Bhale ek niwaala kam khao par shiksha zaroor dilao (eat a smaller morsel if you have to, but never forsake education). This approach by the Shramik Adhikar Aur Nyay Sangathan’s (SAANS) leader, Khemlal Khaterji, outlines the collective’s approach in working with the funds received from Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) to help and support migrant labourer communities.
Migrant workers from all over the country were one of the worst affected communities as a result of the Covid-19-induced lockdown last year. Stranded in different parts of the country with no work, no money and no transport to avail of, many had to walk long distances to reach home.
There were many who died during the journey and couldn’t even make it home.
ILFAT spearheaded a fundraising drive for migrant workers and people from all over the world contributed. Later, this money was distributed between the survivor leaders of ILFAT, for them to support the migrant labourer families in their respective communities.
SAANS had received a total of ₹1,85,792 and their sole aim was to help these labourers and their families reestablish their lives so as to reduce their vulnerability to trafficking. It was the first time that the SAANS leaders were working with an amount as huge as this, but they showed no signs of nervousness.
What followed was meticulous planning, a thorough understanding of what amount was to be used where and also diligent execution. In all of this, the priority remained to provide education to the children of the migrant labourers in order to ensure that they didn’t lose touch with education since all the schools were closed.
“If we would have used all of the money on ration, it would have been exhausted in 15-20 days. But providing education to their children would have a greater impact on their lives,” stated Khaterji.
“Managing the crowdfunding money was a very pleasant experience for us,” said Atmaram Markande, a SAANS leader, adding that they had started planning even before the funds arrived. It helped to prepare a concrete outline of what needed to be done.
Khaterji said, “Alongside planning, we started doing field research where we visited the families of these migrant workers and assessed what they needed.”
“A lot of our planning was done through conference calls. We tried to follow the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) method. We analysed every aspect of our plans and ensured that our planning and execution was effective.
In the case of setting up digital classes, we knew that opening such a centre for children would be a bit difficult since all schools and educational institutions were closed. Hence, we kept almost 50% of the money for setting up these classes and the remaining for ration and emergency.
We also met the parents of these children, had them sign letters of approval (that they were ready to send their children to the classes in the midst of a pandemic) and assured them that we would follow all precautionary measures. They encouraged us to go ahead with this idea.
We also took the help of new SAANS leaders in this process, made them plan these classes and invited local leaders and the sarpanch to the inauguration of these education centres,” explained Amrit Tilkiya, another SAANS leader.
Once a concrete plan to manage these funds was in place, SAANS leaders actively indulged in executing the work. The money was distributed among the members to carry out support work in their communities.
“Since Khemlal and I had access to internet banking facilities, we had taken ₹56,000 and ₹58,000 respectively and the other leaders were given ₹5,714 for ration,” shared Markande.
After getting the funds, quotations for all the equipment were collected and shared, following which the projectors were bought by December 1, 2020.
Markanded elaborated, “We also looked for spaces for setting up classrooms in three districts: Mahasamund, Balodabazar and Janjgir-Champa. Once the spaces were finalised, we got in touch with local teachers, invited guests and fixed dates for the inauguration ceremonies.”
“By December 20, 2020, the classrooms (with more than 100 children) in all the three districts started functioning. We were so excited to have these young children sit and experience digital education for the first time in their lives!” exlcaimed Markande.
While all of this was going on, ration distribution was also being carried out equally enthusiastically by SAANS leaders. They reached out to 37 families in the three districts, providing ration kits comprising of rice, flour, pulses, spices, oil etc.
Moreover, these leaders also supported the migrant workers in getting their BOCW (Building and Other Construction Worker) cards so they could access various government schemes.
However, all of this wasn’t without its challenges. Dividing the funds among various leaders, setting up education centres in the midst of a pandemic, carrying heavy ration on bikes to distribute it to families—all of these involved difficulties. But not enough to deter SAANS leaders from helping.
“We had sought permission for these classes from the zila shiksha adhikari (education officer of the district). But we were refused written permission. We assured them that we would maintain all the safety measures and then went ahead.
But still, I fear that the authorities would one day come and close our education centres. So whenever any major vehicle crosses past our building or there is a sound nearby, I get afraid and wait for it go away,” confessed Markande.
Yet, in the midst of all these obstacles, there were reasons for the leaders to experience excitement and enthusiasm. Markande shared that, “The most exciting thing for me was that we got to work together as a team in this.” For him, it was about accomplishing what others could have only thought of.
“This was something new and we were a bit anxious in the beginning. But yes, I am happy that we could do all of this.” The importance of teamwork, doing field research and giving back to the community—these are some of the things they got to experience.
Markande also said that the funds were special to them because “it helped us connect the children of these migrant labourers with education and somewhere, this has helped their communities in resisting human trafficking.”
“That financial management is an essential part of leadership became evident to me,” said Khaterji. They also shared that this process has made their approach to working together on such issues more planning-oriented and teamwork-based.