Wednesday, August 23

Finding a job was a beginning to their dreams: the story of two sisters from Vizag

A year ago two sisters started to look out for a job against their wish to get an education. When they finally found a job, they realized that it could be a passport to what they have always wanted to do in life.

Mahabunnissa is 21 years old and Karimunnissa is 23.

The sisters are from Gajuwaka village in Vizag where they live with their mother and brother. Gajuwaka is “neither a village nor a full-fledged city”. It is one of those semi-urban areas on the outskirts of a city from where daily wage workers commute to every day in search of work. “It is an industrial area. There are a lot of industries around. Mostly people work in them as daily wage workers,” says Mahabunnissa.

Mahabunnissa and Karimunnissa lost their father seven years ago. It was a big blow to the sisters as both of them considered their father to be a role model. “He never went to school because his parents couldn’t afford sending him to school. So he always motivated us to study,” Karimunnissa reminisces. So close were they to their father that when he passed away, they decided to move from the neighbourhood. “It was too painful to keep living where we did. Plus, the mother had to start working to make ends meet. And there were no livelihood opportunities for her in our old neighbourhood,” explains Mahabunnissa. She adds, “We shifted. The shift was bittersweet for us sisters. We had to deal with the loss and adjust to our new surrounding which required us to be sociable.” The family moved 200kms to Kakinada, their father’s native place.

The financial crisis required both sisters to discontinue schooling and look out for jobs to support their mother. Their mother took up a job in the packaging factory, making Rs. 5000 per month. Their brother, who had earlier dropped out because he failed his tenth standard examination, was working as a welder in construction sites. “He left his job and now sits at home,” says Mahabunnissa, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

Karimunnissa heard about the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre in her neighbourhood after a friend of hers enrolled and told her all about it. “We were desperately looking for jobs. Having studied till the 10th standard, we were anxious that no one would give us a respectable job. We did not want to enter the daily wage work space,” says Karimunnissa. She decided to drop in at the Livelihoods Centre one day.

Her first day at the Centre involved introductions to the staff and introductory counseling sessions. That day, she left with hope in heart and smile on her lips. “I knew I had come to the right place. The staff is so encouraging here. They understood my problems. They did not pity me but genuinely wanted to help. I felt respected and appreciated,” says Karimunnissa.

To this day, Karimunnissa credits the sessions on spoken English, communication skills, and computer literacy for helping her get a job. “I got my younger sister to the Centre too. What we learn in school is important and yet not enough to help us get a job. That is where the Livelihoods programme comes in to help,” she says with a smile.

For Mahabunnissa the experience was no different. “I learnt so many new skill sets but the most important one for me was learning how to communicate,” she explains.

After completing their training at the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre, Karimunnissa was placed as a mammography technician at a clinic for a salary of Rs. 10, 200 per month. It has been a year since the day she got her first job that put an end to her search for a respectable job. It fanned her hopes to complete graduation in the future. “Part of my salary goes to running the family and a small part is kept aside for my education. I want to at least complete my graduation and move to a better and well-paying job,” she says.

Her younger sister has similar plans. Employed as a Sales Executive in a premium watch brand’s showroom, Mahabunnissa sees this as an apprenticeship opportunity. She earns Rs. 8000 a month and is keen to go for correspondence courses.

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Both of them support each other in whatever they do. Both of them have a goal in life – one for themselves and one for their family. Both of them feel the need to complete their education and move to better job opportunities.

Tuesday, August 22

The journey back to school: Mohsin's story

Rajasthan accounts for nearly 10% of the total child labour in the country with Jaipur alone having more than 50,000 child labourers in the age group of 5-14 years. The state stands third after UP and Andhra Pradesh as far as child labourers are concerned.(TOI, Mar 12, 2013)

One in every 11 children in India is working. (Mint, Jun12, 2015)

More than half of the 5.5 million working children in India are concentrated in five states—Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. (Mint, Jun12, 2015)

56% of the working adolescents are no longer studying. And 70% of those in hazardous conditions are not studying. (Mint, Jun12, 2015)

“Bhatta basti in Jaipur is notorious for child labourers who work on lac bangles within their households. Most of the adult members are either jewelers or unskilled labourers. Substance abuse among children and adolescents is high. Dropouts are common as children become workers early on in life”, says Magic Bus’ Neelima, who is in charge of the programme here.

There are 500 children in the Magic Bus programme in Bhatta basti. Do they go to school?

“Yes. A few of them work in household industries like bangle-making, but they also go to school. Initially, when children came for the sessions, they used foul language and were into substance abuse. This has changed considerably. Our work is a challenging one. Consider this: If a child spends two hours in the sessions learning the importance of education and the disadvantages of substance abuse, she also spends the rest of her time in the community where substance abuse is the ‘style’, with every other child being compelled to work than study. Therefore, we also work with parents, caregivers, community members, institutions within the community to ensure that a child does not lose out on her formative years”.

Such is Bhatta basti. It looks a bit different from the shanties that dot the landscape of megacities like Delhi or Mumbai. There are rows of pucca houses here – with exposed red bricks and high ceilings. Many houses have no roof. An open drain underlines the sorry state of hygiene in the area. People who call Bhatta basti home are largely from a single community engaged in bangle-making, stone-cutting, and tailoring.

Let’s walk along the meandering, narrow lanes of Bhatta basti along a partially hilly landscape to hear the story of a 19-year-old who lives in the area and whose story wants to be told.

“Which class are you in?”

Chances are, almost all of us have been asked this question at least once, or sometimes more than once, during our lifetimes.

Mohsin Farukhi

For Mohsin Farukhi, this was a question he had carefully avoided since he was 13 and stopped going to school. “My father worked as a stone-cutter in a nearby shop. My elder brother joined him after he finished his seventh standard because we were in desperate need of money. My younger brother failed in the eighth standard and started work at a local watch repair shop. My father stopped going to work once both my brothers started earning. When they got married and had their own children, they could barely spare any money to support the family. My elder brother earns Rs. 7000 a month while my younger brother makes Rs. 8000. This is why my parents started putting pressure on me to start working”, explains Mohsin. Consequently, he dropped out in the seventh standard and started assisting in a shoe shop where he was paid Rs 5 for working 12 hours in a day. “My father dropped me to my first workplace. I could never tell him how much I wanted him to drop me to a school instead”, Mohsin looks away as he shares the memories of his first day at work.

He didn’t stick to his first job for long. He soon made friends in the neighbouring stores and found out a different place to work with better pay. “I realised one thing: there will always be jobs available for children like us because we can be paid less and made to work more”. While Mohsin worked for longer hours in jobs that did not interest him, his father started working as a priest (locally called mohzim) in a dargah. His mother is a homemaker.

Mohsin with his mother

With three of their children working and two of them married with children, the family decided to build a pucca house in a different locality. So, they shifted to Bhatta basti area. “We could only afford a pucca house near an open drain. Its stench is unbearable on most days, but we are used to it. Sometimes it overflows, but we have learnt to live with that too”, Mohsin shares.

Three years ago, Mohsin came to one of Magic Bus’ sessions. He was 16 then.

Having never had the time to play, Mohsin took a strong liking to the activity-based session. “The person leading the session sat us down in a circle and asked how many of us went to school. I saw several hands in the air, and ran away”, he recounts.

Sarfaraz, who was conducting the session that day, saw Mohsin leave in a hurry and decided to find out more about him. He called upon him the next day while he was leaving for work. Mohsin confided in him his eagerness to learn. “If you want to go to school, who is stopping you?”, Sarfaraz asked. Mohsin explained his situation. That day, Sarfaraz left Mohsin with a hope, “You can still study. I will help you get re-enrolled”. The support he was looking for came to him in the form of a mentor he could trust.

Mohsin with Sarfaraz

When Sarfaraz spoke to Mohsin’s parents, he found out about the abject condition they were in. “Without Mohsin working, how would we manage to make ends meet? I have no income option at all”, Mohsin’s father said. Sarfaraz approached an NGO and mobilised funds for Mohsin’s education. Mohsin negotiated with his father to allow him to go back to school in return of working to support the family.

After a period of three years, Mohsin went back to school. He got enrolled in the tenth standard in a private school. “He was concerned about which class to get enrolled in. “I don’t look like a boy from the seventh standard. Everyone would make fun of me in school”, he would say. We consulted the teachers at the private school and got him enrolled in the tenth standard”, recalls Sarfaraz.

Mohsin’s challenges were far from over. “I found the lessons difficult. After all these years, I found it difficult to concentrate. It was exhausting to work and study simultaneously”, he shares.

Unfortunately, He failed the tenth examination. “His parents persuaded him to discontinue education. They didn’t think it was a worthy investment. But, Mohsin persisted in his attempts. And, of course, we stood by his decision”, says Sarfaraz.

Today, Mohsin has completed his 12th standard. He aspires to become a nurse because getting a MBBS degree would be too expensive for him. “I am, by far, the most educated in my family. My parents never went to school and my brothers dropped out. I don’t want to stop here. I want to study further and work in dignity”, he shares.


Regardless of the final destination, Mohsin inspires us to continue doing our work with the same unflinching determination.

Friday, August 4

An entrepreneur-in-the-making: Shashikant Jaiswal’s story

Shashikant Jaiswal

Twenty-year-old Shashikant Jaiswal can tell you the exact date when Mahatma Phule Nagar, a slum cluster adjacent to IIT Bombay, came up. “It was in 1991 that migrants living near the Powai Lake were moved here following a beautification drive of the city,” he explains, adding “A large number of our neighbours are migrants from Maharashtra, mostly from Satara and Aurangabad. Those from UP and Bihar are in a minority like us,” he adds with a smile. Mahatma Phule Nagar has a large population of Dalits. “I follow Babasaheb’s writings. They are remarkably insightful especially when all around people are so strongly divided by caste.”

Shashikant’s grandfather came to Mumbai sixty years ago. He spent almost his entire life as a daily wage worker. He put all his savings in setting up a cloth shop in Wadala. He married twice. Shashikant’s father is the son of his first wife. Due to domestic feuds, Shashikant’s father was not allowed to participate in the family business. He found himself in the same place as his father - selling peanuts in the day and working as a guard in the night till he joined a mill as a daily wage worker with a salary of Rs 3000 per month.

“My father’s income went in buying food for a family of four. We had to borrow money in case any of us fell ill or had to buy books for school,” Shashikant shares. With no extra income to support his education after the seventh standard, Shashikant took to doing odd jobs like distributing newspapers, helping political parties set up their billboards, to make money. “I would earn Rs. 500 a month and give it to my mother. All of it went to pay my school fees,” he says.

There were insurmountable hardships. There were also some eye-opening lessons. “Despite extreme poverty, my mother was not expected to step out to work. Women stepping out in public to work and earn is still looked down upon in my family. When my elder sister finished her Bachelors, I negotiated with my parents to let her get a B.Ed degree. In reality, I fought with them and their mindsets. My sister always wanted to be a teacher. She is married now but I am happy that she is still keen on getting a job,” he observes.

Shashikant believes that a gender equal society is possible but the change has to begin at home. This conviction had its roots in the training he underwent in Magic Bus as a Youth Leader. “In my tenth standard, I felt this strong urge to do something for my community. I wanted children here to go to school and learn well. It might seem to be a most ordinary, achievable dream outside Mahatma Phule Nagar but it is not so in a community of so many out-of-work youth taking to substance abuse, a community that is yet to wake up to importance of education. As a Community Youth Leader I get to mentor these children using a deeply engaging activity-based curriculum. I also run support classes for children in my neighbourhood so that they can keep up with the pace of learning at school,” he shares. Shashikant dreams to open a school in his neighbourhood for underprivileged children – a learning environment modeled after the gurukul system of education. “Every child nurses a dream. Poverty stifles that very dream. My education will hold a light to those who are fighting to save their dreams from the clutches of poverty,” he explains.

Shashikant has other dreams and most of them concern his family. He wants to buy land in Allahabad, his home town, and build a house of their own. “We have always lived in other people’s homes. We could never afford a house of our own,” he reasons.

Although he started working since the eighth standard, Shashikant was aware that only a salaried job can put an end to the financial distress at home and also support his dream for further education.

“I was in the first batch of Magic Bus’ Livelihoods programme at Vikhroli. Back then, I was certain I could be an entrepreneur. Through the Livelihoods training, I actually got an insight into my skill sets and drawbacks. They helped me develop a roadmap for my career, “he says, adding, “It has been three years since I completed my livelihoods training. Yet I still fall back on my mentors from the Centre to guide me on my career decisions. I have firm faith in their ability to suggest the best way for me.” At present, Shashikant works as an Account Representative in a multi-national software company, Accenture, earning Rs 25,000 per month.

Most of his income goes in paying off the family’s debts but he saves enough to support his further education and also his dream to have a house of their own in their hometown. 

Apart from balancing a demanding work life with education, Shahshikant is still Magic Bus ‘bhaiya’ for numerous children in his locality – someone they laugh with, share their sorrows, anxieties, and listen to.

If you were to pass Mahatma Phule Nagar on a Saturday and Sunday, you might meet an enthusiastic 20-year-old, surrounded by an excited bunch of children much younger and smaller than him, matching him in step and energy.