At the age of 8, when she should be reading books and maintaining a notebook in school, Shahzana Khatoon has been shoved into child labour. Her work involves clearing the labels of plastic bottles in the Kilkhana area of Kolkata which fetches a sum as meagre as Rs. 50 per week. Starting her day at 7 in the morning, she works until noon time. When work gets over, it’s time for her to perform another important duty. She has been entrusted with the task of taking care of her siblings — 3 sisters and a brother.
In Shahzana’s family, there are her parents, her grandmother, and an uncle, and all of them stay together in a room which is 100 sq. ft. in size. A plastic sheet serves as a makeshift roof. Foul smell from the nearby canal invades the nostrils and there is no electricity in the area. Combined family income is not more than 3000 rupees a month and amidst such hardships, the girl has absolutely no means or opportunity to get any form of learning.
While conducting a survey in the area where Shahzana lived, the members of Save the Children’s West Bengal team identified her. Without any delay, the efforts of persuading her parents to send her to our Mobile Learning Centre (MLC) commenced which went on for days. For her family, Shahzana was a resource for getting money and they did not want her work to get impacted due to the MLC. But our team didn’t give up. Eventually, the parents yielded and agreed to send Shahzana to the centre.
Once at the MLC, Shahzana proved to be a quick learner. She started taking active part in the different activities conducted in the centre and displayed an amazing craving to learn. “I don’t like being surrounded by plastic bottles. I love going to my class and learning about new things,” says Shahzana.
The girl is in no mood to stop here. Talks for her admission with the nearby Kolkata Municipal Corporation school are already underway because with time, we were also able to convince her parents to send her to a school. Hopefully, Shahzana will soon be seen donning the school uniform, with a satchel on her shoulder, labouring in class and not on the street.
In September 2011, Save the Children, in partnership with Aviva, launched two Mobile Learning Centres in Kolkata as a part of the latter’s ‘Street to School’ campaign. These are two yellow-coloured (same colour as that of a school bus) buses equipped with learning and teaching materials for underprivileged children. This project aims at helping children living and working on the streets in Kolkata who don’t have the opportunity to access any form of education but have a strong willingness to learn.
Shahzana is one lucky girl who got the opportunity to learn. But out there on the streets, in factories and in homes, there are hundreds and thousands of children who are toiling doing different types of jobs, away from all possibilities of learning. We are working to map many such children and then enabling their movement to schools.
Note: This article was originally publishedÂ here.