Friday, March 10

A Ray of Hope in Guntur

In Guntur, Magic Bus works in 13 slum communities, all of which are in the outskirts of the city, and have only recently been brought under the Guntur Municipal Corporation. These are some of the poorest communities in Guntur, and where most of the people live in kutcha houses, and the communities lack even basic infrastructure.

In the last 18 months, in addition to working with children and youth, we have engaged the community leaders and have empowered and assisted them in demanding their rights from the Municipal Corporation. As a part of our review, we visited three communities, and met children, youth, parents, school authorities, anganwadi workers and community leaders to get a first-hand understanding of the programme.

One of the first people we met in Guntur was the Headmaster of a Government School, and he was full of praise for the work we do. “After Magic Bus came, prosperity came to our community”, he said. “We got electricity. And now, roads are being constructed and drains are being dug”, he added, waving his hands so we could take in the construction work going on around the school grounds. We dismissed it as hyperbole, but when we later checked with the Programme Manager we found that there was indeed a direct co-relation between us starting to work in the community, and the development – our Manager had invited the Municipal Commissioner to one of the events, and then repeatedly petitioned him to invest in basic infrastructure in the community. Though electricity, water and surface infrastructure should have been provided after the community came under the Municipality, it might have taken years if not for the timely intervention of the staff working on the HGS-Magic Bus Programme.

The same story was echoed in the two other communities we visited. In both, we interacted with the parents of children on our programme, and they told us that the Programme Manager, the Training and Monitoring Officer (TMO), and the Youth Mentor (YMs) supported them whenever they wanted to make a representation to any Government department or agency. Our programme staff have assisted in polio campaigns and government health camps, and they ensure that all the children are the community are enrolled in schools under the RTE. Two community leaders we met both said that after the programme started, not only have the children started indulging in physical sports (as opposed to marbles and gambling), they have also become better behaved and less rude. Whenever there is any issue concerning the community, the elders consult the YMs, TMO and Programme Manager – in fact, one of them even joked that if the TMO chose to stand for elections, he would be elected in a landslide!

Of the dozen Community Youth Leaders (CYL) we met, some had gone through the Livelihood Programme and had been placed in good jobs (the rest are still studying). However, they continue to be involved in the programme, and ensure that they conduct sessions on their weekly leave. One of them had even taken a day off, so he could meet us and tell us how becoming a CYL had changed his outlook towards life and of how he would only stop being a CYL when Magic Bus asked him to stop. Another CYL who has got placed spends her weekends performing the duty of a YM, because her community does not currently have one. We also met the mother of a CYL who told us that she was worried about what would happen to her son, but that he has discovered a purpose in life, she knows that he will do her proud.

There are many cases of people going way beyond their duties to bring about change. Here is just one:

Lavanya is a Youth Mentor who has got dozens of first generation learners enrolled in school (47 was the number shared by the Headmaster of the school). We met three children who she had enrolled just a week back. After losing her husband, the mother of the children made her way to Guntur where she found a job as a domestic help. While the mother went out to work, the three girls, the oldest of whom was 9, were left alone to fend for themselves. Our Youth Mentor got their papers made and enrolled them in the local school. In just one week, the girls have learnt to say “Good morning” and “Thank you”, though their English vocabulary does not extend much beyond that. None of the girls are old enough to be enrolled in the programme, but we have already made a difference in their lives.

We also met a woman YM who lost her husband a couple of weeks back, but was back at work 11 days after the tragedy. She said that she knows the impact of the work she does, and that was what gave her the strength to fight back.

In Guntur we are clearly going beyond our stated vision of helping children and youth break out of poverty – we are empowering entire communities to access their rights and take advantage of available resources. It is almost a textbook case of what an Integrated Community Development project should look like. We wish we could take you to some of these communities so you can see first hand the impact that the HGS-Magic Bus Partnership is making.

Posted by:
Natasha Ramarathnam

Wednesday, March 1

Dreams with responsibilities: Vaishnavi’s story from rural Maharashtra

Vaishnavi Kathelkar is 19 years old. She is in the final year of graduation and wants to pursue post graduation afterward.

Vaishnavi Kathelkar
She belongs to Chinchala village in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. There are six members in her family. She has an elder sister, who is preparing for Civil Services; and two younger ones in the tenth and twelfth standard. Her father worked as a mason until he met with an accident that took away his ability to work. Her mother is an LIC agent. She makes Rs 3000 per month.

Vaishnavi with her mother
Vaishnavi and her family live with their uncles and cousins in a six-room house. Each family lives in one room. They share a kitchen and bathrooms. But do not share expenses. “When father met with an accident, none of my uncles came forward to help us out with money,” Vaishnavi points out.

Despite the financial pressure, Vaishnavi claims they never thought of dropping out. “Both my sister and I are good in studies. Our parents have always encouraged us to pursue our career aspirations. But when father met with the accident, both of us decided to take turns to support our mother. We were confident about balancing education with a job,” she shares.

Vaishnavi with Magic Bus Youth Mentor, Yogita
A year ago she and her sister were introduced to Magic Bus by Youth Mentor, Yogita Satpute. The latter was convinced that both the sisters could be great role models for girls in her community. “Unlike other communities, people in Chinchala are aware of the importance of education. Parents encourage their children to go to school. What they do not understand is that schooling is only a part of education. Life skills are as important as the lessons children learn in school. It helps a child negotiate and make most of the different situations,” Yogita explains. Vaishnavi agrees, “The training for Community Youth Leader was an eye opener for both of us. We did not know how important it was to learn essential life skills like the negotiation. We had never had the scope to think beyond books and school. The curriculum is refreshing. We enjoyed every minute of interacting with the children.”

Her father’s accident compelled her to look out for work. “Yogita di told me about Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre. I thought it was a good idea to get some guidance on planning my career. I learned skills to help me face interviews. I also improved upon my language skills,” she says. She took up a job at the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) as a Punching Operator. Her working hours start from 11.00am and continue up to 5.00pm. She earns Rs 3,500 per month which goes to running the family. “I would go to college at 7.00 in the morning and attend practical classes till 10.30am. I would then rush to office, work till 5.00pm and reach home at 7.00 in the evening. On some days I am too tired to even have my dinner,” she shares.

Vaishnavi undergoing Complete Need Assessment at Magic Bus Livelihood Centre
The long hours and exhausting travel does not stop her from dreaming. “I wanted to be an Army Officer. But that couldn’t happen. I want to join the police. I find tough physical activity exciting,” she signs off.