As one enters one’s adolescence, they enter a new phase of growth and personal development. Entering class 8, I had a deep desire to work with the children belonging to one of the most marginalised sections of our society- our city’s waste pickers. I finally got the opportunity to intern at Chintan, and visited their learning centre at Karamveer Dairy, Tuglaqabad.
This is the place where Chintan has worked with the children of waste-pickers, teaching them traditional subjects like maths, English, reading, drawing, writing among other things, so that they feel a sense of hope and develop the capacity to dream and work for a better future.
On my first visit to the centre in January, I was overwhelmed. Not just at the unfortunate state of living for the children and their families, but by the wave of positive energy I felt as soon as I entered the centre. I saw several little faces looking up at me, beaming spiritedly. Me, a complete stranger to them. For some reason, they felt that I brought a sense of hope to that dump yard which is their school and their home.
The children opened up to me almost instantly and from that day on, there was no looking back. I visited the centre almost thrice a week, each week planning a new, fun and educational activity for the children. Sometimes we had drawing competitions, other times we played fun games to teach them English and maths.
We danced, sang and watched some cartoons as well. Overall, the experience for me was life-changing. I realized that we have so much hidden talent in our country that is unfortunately overlooked, as is the living condition of those who work at making our lives livable. A new way of viewing life started to stir in my consciousness and in choices I started making.
Who knew how much would that change within just a few months. The apocalyptic Coronavirus outbreak brought with it a cataclysmic lockdown. This meant no more visits to the centre to spend valuable time with my new, inspiring, friends. This deeply saddened me. Even though we all were struggling to cope with this pandemic in our own ways, deep down inside I was deeply concerned for the children in the slum and their families as well.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a huge crisis on innumerable fronts. As frontline workers, these waste pickers are extremely vulnerable to contracting the disease themselves through the appalling mounds of garbage they sort with their bare hands. Even though the prices of what they scavenge and sell from our garbage has gone down significantly, the waste workers have not left their work. The sole source of income for them was the kabari sale, which has come to a standstill due to the lockdown. This means that the children and their families are struggling immensely during these tough times. Their circumstances cannot be described in words.
Life is sometimes strange, to say the least. As I struggled in my head to come up with ways to help my young friends, I got a call from Chintan almost 2 weeks ago. They had started circulating a donation link on WhatsApp to help raise money for the wastepickers during these hard times. The money would provide them with not only rations but also basic protective equipment and sanitary napkins for women. They asked me if I could help them by circulating this link among my contacts and of course I agreed.
During the course of two weeks, I helped raise almost ₹5.5 lakh rupees. I reached out day and night to friends, family and even strangers, in India and overseas, asking them to help. The satisfaction I felt knowing that I was helping these children indirectly even though I couldn’t be there physically was something indescribable. It is said that hope can travel even if we can’t.
I am so happy and thankful that Chintan gave me another opportunity to help these shadow citizens of India during these unprecedented times. I gained as much if not more from this experience. When one lights a lamp for another it also brightens one’s own life.
This campaign that I fought for my little warrior friends will always be a cause very close to my heart.
About the author: Nyrah Kapoor is a 14-year-old student of Step by Step school in Noida. She is a volunteer at Chintan Environmental Research and Action group.