Friday, June 23

Magic Bus - Changing and moulding lives of thousands!

"Maybe, not everyone is blessed enough to live a life they actually dream of.”
But maybe, there yet exists a bunch of people who  are busy spreading humanity around.

“Magic Bus”, mere a 8 letter word seemed worth exploring when I first heard it. There exists super man with super powers and then there exists some hearts who just can’t resist spreading good. Indeed, Magic Bus is a latter one.  

This Non Governmental Foundation,  with a worldwide reach is really changing lives around. The words “Childhood to Livelihood”  are not mere the words they give, but something they get into action, changing and molding lives of thousands. Running in almost 22 states of India with a strong base of about 4 lakh children already enrolled, today Magic Bus has been ridiculously changing lives.

Getting an opportunity to spend a day out with a few kids was actually a great thing. It was around 10:30 in the morning and I saw a bus coming from far.  As it stopped, kids ran out, carrying their bags, with a real happy face. Actually, this made me smile. What was next? From the way they greeted their mentors to the thought process they have developed, they got me wondering, how in every broken lane of our country, lies a talent, an art, and a true self.

From getting them enrolled in schools, counseling and helping them design their lives, the organization is really giving the best they could. the staff and the mentors engaged, are really doing a job worth a loud applause.

Just in their primary schools, these kids dream  something even we lack to! They want to be a police and save girls from eve teasing. They want to be a doctor, cause they saw some one dying, merely cause a doctor in their slums could not be approached. They want to be cricketer, because they saw Captain Dhoni getting awarded and that they want to be one.

And yet we see them with a different perception? They think the same as we all do or maybe a step ahead. And what’s worth wondering again is the fact that they actually want to learn, to grow and to prosper. Just because they don’t get what they want, and hence lag behind, we take our eyes off them?

But as mentioned, there yet exists pure hearts and fragile souls, and no doubt Magic Bus is a bundle of them.

It takes huge effort and a great wisdom to come ahead and dream of changing lives. And yes, Magic Bus is doing this. An appreciable effort and obviously a salute deserving team!

By: Khushali Shah

Thank you Khushali! Your lens has beautifully captured the happiness and zeal of children and youth associated with Magic Bus Programme. 

Magic Bus stands true to its name

Who am I? I am someone who chose his parents & pin code wisely.

How far you go in India depends on the parents you were born to & the pin code. I call it the ovarian lottery. I have been lucky, I chose my parents and my pin code wisely. 300 million didn’t and therefore are reeling under abject poverty.

Magic Bus stands true to its name and is symbolic of the work they are doing in the area of educating & empowering children right from childhood to livelihood.

I have been to several NGO’s across India, so much so that I have lost count, but I have never ever visited a slum.

Today, courtesy Magic Bus, I visited a slum in Milind Nagar, Mumbai, my first reaction was that of bewilderment, small dingy cobbled roads, heavily populated with shanties on either side, garbage dumped in pompous display, even the dogs don’t move, so you have to be an amateur steeplechase athlete to jump over both the dog and the pipes. I managed it all three times with panache. Welcome to Mumbai - Welcome to India because true India lives here.

I was extremely impressed by the dedication and sincerity of the Community Youth Leaders, Babu & Supriya. Babu had spent 9 years with Magic Bus -  The way they went about their work, enthused me, the children had one thing in common, dreamy eyes and a flashing smile. The children were being exhorted to a small interesting game under the simple principle of “each one teaches one “.
Babu’s & Supriya’s  impact on these young children is profound & long lasting. They shape the character, curiosity level & intellectual potential of these children. In other words, they help shape our society.

Hats off Supriya & Babu - It’s not easy what you are doing, that’s the reason why you are doing it. You are the chosen one.

As Gabriela Mistral has so poignantly said. “We are guilty of many crimes, but our worst sin is abandoning the child; neglecting the foundation of life. May of the things we need can wait; The child cannot. We cannot answer tomorrow. Her name is Today “
Education is also a basic component of social cohesion & national identity. The foundations for a conscious & active citizenship are often laid in school.

What Magic Bus does to a nicety is, it gives shape to children’s dreams, gives the child a sense of belonging – making him/her feeling wanted. The schools where these children go are not particularly great, therefore a dovetailing of situational awareness coupled with a basic understanding such as washing hands before eating goes a long way in eliminating the vulnerability.

Another unique feature of Magic Bus is that it uses a robust learning model ABC (Activity Based Curriculum ) that uses activities and games to change attitudes and behaviours. 40 sessions per year - each with a key message, teach children important life skills around education, gender, and health.

My message to the children was simple “Don’t worry about where you are now, focus on where you want to go “ Embrace these challenges & hardships, they will make you strong & keep you rooted.
Working at the bottom of the pyramid is a daunting task, but this is where a radical transformation must happen. These 300 million people must enter mainstream for India to stand any chance of stamping its prowess on the global arena. In a country where we have more cell phone’s than loos, we don’t even realize what we need. That is what poverty can do to you.

But our dreams are more powerful than our memories & life is lived forward but understood backwards.

As I made my way outside the dwindling path – to the more comfortable surroundings, I thanked the Lord Almighty & Magic Bus for giving me this opportunity to see the blatant reality of life.

By: Shajan Samuel

Thank you Shajan! Your lens has beautifully captured the happiness and zeal of children and youth associated with Magic Bus Programme. 

Tuesday, June 20

She finds her feet

After years of domestic abuse, this 29-year-old not only decides to break out of it but also finds a way to be independent while fighting those mindsets that subjugate women in all societies.

“I did not know I could be anything apart from a daily wager, just like my parents,” says 29-year-old Sashwati (name changed to protect identity) At Ambadi village in rural Bhandara district of Maharashtra, almost every other person is an agricultural worker. “Some have land. The majority don’t. The ones who don’t have land work for those who have,” she explains.

Sashwati went to school. She completed 12th standard and was married immediately after. “It did not matter that I finished my secondary schooling. I was not allowed to go to college because it was at a distance. There is a lot of fear about young, unmarried girls stepping out of their homes. And so, I was married off at 21,” she says with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “My parents thought that marriage would protect me and help me have a small world of my own. Little did any of us that it would actually push me towards my own destruction,” her voice trails off and she can continue no longer.

Reference Image

“It was painful. I thought I will get a lot of love and respect after marriage. I was let down repeatedly. I was abused day after day. Suddenly home was no longer what I expected it to be. I was scared, stunned that this could happen to me,” her voice carries the weight of pain and betrayal. Sashwati never shared a word about the abuse and beatings at home. She never told her sisters or her brothers that she was unhappy. Her in-laws kept torturing her for dowry. “I almost started living with the pain and humiliation. I was unhappy but I knew there was no way out,” she accepts.

After the birth of her first child, she hoped to take refuge in the new relationship. She also hoped that her husband would change his behaviour. But it was not to be so. The violence continued and grew worse since her in-laws knew she could be threatened with her son. “When my son was 3 years old, they beat me up so badly that I had blood streaming down my head. My son saw it and was scared of even approaching me. That was the moment I realised I am not in this alone. He would be suffering with me. I picked up my child and went to the nearest police station to file a complaint against my husband and in- laws. That night, I went to live with my sister. I told her the entire story and spoke to my brother. My husband and I were called to the Nagpur police station the next week. In the presence of the police and my brothers, he threatened to kill me if I went ahead with the complaint,” she narrates.

Sashwati refused to give in to her husband’s threats. “After a point, I stopped caring about what he could do to me. I had to make him stop somehow. I knew I had to live for my son.” She returned home and became a target of gossip by her neighbours. Even her sisters-in-law appeared hostile when they learnt she would never go back to her husband. 

“They were afraid that I would claim my share of the property. I had no such plans. My parents are so poor that they have barely anything to stake my claim on,” she shares with a laugh. Isolated in her own home, Sashwati decided to work twice as hard as before. “To forget my past and to earn so that no one would blame me for being a burden on my brothers,” she sighs.

She went back to doing what her parents did – long and hard hours of sowing and harvesting in the fields, under the merciless sun, for Rs 100 a day.

It was around this time that Vaishali, a Magic Bus staff, came to visit her house. She was enrolling children on the Magic Bus programme and asked if Sashwati’s niece would like to join them for a session. Her brother wasn’t willing to send his daughter out to play with people he barely knew. Vaishali assured him that it would be safe for his daughter and invited him to come for a session too. Sashwati appealed to her brother to let her niece participate and promised she would watch over.

During the two hours that she watched her niece play with 24 other young children, Sashwati momentarily forgot the nightmarish life she had lived in the last several years.“I laughed. I cheered. I listened. I realised how little of this I did in the last eight years of my life,” she shares.

Her interest in the sessions and about those who conducted them (the Community Youth Leaders or CYLs) brought her to Priyanka Patil, another staff in charge of mentoring those who deliver these sessions. Priyanka was looking to involve more enthusiastic Community Youth Leaders, as the number of children attending the sessions grew each month. Sashwati volunteered. When Priyanka told her about a five-day-long offsite for the training of CYLs, she was perplexed. She shared with her family and they reminded her that she was a mother of a five-year-old. “You can’t go just like that. Who will take care of your son?” they asked her. Sashwati prevailed with them. “It was an opportunity for me to do something that I wanted to. I did not want to let go of it,” she says.

Her family supported her decision grudgingly; and Sashwati found herself on board her first journey to a place far away from home, with people who were as similar as they were different. “It was all so new and exciting,” her voice quivers with excitement.

Things started falling into place faster than she had assumed. Months after she started her work as a Community Youth Leader, she was spotted by the Programme Manager, delivering a session to children. “Her confidence and enthusiasm drew our attention,” says Prashant, recollecting the first time he saw her. Later he came to know all about Sashwati. “They knew my financial problems. They were happy with my work and so they offered me a job: I could be a Youth Mentor at Magic Bus!” she beams.

“As young girls, we never had the freedom to step outside our homes. We moved between school and home. We were asked not to loiter, not to be loud. It was almost as if we learnt to remain unheard. Magic Bus is breaking this mindset and I am happy to be doing that for a living. I understand the value of helping each girl to grow up to be resilient and independent,” her resolute words linger on as she takes a brief pause. “More than anything, this job has helped me win back my self-esteem. I am no longer destined to live anonymously. I have a name within my community. I am not the subject of pity or derision. I am loved by my children and more by my son. He says he wants to be a District Magistrate one day and not let me work at all,” she laughs.

“I am 29 years old but my life seems to have just begun,” she sound buoyed with newfound energy and hope.

She was quiet for the longest time.
Till a point when,
Her unsaid words gathered and
Washing out all:

A clean slate, once again.