In Govandi, children as young as seven years old make a living by picking scraps at the city’s largest dump. Children in Rafiq Nagar, a slum-ridden area in Shivaji Nagar, with its proximity to the dump, has the maximum number of children scouting for anything worth money among the mountains of garbage.
While there are a number of nongovernment organisations in the area that have, over the years, tried to get children enrolled in schools, some families still refuse to give their children a formal education. “Who will earn for the family if I send my kids to school? Whatever little money we get from the dump is what keeps the family going,” said a mother of two from Rafiq Nagar.
Targeting such pockets in the city where the outlook towards education needs an overhaul, Karunya Trust, the Diocesan social work wing of the SyroMalabar Diocese of Kalyan, started a non-formal school, Gyaansathi, for children of rag pickers in the area. “The project emphasises the need to feed, educate and uplift underprivileged children from slums. Around 200 children of rag pickers have benefitted through our non-formal education, supplementary nutrition and medical care,” said Fr Paul Kunduparamhil, director of the trust.
Substance abuse is another pertinent problem that keeps children out of school, according to Rose Joseph, Project manager, Gyaansathi School: “We see kids, not older than eight or nine, indulging in substance abuse. They leave their homes under the pretext of going to school, but land up at the dump instead.”
Every morning, two outreach staff members of Gyaansathi go to the slums to convince and encourage parents to send their children to Gyaansathi, Joseph said. But getting children to the school is only the first step. Analysing the child’s abilities to grasp basics is another task. “Simultaneously, we start working towards their formal education, and depending on their progress at Gyaansathi, we enrol them in BMC or private schools,” said Joseph.
The trust claims to have enrolled 130 children in the academic year 2012-2013 into formal education setups.