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Where hope is born

by S.Giridhar, Head - Advocacy and Research

When you see a child working remember that he/she should actually be in school. And helping them do this is the M.V. Foundation and Azim Premji Foundation.

Learning through action

If you take the National Highway No. 9 from Hyderabad and drive south-east towards Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh you will hit Suryapet in three hours. A town like most towns in India. On a street away from the highway is the office of M.V. Foundation led by their coordinator Venkatesh. When we reach his office, he is running an orientation camp for 80 volunteers from the numerous social organisations from villages in Nalgonda.

Equipping them for life

M.V. Foundation and Azim Premji Foundation have a joint initiative in Nalgonda. The mission is to eradicate child labour and achieve universal enrolment of children in the six-14 year age group in school. The programme was started in April 2001 and is expected to run over three years. The survey in April 2001 showed 59,742 children were in school while 36,571 children were not . The joint initiative of M.V. Foundation and Azim Premji Foundation has in the last 18 months, mainstreamed 17,998 children into school. The more onerous task is to train and equip children who have spent very little time in school. These are children who have dropped out before Std. III or earlier. More than 2000 children have been sent to school after a stay in the residential camp run by the Foundation. It is noon when we reach Madiralla Bridge camp, the six-month residential camp for children who need coaching before going to regular school. We shake hands with Narasaiah, who is in charge of the camp. He and his team of five teachers and other staff manage about 100 children. The classrooms during the day serve as dormitories at night. It is here that we meet the twins. We spot Rama first, the smiling cheerful nine-year-old who, just 45 days back, was a child labourer. And some yards away is, unmistakably her twin, Lakshmi, also a child labourer. Both of them dropped out of school in Std.I and went to work as bonded labour because their father fell sick. Even after their father recovered, they continued working. The M.V. Foundation village volunteer identified them during the door-to-door survey conducted in their village. The twins were motivated to get back to school, then the father was counselled and finally the Child Rights Protection Committee member talked to the landlord. Of the 100 children in the Madiralla camp, 47 have been rescued from bonded labour.

Twins... cheerful at the second chance

An important element in this model at Nalgonda is the community mobilisation activity. Each village has a local volunteer to actively gather data, identify the children, mobilise village opinion against child labour, and motivate the community to send children to school. We joined Ramachandriah, who is in charge of the Nuthankal mandal at Yedavalli village. In these 40 days Ramachandriah and local volunteers covered 17 habitations over a 35 km trek. That evening, as sunset enveloped us in that warm intimate placidity that is unique to our villages, we drove to the Boys Social Welfare Hostel in Nuthankal. A few yards away is the Social Welfare Hostel for girls. We met Venkanna from Lingampally and Ravi from Chilpaukuntla. Both are 15 years old and had spent eight years of their childhood as bonded labour. Today Venkanna and Ravi have a goal — to clear Std. X. In the Girls mobilisation camp in Devanigutta in Thungathurthy Mandal, there are about 15 girls and the local volunteer has been holding a daily camp for the past month, teaching them the basics and motivating them to get into school. It is sundown and we have to get back to Hyderabad. To paraphrase a famous advertisement, every time you see a child working, remember the child should actually be in school!

This article appeared in the Hindu, issue dated February 8, 2003