles to achieve what they desired in life: to study.
Most people in the national capital, Delhi, are unlikely to be familiar with the name Anand Parbat. It is simply one of the areas that exist: unseen and unrecognised. Amidst this unremarkable colony, however, is the story of three girls and their unwavering determination to learn despite the circumstances. Many people in Anand Parbat's transit camp have observed the fiery, unyielding energy of three girls who became ‘the first ever’ from their rag picking community to take the class ten exam through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). For these three young girls, their upbringing did not discourage them from dreaming big, and their success has served as an inspiration to other children in their community.
Pooja, Poonam, and Tulsi have come a long way juggling multiple jobs in a day, from picking up rags in the early morning hours to attending school and doing domestic chores. They believe that education will change their life. They will be able to lift their families out of poverty by transitioning from rag picking to a life of dignity.
Poonam's interest in school began when she started attending a remedial education centre established by World Vision India, a non-governmental organisation that has been working in their community for over a decade. Poonam, now 19 years old, recalls how it all began for her. “I was first introduced to books when I attended a World Vision India learning centre, which was extremely thrilling and fresh for me. They then assisted me in enrolling at a government school. Going to school was difficult at first since my parents were not supportive, and we needed to continue rag-picking to make ends meet. But with my instructors' consistent assistance and guidance, things began to change, and we are now much more aware of many things, including the importance of education," says Poonam.
Tulsi, the tallest of the three who aims to be a police officer, is also interested in starting a business. “We've been talking about it for a while, and we're convinced that if we start a beauty parlour business, we'll make a lot of money because people in the community spend a lot of money on weddings and celebrations.” She went on to say, “I've always wanted to be a cop, and it's been a dream of mine since I was a kid. However, to continue studying, I need to make money in some way to support my family and myself. We survive by rag picking, begging, and selling nimbu mirchi (lemon chilly) which can only feed the family.”
Tulsi, 18, is the eldest of five siblings; her father was educated until second grade, while her mother is illiterate. Her siblings are all into rag picking. She has witnessed first-hand how harsh life can be on the streets and how vulnerable children, particularly girls, are.
“We always go rag collecting in groups of five or six as early as 3 a.m. and return by 10 a.m. It is dangerous to travel alone, and there have been several reports of harassment and even sexual abuse. I had to fight off an elderly man who tried to harass me as I was standing alone on the roadside waiting for my mother a month ago.” Pooja and Poonam both nod in agreement as Tulsi recount her ordeal and many other similar incidents.
18-year-old Pooja has known Poonam and Tulsi since they were children and has attended school with them. After the demolition of the slum, she has remained close to both of them and continued her studies. It was always a pleasure for her to study with her pals at the tutoring centre as they prepared for their 10th grade exam. Whenever her family requires it, Pooja and her siblings go rag picking two or three times every week. Other times, she primarily assists with domestic tasks and likes her time at the tutoring centre, which she describes as a refuge for many of the children who attend.
Pooja, despite her shyness in expressing herself, is an activist. She assisted in the enrollment of four of her eldest brother's children in school. "I want to be a teacher," Pooja said, adding to her supporting character as someone who wants to help children in need and promote education among disadvantaged youngsters. It's not every day that one meets girls like them, and it's rarer to meet such close friends who stood together despite all odds and supported each other to pursue higher goals in life, in their case a life of dignity and a life free of rag-picking.
Source & Pics: Impuri - World Vision India
Also Read: Breaking The Chain Of Child Labour With Education