Monday, July 25

Inspiring a generation of girls in her community: Nazmeen from Delhi




19-year-old Nazmeen lives at Haiderpur in north Delhi.

Her father migrated from Bihar in search of better livelihood opportunities leaving his wife, Nazmeen’s mother, behind. Nazmeen was not even born then. “This is how it happens. Initially, men marry, leave their wives and go to the cities in search of work. They seldom return, consumed by the attractions of a city life and unreasonable working hours,” she explains. 

After three years of her parents’ marriage, Nazmeen’s mother decided to follow her husband to Delhi. She had three children by then. With no source of income and little-to-no support from her husband, it became increasingly inconvenient for her to just depend on relatives.

Her struggles followed her to Delhi where she lived at Anand Parvat slum cluster with her children. Her husband worked as an ice-cream vendor with little to no income. There were days when the family of five would go without food. Yet, Nazmeen’s father would give no more than Rs 500 to support his family. The rest of his income went into alcohol and gambling.


Nazmeen with her parents

On a neighbour’s advice Nazmeen’s mother decided to move to a juggi at Haiderpur with her children. She also started working as a domestic help, earning Rs. 2,500 per month. The family was saved from starvation; but it meant that her elder brothers had to stop going to school and take up daily wage work at construction sites instead.

In her mother’s absence, Nazmeen’s elder sister discontinued schooling and took up domestic responsibilities. At 17, Nazmeen’s eldest sister got married. 

“She is 30 years old now, and has four children. She was pregnant within a year of her marriage, at 18. I could never find out what her dreams could be. I shudder to think of life like hers,” her voice breaks as she recalls her sister who was almost like a mother to her.

Nazmeen got a chance to go to school at the age of six. She would see children in the neighbourhood go to school and plead with her mother to send her to one. Following her footsteps, her younger brother also got enrolled. “I remember both of us went to get enrolled. We were the last ones and the school refused admission. On pleading with them, they said one of us could get enrolled. 

My brother asked me to take the seat. “I will get enrolled in the next year, behen,” he said. I would never forget that moment. It was then that I vowed to make the most of the opportunity I got, ” her voice struggles to remain steady.

Throughout school she worked hard, never forgetting her brother’s sacrifice, her mother’s struggles and her resolve to make the best out of the opportunity she alone had. She never came second in class. “I worked hard. No one forced me to. At home, my mother and elder brothers could only think of putting two meals together. I struggled to learn so that I could put an end to their suffering. When my eldest brother got married, my mother loaned Rs. 2 lakhs to build a brick-and-cement home with two rooms. She worked harder to pay back,” she remembers.

When Nazmeen came home with a glowing report card at the end of each year, there would be no one to share her happiness. Her mother, worn out by financial troubles, would ‘place her hand on her head, utter a blessing and wipe a tear from the corner of her eyes’.

“It would leave me with a biting sense of guilt that I was not supporting her financially. But, I would console myself by saying that a time would come when I would support her better with better pay and working conditions,” she explains.
Nazmeen's mother reflecting upon her daughter's journey.

Nazmeen scored 75 percent in the tenth standard. Her teachers were happy with her performance but she was sad. She knew her family would not support her dream to study further. Her mother confirmed her worst fears. 

“She asked me to learn Urdu and take sewing lessons instead. She was concerned that I did not have any skills to become a suitable bride,” Nazmeen laughs.

She was admitted to a madrasa but couldn’t continue beyond one month. “I was simply not interested. I pleaded with my mother to send me to school. After a lot of fights, she permitted me to study for two more years. I was relieved,” she says.

Nazmeen paid her school fees from a scholarship she had won for her academic achievements in the tenth standard. “I came first in the 11th standard examination and scored 86 percent in the higher secondary examination,” she says, a hint of pride in her voice. However, she knew her mother would not allow her to go to college. But she wanted to make a last desperate attempt to convince her. She requested her mother to accompany her to the school to collect her higher secondary report card. At school, her mother met Nazmeen’s teachers. All of them heaped praises on her daughter’s performance and appealed to her to let Nazmeen study further. But she was not convinced.

“My brothers supported my mother’s decision to not allow me to go to college. They were worried that I would become “too educated” to get any groom," she explains.
Nazmeen soon found a way to go to college. She was aware of Rs. 6000 in her bank account from a government sponsorship (Ladli scheme) for adolescent girls in Delhi. She got herself enrolled in an open learning course (BA in Political Science) in Delhi University. 

“No one in my family knew about it. I wanted to study further. After coming so far, I didn’t want to stop. I chose this course because there would be no regular classes, just one examination in six months. I thought I could make an excuse and give my examination,” she explains. 

However, her little secret was soon out in the open. Her family was going through a financial crisis when her mother asked her to withdraw the money from her account. This is when she confessed that the money was gone; she had used it to get enrolled in a college.

 “My mother was angry and upset. She stopped talking to me. I pleaded with her. I agreed to do all housework if she would allow me to sit for the examination once in six months” she says. After a lot of convincing, she relented.
Nazmeen studies at her house

A year ago, another opportunity came her way. Magic Bus’ programme had just begun in her locality. Pooja, Magic Bus’ Youth Mentor, approached her with an offer: How would she like teaching children the importance of education through activities?

“I loved the idea of Magic Bus. I thought I could make use of my free time and teach children. But my mother refused to allow me to step outside. She was not comfortable with the fact that both boys and girls would come for these sessions and I would be wearing the Magic Bus uniform in front of the entire community,” she explains. 

Pooja, however, succeeded in convincing her mother to send Nazmeen for the sessions. But, on the first day itself, her brother told her that such freedom is not ‘honourable’ for adolescent girls and strictly forbade her from going to the sessions ever again. “I was a Community Youth Leader for a day”, she sighs.

Pooja never lost touch with Nazmeen. She would often visit her and talk to her about her career plans. It was from Pooja that Nazmeen first heard about Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre. Pooja convinced her mother to send her for these classes, assuring her that she would be under strict supervision.

Nazmeen started attending the training at Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre from November 2015. She started classes on life-skills, computer lessons, and English literacy. The staff helped her plan her career ahead. But Nazmeen seemed to have hit a dead end. She didn’t want to dream any further.

“I was exhausted fighting at home. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to do a job. I knew they were looking for a groom for me. I shared my problems with the counsellor. I shared my dream to become a teacher one day. She listened to me. She gave me the confidence to negotiate with my mother again. She assured me that she would even come to my house to meet my mother. I have never received such support from anyone in my life,” she shares.

Nothing Nazmeen said could convince her mother to allow her to work. “She told me clearly that our neighbours would start looking down on my brothers if I start working outside. I was crestfallen. I thought my luck had run out,” Nazmeen says. 

The next day, she was surprised to find Magic Bus’ staff at her doorstep. The Centre Coordinator and the Counsellor visited her house, and spoke to her mother and brothers.

 “If it hadn’t been for Mithilesh sir, Avinash sir, and Jayata ma’am, I would have been stuck at home now. All my efforts would have gone in vain,” she says.

In December 2015, Nazmeen got her first job with the HDFC bank for a salary of Rs. 10,000 a month. “I couldn’t believe myself. For the first time, my mother was happier than me. She knew I could support her financially,” she says, adding, “I don’t fault her for being difficult with me all these years. She had never seen any better during her youth. She was my sole confidante all this while. My father was never there for any of us, but she was.”
Nazmeen with her Mother

Nazmeen gives a part of her salary to her mother and saves a small part for a teacher-training course. 

“I haven’t forgotten my dream yet. It is to be a teacher,” her voice sparkles with silent excitement as she looks forward to her dreams with renewed vigour.

Tuesday, June 28

What is it like to be a Magic Bus volunteer?


In all our sessions, one can hear children calling out for "bhaiya" and "didi", their faces beaming with joy. We like to call these young boys and girls Community Youth Leaders, they are volunteers who are trained by Magic Bus to deliver the programme in their own communities.

This photo story, shot by our own staff members, is a window into the life one such volunteer. Lets meet Seenaiah from Chinna Varaval village of Andhra Pradesh.

Seenaiah is one of Magic Bus' 9000 volunteers, delivering the programme to around 400,000 children.

Seenaiah joined Magic Bus as a volunteer in 2011. His village is so remote it gets cut off from the rest if the world every monsoon. He still found the inspiration to become the first post-graduate from his village. His parents Narasayya and Narasamma are proud of his achievement.

Chinna Varaval, where Seenaiah lives, is a small village in the Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh. There is just one school here, with 200 children in it. Going to college is a big struggle for children and youth living in this remote village.



Over the years, Seenaiah has become one of the most dedicated volunteers in the region.

Seenaiah has become a strong supporter for others in his village who want to study more. Today, his village, Chinna Varaval, boasts of over 30 young graduates who have chosen careers ranging from the Indian Army, the Police Force, to being executive members of Self Help Groups.


At Magic Bus' request, Seenaiah now trains other volunteers on how to be a changemaker.

Monday, May 30

Divya Mahawar: Dreaming of an equal world

“A girl is no less than a boy. We learnt it in a session. Then, why should she not go to school? Why should she get married?” 

12-year-old Divya lives in Shanker Nagar in Jaipur, a hilly area surrounded by the historic forts of Nahargarh and Amber.  Home to Koli Mahawars,a Scheduled Caste (SC) group, Shanker Nagar’s residents are mostly unskilled workers. 

Divya, arriving at her Magic Bus session.
The earliest account of this area is hardly historic or impressive to the tourists drawn to Jaipur’s royal forts and temples. Only the oldest residents like Divya’s grandfather remember the struggle to find work during those days “when most of the area was covered by forest”. Although much has changed about the settlement, the struggle for livelihood continues to underwrite the lives of its dwellers. 

“The forests have receded. Our houses are now made of brick. But, finding a job which brings in enough money to make ends meet is still a distant dream”, says Divya’s grandfather, pausing only to remark about the insignificance of recalling a past which is no different from the present.
For the poor of Shanker Nagar, history isn’t demarcated into eras. Divya belongs to the same Koli Mahawar caste as the rest of the families in Sunder Nagar. Her father is a plumber and mother, a homemaker. The monthly income of the family stands at Rs. 5000.

Divya reads in the sixth standard of a local private school. She has two brothers. One of them goes to school while the other is too young to be enrolled. She lives with her extended family: three uncles, aunts, grandmother, and several cousins.

Her perception of life is influenced by her parents’ constant encouragement to dream of a better future after she completes her higher education. 

“I want to be a doctor. People in my community laugh it off saying I can do no better than my father.  But, I know, I will prove them wrong,” she says.
She joined Magic Bus a year ago. “People living in Shanker Nagar lack gainful livelihood options. Most of the inhabitants work as unskilled labourers just like Divya’s father. Alcoholism is common. Initially, there was no open and safe space for children to come out and play. The area we chose for our sessions was a little away from the community, right at the foothills. We made efforts to ensure that children are safe when they come here”, says Magic Bus’ Neelima who is in charge of the Magic Bus programme in Jaipur.

Her words are echoed by Divya. “Our community used to be unsafe for children because of alcoholics. Once during a Magic Bus session, a man approached a girl in my group to “play with him behind the trees”. Bhaiya and didi (local terms referring to Magic Bus’ Community Youth Leaders) immediately protested. I, too, stood up and asked the man to back off and mind his own business. I did not feel afraid to stand up to a man twice my age. Such incidents are common but we have learnt not to remain silent”.

Divya shares how a girl in her area was sold off by her own uncle so that he could buy alcohol. At a personal front, she has often faced crude jokes for being “dark-skinned”, a quality, her neighbours and children of her age, associated with “difficulties of getting a groom without paying a large dowry”. 

Her dream of being a doctor has been rebuffed by many as an impractical and impossible dream as she was a “daughter of a plumber”.

Such incidents have led her to recognise the unequal treatment meted out to girls and women. It has also helped her find a way to address them through the Magic Bus programme.
“Silence is definitely not the way out”, she says emphatically. “Ever since I joined Magic Bus, I have grown confident of my ability to make it big in this world. With my mentors support, I have stood up to people who tease me about my skin colour or look down upon my dream to become a doctor. I have decided never to discriminate or tolerate discrimination, she shares.
She feels that other children who come for the Magic Bus sessions have changed a lot in the way they behave with each other, particularly towards children of the opposite sex. “Children who would earlier say demeaning things to each other, or behave rudely have changed their ways after coming to the sessions. Children who come to the Magic Bus sessions stay away from alcohol and substances. I have seen many of them encouraging their peers, and sometimes even their parents, to give up on alcohol and other substances”.

She points out the exact reason for her interest in the sessions. “All of us get to learn something new when we come to these sessions instead of sitting at home”. The lessons learnt during the sessions are not quickly forgotten. They are discussed in the peer circles and with parents. Divya’s mother testifies how her daughter is always excited about the “new information” she learns at Magic Bus sessions. 

“She is the leader among the younger children. She makes sure no one misses out a session”, shares her mother.

“A girl is no less than a boy. We learnt it in a session. Then, why should she not go to school? Why should she get married?” she asks. Her parting question tells us much about a 12-year-old’s conception of a gender-equal world.

Monday, November 30

Mentor. Guide. Leader - Gulafsha Khan's story

Gulafsha Khan - Teacher, Magic Bus


Not far from the historic city of the erstwhile Mughal Rulers, Delhi, is the large settlement colony of Bhalswa. In stark contrast to the grandeur of the capital city, Bhalswa can best be described as Delhi’s largest dumping ground. It is difficult to conceive that the shantytown is home to thousands of families who were evicted from slums in Delhi and resettled near a landfill site. It is even harder to believe that a young girl could rise like a phoenix from under the pervasive haze of the putrid and toxic methane gas.

Gulafsha Khan was a young girl when her family was forced to move to Bhalswa. “We lived in a slum in Nizammudin in South Delhi with access to clean water and electricity. We were horrified when we got to Bhalswa. The area was a desolate jungle swarming with snakes. People were so despondent that they wanted to run away. When the settlers began digging the earth to stand their shelters, they found countless bones. It was a creepy place”, recalls Gulafsha. Her five siblings and parents struggled to make ends meet then and it is not very different now. Most of the community’s population is well below the poverty line. Men and women work as daily wage workers at construction sites while some women find employment as maids in more affluent areas nearby.

Over time, the settlement degenerated into a slum while the peripheral area developed with the setting up of two primary schools and one secondary school. Gulafsha and her five siblings found their way to school while living in a one-room slum with their parents.

In 2011, Gulafsha heard about the NGO Magic Bus from her friends. She went to meet its volunteers, Santosh and Mahadev, and learned that Magic Bus worked to drive change in the areas of education, health and hygiene and reproductive health. 

Gulafsha says, “I signed up for the Community Youth Leader (CYL) Programme. After my six day training, I had to make a group of 25 kids and teach through play. I approached several parents to permit their children to join the activities in a nearby park. Many declined for safety reasons. I had to build their trust in me over time to prove to them that I was a responsible girl.” The volunteers at Magic Bus recognized Gulafsha’s enthusiasm and extraordinary mentoring skills and awarded her CYL of the month. They consistently encouraged her to pursue her education while gently cajoling her parents to agree.

Subsequently, Gulafsha also received other essential training such as computer literacy skills and functional English, as part of the Magic Bus Livelihoods Programme.

“It has not been easy for me to step out to work. My community has constantly taunted my parents for letting me work and in turn my parents have often pressured me to abandon social work.

When I am with my group of children I feel like a child again. In the time I spend with them, I forget my worries about the present and the future entirely.”

Gulafsha with the children of Magic Bus 

Gulafsha realized that her parents could not afford her college education so she began giving home tuitions to middle-school children. “I now pay my college fee from my earnings”, says Gulafsha. “I want to study further to qualify for a teacher’s job.”

Guafsha, 19, wants to live life on her own terms and she does today.

(Source: Women of Pure Wonder, published by Roli Books.)

Monday, November 9

Finding a way out of poverty: Keerthi's story


"It is the happiest moment of my life", says 21-year-old Keerthi on getting a job as a Customer Sales Specialist with Eureka Forbes.


“I don’t know if I could be happier. I believe this is the best thing that has happened to me in the last 21 years”, says Keerthi, his excitement seeping through his otherwise calm voice.

In June this year, Keerthi was hired as Customer Sales Specialist in Eureka Forbes at Mysore city, Karnataka. He gets a salary of 4000 per month and incentives for every sale that he makes. 












For Keerthi's family, his job is their only hope to break out of poverty.  
On asking if he is satisfied with the remuneration, Keerthi explains “Our family has seen some tough days since my father passed away 15 years ago. My mother toiled day and night to make ends meet. She works as a coolie in a local sabzi mandi earning just 3000 per month. I would have dropped out long ago had not a government scholarship funded my education from tenth onwards. I was in desperate need for a job. I had to earn and help share the burden in the family. This job engages me for just three hours leaving the rest of the day to help in household chores and improving my own skills. And, the salary is a huge help for my family. Last month, I took home 15,800 for selling 6 vacuum cleaners. For the first time in years, my family could at least afford the basic necessities. It is definitely a beginning”.


After his father's death, Keerthi's mother took up a labourer's job in the local vegetable market. She had a monthly income of Rs. 3000.


“Such opportunities are hard to come by especially for people as poor as us”, says Keerthi.
The Magic Bus Livelihoods Programme provides suitable employment opportunities to underprivileged youth like Keerthi to help them break out of poverty.
Keerthi was a part of the third batch of young people in Magic Bus’ Livelihood Programme in Mysore city. The programme helps in building the capacities of underprivileged youth so that they set realistic aspirations for themselves, inculcate employable skills, and get access to gainful employment.

When Magic Bus Youth Mentor Deepu came to our house and informed us of the Livelihoods Programme, I was drawn towards it. I had graduated last year and was desperately looking for a job. I asked around in my community and heard favourable responses about the programme. A friend of mine in the community had got a job within months of joining the Livelihood Programme”, Keerthi explains.

Keerthi with his trainer at the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre
After joining the programme, he was taken through a Comprehensive Need Assessment followed by a Personal Development Plan. It was a blueprint of his strength, weaknesses, aptitude and attitude. He also went through a process of training on using computers, managing his finances, spoken English language, and business entrepreneurship. The last is a compulsory skill set giving young minds a direction to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Keerthi’s strength and interest was towards managing interactions with customers. He was advised to focus on marketing and sales oriented job. When the Eureka Forbes opportunity came along, we asked Keerthi to go for the interviews. “It was my first interview. Naturally, I was nervous. But, months of grooming and practice at the Livelihoods Centre had its benefits”, he says.

Keerthi is considered a conscientious and hardworking employee at Eureka Forbes. 
Keerth’s performance at Eureka Forbes is being lauded by his team manager there. He is seen as a valuable member, capable of taking up new challenges, and comfortable with the customers.

For Keerthi, this is a step forward in the right direction. “Some more years down the line, I want to start my own agency”, he signs off.

Keerthi aspires to start his own agency 
Want to help more Keerthi's find their calling and way out of poverty? Donate.


Friday, October 16

A story of exemplary courage: Meet D. Prakash Rao from Cuttack, Odisha

Prakash Rao in his roadside tea stall
A year ago, when the TV show Satyamev Jayate showcased Magic Bus’ work in moving children from poverty, 57-year-old D.Prakash Rao was one of the millions of viewers.

“This was just the organisation I was looking for,” he said, inspired by our experiential learning approach “I wanted children from my school to have the best education possible."

D. Prakash Rao lives in a slum cluster near Buxibazaar in Cuttack, Odisha. He runs a roadside tea stall here – the only source of income for his family of four.

In spite of his overwhelming responsibilities at home and the tea stall, Prakash finds time for the young school-going children in his locality. Between 9.30 and 10am in the morning, he distributes 50 litres of milk to all the school-going children in his locality. “How can a child learn in empty stomach?”.

Having lived through poverty, Prakash understands the struggle of not having enough to eat, let alone go to school. His father’s untimely death caused him to drop out and take up a job and shoulder the responsibilities of the family. It was this experience that led him to set up a school in his slum 15 years ago.“I want to make sure no child misses out on school just because of poverty,” he says. “In my slum, for instance, I decided that if children can’t make it to school, school must come to them," Prakash has opened a small school in his slum and hired a teacher, the entire cost of which comes out of the earnings from his tea stall. The school holds classes for children from the first till the fifth standard. “Primary education is crucial. It is the foundation for further studies”, says Prakash.
Prakash in his school.


Today, 86 children study in this school.
Their parents are rickshaw pullers and domestic workers, the bottom rung of India’s employment pyramid. “It doesn’t matter where you belong in the economic strata, it is important that a every child gets educated”, he explains.

Every day, during the lunch break, Prakash visits the children in his school. Apart from the school, Prakash is equally involved with the local hospital – he visits the patients every day – sometimes bringing in hot water and milk. He even got a water heater installed in the hospital to help patients have access to hot water within the hospital premises.

Having discovered happiness in helping the poorest of the poor, he started influencing the youth to do the same. Through his constant encouragement, a network of youth is now supporting Prakash’s attempt to bring about quality education and healthcare services in the slum.

Prakash contacted our zonal office in Hyderabad soon after seeing the Satyamev Jayate episode. He was intrigued with the approach and wanted us to help enhance the learning experience in his school as well. Our visit to Prakash Rao’s school left us inspired – his grit had brought about a change in the lives of those children who could have either become a child labourer or a child bride. Our activity-based learning sessions were a huge hit with the children.

Prakash Rao’s is a standing example of what we can achieve through sheer determination. We are proud to be a partner of his initiative, and more so for being able to share his story and message to all our readers.


Thank you, Prakash.

Thursday, July 9

5 things you should know about Magic Bus’ young friend, Ishaan Jaffer

1. Ishaan is a 16-year-old national-level swimmer who was adjudged the Best Swimmer in the under-17 boys’ category.

2. He is the youngest swimmer to win a gold medal in the 35th National Games held in Kerela this year.

Ishaan participating in a competition.
3.  Ishaan was the fastest 14-year-old swimmer in India in 2013.

4. He started swimming at the age of 6 and follows a strict practice schedule. He strikes the perfect balance between studies and swimming – this helped him score 96% in the ICSE examinations this year.

5. He wishes to fundraise for 66 underprivileged children so that they can join the Magic Bus.

Support Ishaan's endeavour | Donate