Yesterday and today were dedicated to understanding a social/political problem in India: that of child labor. It’s a big problem here. The poverty is so extreme in rural India that parents send their children off to work to pay off their debts and idle children are easy-picking for landlords looking for a cheap source of labor. Furthermore, pay careful attention to the vagrant children on the streets of any given city when they receive money. They don’t stick it in their pocket. Sometimes they’ll take it to an adult that you thought was just standing arbitrarily by the corner rickshaw. It’s a racket. A lot is being done at the grassroots level in India through various NGOs to change the situation for child workers in India. A big part of this is increasing the definition of child worker to include more than simply children working in horrible conditions (e.g. factories, coal-mines, etc.), but also children working at home (cooking dinner, taking care of the younger siblings, etc.). This has gradually developed into an effort to move children into schools, some of whom are the first generation in their family to ever attend school. Some of the people in these villages haven’t even heard of school.
The M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF) goes from village to village, persuading parents and landlords that school is where their children need to be, often working against cultural as well as situational barriers. For instance, Dhalid–or Untouchable–children often face persecution upon reaching the school and no longer want to return. In one instance, they were working with a village that prized its young girls for their innate cotton-picking ability (because of their “nimble” fingers). It was engrained in their culture that little girls were there for cotton-picking. The struggle was persuading them out of that mindset, and making them see school as another possibility. Of course there are the barriers of “without my child’s income, how do I pay that loan?” But that is also worked out within the NGO. MVF also does a lot of work towards empowering the girl students. One problem this NGO faces is children behind for their age. Sometimes, when a child hasn’t been to school before, and he is 10 years old, he can’t be placed in the grade he belongs in because he has to catch up, and it’s embarrassing for the student when he’s placed in a classroom with kids younger than him. Enter Bridge Schools. Bridge Schools are created for children in limbo; they teach each child what he/she needs to know to get into the grade they should be in. This is where we went today.
I had the best time. socialized, ate, and played with these children. They really liked our cameras. I personally feel weird taking pictures of people without their permission (it’s a bit exploitive), but I gave this kid my camera, and he wandered around taking photos. He was awesome. We wrote our names in English and Telugu (they’re learning how to read and write both. And I’ll probably post a picture of my Telugu name either here or on photobucket later.), took loads of photos, and were “prettied up” by the school girls, who took to braiding our hair and applying the bindi (the red dot, indicating your third eye). The white girls wearing neon hotpink lipstick = hilarious. I thankfully got by unscathed.
And now for the cutest little girl in the world:
And some photos (more (much more) on photobucket):