The pretty girl with the bubbly personality looked a little older than the rest of young children at our slum literacy school. “Why hasn’t Surya gone to school before?” I asked our teacher, Ashish. “She used to go to school when her family was in the village but after they came to Lucknow to find work and started rag picking, she didn’t want to go any more. Her mother complained that she was “mixing with bad company and wouldn’t even help with the rag picking”.When Restore India commenced the literacy school in Surya’s community, Ashish started building a relationship with Surya and her family. He encouraged children such as Surya to come for the classes and her parents were coaxed to allow her to go.Ashish discovered that there was a rift between Surya and her mother and helped to bring reconciliation to that situation. The community has noticed the impact Ashish has had on their children, in getting them to attend school and being more respectful towards their parents. This has been the doorway to the families in the community.Children like Surya will slip into a life of rag-picking like their parents unless they are encouraged to continue their education. They will continue to be part of the ‘lives on one dollar a day’ statistics unless education gives them more life choices..
Hello! My name is Ajmal Ali and I am eight years old. I have seven brothers and sisters and I have lived in this area for two years since my family moved here from Assam. We moved here because there is more security in Lucknow and my family is now able to earn a stable income.
My daily routine starts very early in the morning when the whole family wakes up to the smell of my mother making rotis (flat bread) on the floor stove for breakfast. If I am hungry, I will have a whole one though I try to share mine with my younger siblings.
I then go out with my older brother, and sometimes with one of two friends to the streets to pick rags. On a good day, especially after a mela(market) my sack will be full very quickly and I am able to go home to help my parents sort paper and plastic from what I collected. Most times though, my bag only fills up by late morning. After work is when we come to the best part of the day.
That is when I go to school, that I have been attending for the last year. I have learnt a lot of things there and I really like it. Before I leave for school, I make sure I bathe and get changed into my school clothes. I never used to do such things. In fact, in the past whenever my parents gave me new clothes at festive times, I would wear those clothes throughout the days until they are totally worn out and my mother then, just tears them up for rags.
I have learnt to read and write and to be able to count. However, what I love most is the stories that the teachers tell. They teach me about keeping myself clean and tidy, to respect my parents and elders. I like my teachers a lot and I try to keep my school books clean. I have even tried not to be disrespectful towards my mother whom I used to hit whenever I felt angry. Both Pa and Ma say they like me better now since I started attending the school.
Rag Pickers can be found in almost every Indian city, lugging large, dirty bags over their shoulder, collecting recyclable rubbish. Adults and children pick rubbish and as a family they will collect enough to earn approximately $50 AUD each month. On most days they can only afford two meals a day of pulses, rice and vegetables but Sunday is the family’s favorite day because they buy fish when there’s some spare money.
Limca (not his real name) is a rag picker who lives in the slum community and is somewhat fortunate that he does not do the actual collecting. He has seven other families collecting for him, and he acts as the one who sorts and accumulates the rubbish into larger quantities that he sells to contractors. However, he longs for a different job that will better provide for his family and help fulfill his greatest desire of educating his two children which he believes will be their means of escaping the slum.
When he arrived as a refugee from Assam, he borrowed money from an extortionist money leader to establish himself, rent a bamboo hut for a home, and buy a trolley to start a rag-picking business. The terms of the moneylender are such that Limca is bonded to him, as there is no way he will ever be able to pay back the initial loan amount without help. He sells his rubbish at heavily discounted rates to the lender, and this means he will never earn enough to repay the loan. We are trying to organise a micro-loan for Limca to release himself from the debt to release him to sell his rubbish at market rates. We hope this will help the family economically.
Limca does see the value of education and since we started our literacy/numeracy school in the slum, has been sending his children there. For the past year he has also tried to send his children to the local public school but he says the teachers only come 50% of the time. We have been helping his family explore alternative income sources and he has been the recipient of a pregnant goat from our goat project. His wife also attends the health and hygene classes we run. We are also considering sponsoring his children to a private school that will provide a better standard of education. To help people from poverty cycle, it is not a one dimensional solution – it is children’s education, teaching the women about basic health and hygiene, helping the family gain a sustainable income which can sustain them, releasing them from the control of money-lenders. It is also them learning of One who lives them and have provided the way of salvation. Limca now attends our slum fellowship and is a seeker. Please pray for Limca, his family and the small fellowship which meets in the slum.
Laxmi has an inspiring story. When we started our sewing school in Mussoorie, she was one of the first to enrole and one of the ones who showed the keen-ness to learn. She had to come from a long diatance away to attend the classes, but she was always there. Her passion to learn new skills has given her new skills, but she is also an inspiration to other women in her community.
Translation in English: Coming soon