Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Free to study

Last week, I was invited to a rather unusual ceremony - distribution of schoolbags and footwear to about 720 children studying in several schools run by the Corporation of Chennai. Managed by the Education Department of the Corporation, these schools typically cater to the very-very-low-income segment, which means that keeping these children in the schools is itself a challenge. Despite not having to pay tuition fees, the children will have to incur expenses for other school supplies; sometimes, even a small sum of Rs.30/- (€ 0.48 or $ 0.71) for a geometry box is beyond their means.

Now, these 720 children are further special: all of them are former child workers, who had been working at various establishments - roadside eateries, slaughterhouses or other unregulated industrial and commercial ventures - before being rehabilitated and admitted to the schools under the National Child Labour Projects. Many of their families are hard-hit by the loss of income the child used to generate, so some of these children continue to work outside school hours. Therefore, mainstreaming them also involves providing them incentives to stay in school; in this case, an NGO was able to raise funds from a multinational to procure schoolbags and footwear for these children (you can see some of those bags at the left of the photo, in the 3rd row).

It was a humbling experience to watch these children as they waited for the others to arrive. Some were silent, but the majority were excited and cheerful as they tried to catch my eye and get a photo taken. As we lead up to our Independence Day, I'm glad to have had a small part to play in getting these children free to study!


Anonymous said...

Hats off Shantaram ..... Inspires for more to be done .... and coincidence continues as you mentioned

Hilda said...

That was lovely and heart-warming, Ram.

Here in the Philippines, our public school children also need a lot of help from those who are better-off. The university where I work has a special program geared towards training the teachers and principals better, and it sometimes has gift-giving activities. One other activity it has is what's called "Balik Eskuwela" (Back to School), run by the Department of Education. It asks for volunteers and donations of materials to repair public schools during the summer months. Our public education system is really in a bad shape. =(

Shantaram said...

>> Ram>> Thanks... you're right, there's so much to be done!

>> Hilda>> One's sometimes overwhelmed by the huge challenge - but each success story matters! And I'm sure the volunteers will be better people for having done so!