"Street Smart" by James
Mechanics & Drivers
Cooks & Caterers
Solid Waste Managers
Future Federation Participants
Make them go to school!
The early goodwill that was generated immediately got offers from various fronts to send all the boys to school. Initially that was very hard because the children had no documentation, no birth certificate and no parents to admit them to school. Initially we even explored that and lost all the children we sent to school. The reasons was simple, the children were older, were too used to freedom and lack of discipline and so there were quick rebuttals from the teachers whose class these children disrupted. So while we now have some children who choose to go to school, it took a long time to develop this as a regular option for the children. Even today, the first knee jerk response of anyone who comes to see the work of Sadak Chaap is to question why we have failed to send children to school. We now know that when children are between six and eight they are ready to go to school, otherwise, later, after settling down, they get literate with each other's help.
Gradually we realised that like all other "vocational' activities this possibility has to be opened and kept there waiting for someone to try it. Eventually in 1996-97 a few boys began to go to school and others have also started. These boys all live in Mulund at the night shelter and Sudarshan who works with NSDF is their guardian.
James tells us how they fare, here.
Children who live on the streets like to do what they feel like that moment. Within a few days of coming on the street they find that they can get meals free in various parts of the city and they can earn enough to purchase their meagre needs or watch movies which is their reigning passion. They travel where they wish to go, they either go by themselves or with a friend, and since they travel ticketless through the whole city.
Some emerging vocations: It is evident to all of us working with street children that a preparation for adulthood requires skills in more than one focus, and both discipline and capacity to work in groups. So in general, the NSDF leadership is a very strong and powerful set of role models. They project leadership skills, discipline and ability to do many different "jobs".
For most people who seek to locate a livelihood in the informal sector, it is clear that everyone has to begin to be a :jack of all trades" this requires the young person to have interpersonal skills to work with anyone, to have a basic knowledge of a wide range of jobs because it is rare that anyone actually gets to be a specialist very early in ones life, and those who have such imageries get left behind.
Communities of the poor always use the "apprenticeship" strategy to ensure their children have "hunner" or vocational skills. That's because it has been a demonstrable success or I never look at a mason's or carpenter's tech diploma, we look at craftsmanship. That's the route we have taken.
So lets look at some vocations where we have gone to explore:
1. Electricians: We planned a project for 12-16 year olds where, Ravi, who is a certified electrician from the Airport Slum Federation is presently being brought in to train and develop courses in the Churchgate Night Shelter. They then put together a "50-light torans" and either sell these during the festival season, and or give them on hire. They will also take on the contracts of electrification of pavement slums in Byculla.
2. Masons: Building communities capabilities to build houses for themselves within affordable prices is a very essential aspect of the alliance strategy of work. A core team of Mahila Milan and NSDF work with professionals in developing this concept and they in turn train a very large number of people in each city to understand material purchasing, construction systems and managing the site.
The boys get involved and in the process and gradually pick up the knowledge and skills required to be "site managers" and "quality managers" for the construction sites on which we work.
3. Drivers & Mechanics: When boys who had turned 18 wanted to become drivers, it was decided that they would be enrolled into driving classes. With the help of the Commissioner of Transport who overseas all transport activities in the city, the boys got driving lessons at reduced rates from the driving schools and the RTO waived the requirements for ration cards etc.
We managed to get an old car, and the boys working with a mechanic (more hands-on experience for the boys) got the car roadworthy. Now children do "hath safai" (pick up experience) on the car which they drive under supervision.
4. Cooks: Many street boys have an interest in cooking as they have worked in large catering companies as helpers. With help from a friend, some children learned how to cook at the kitchen at the nigh shelter at Churchgate. and now provide lunch "tiffins" to our Centres and Office, which they get paid for. This cooking is for daily and for special occasional and as the boys get more confident, they will start looking for larger catering contracts .
5. Solid waste managers: Most street children have worked on the street with solid waste. They usually go with a gunny or jute sack, pick up a variety of waste, sell it and use the money for the day.
So we planned a Solid Waste Management Project which includes a survey of wards to look at possibilities, taking contracts for composting in various slums, managing "nala's " maintenance with BMC and taking contracts for keeping streets clean. Soon the street boys will train others to manage composting in a wide range of neighbourhoods. (For more details please read "Garbage talk", a report of how the alliance and the street children explored the whole area of what poor communities can do in the area of solid waste management. )
6. NSDF Jr.: One outcome of the NSDF support and emotional and social support to the street children is that many of them want to grow up and be like Shekhar, Shakoor, Jockin Padma and all the men who are their role models after joining Sadak Chaap.
So whenever there was a team of people going from Mumbai to any city, or a group was coming to Bombay and were visiting settlements here, the street boys who sought to accompany them began to do so. Gradually they began to work in the various capacities.
1. To start savings groups and assist Mahila Milan in collections when they were travelling
2. To join groups visiting various cities to collect data
3. To compile documentation when reports were coming in and needed hands to compile them.
4. Escorting international guests to various places in the city.
5. Participating actively in the various large meetings of the NSDF and Mahila Milan.
What this has done is to give the young people a taste of what it means to be leaders within the federation. The exploration is very natural, none of the young people feel compelled to make hasty decisions and if they want to more into other possibilities they are encouraged to do so. The impact has been very impressive, the kind of acknowledgement they get is astounding as women are very happy to have such support systems for savings groups, and the communities openly accept all the help that the boys provide.
The implication of this for their self image is itself very powerful. It remains the most important means by which we feel they will get integrated into communities as they grow up.
What do the children expect from the future?
These children are not used to looking at the future . Their life on the streets makes them street wise and teaches them to live one day at a time . As they grow older they begin to get more consistent with what they want to do and seek a stable kind of job and place to stay. They may want to marry and are mostly given a place by the Federation or Mahila milan in many of the settlements. Our job is to create this space for them so that they have a secure transition into adult hood and use the leadership from the federation as their role models. This way they get a purpose to continue to do something meaningful and yet realistic.