Global Youth Ambassador Diksha Dinde tells how she is delivering education and healthy meals to child labourers and beggars in the Indian city of Pune.
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" - Nelson Mandela.
With this thought in mind, I took the initiative to eliminate the widespread inequalities in the society. In November, I started a small mobile school with the help of my team, under the local bridge in Pune, to develop a passion for learning, which will never cease to grow.
This initiative aims at bringing child labourers and underprivileged children into the mainstream of education or schooling.
Through this, I am engaged in taking activity-based learning programmes and providing children with daily meals (boiled eggs, rice and lentil soup) to ensure they are receiving nutrition along with education. Global Youth Ambassador Pooja Mankhedkar from India is also helping me in this project with other teammates.
I was previously engaged in short-term projects for underprivileged children - but soon there was a realisation that these projects were not proving fruitful and weren't successful in bringing the desired results.
Thus, we thought of a long-term rehabilitation and a constructive programme through which we could make a visible change. That thought got converted into this initiative.
Many children living under this bridge are either child beggars or labourers and some of them are also indulged in consuming toddy (palm wine).
Childhood marriages are also dominant in this community. They marry within their limited community. This doubles the risk of children being born with biological and genetic defects and so these people go for having too many kids to make them a source of earning through begging.
This situation keeps them below the poverty line and they become the incurable part of the poverty circle. Before starting this initiative, we surveyed the children living in that slum area regarding the reasons for high drop-out rates from formal schooling, which included doing interviews and consulting the parents.
According to one survey conducted by government, there are 10,293 out-of-school street children around Pune city. Through this project, we are aiming to bring child labourers, child beggars and underprivileged children into formal education or schooling.
To start with, we are conducting activity-based learning activities in which we teach the children some poems, rhymes and stories. We also engage them in games and other sports activities.
This is done to ensure that the children's minds are conditioned towards the importance of education.
We take some moral lessons with these children because there is a visible lack of values and other ingrained issues like caste discrimination and domestic violence.
There are many here who drink toddy regularly. There are also many hygiene-related issues. I am working to smooth out all these hurdles as well.
This initiative is focusing on early childhood development. Nutrition, health, learning, play and protection are the main key areas on which we are working.
Another thing we have taken into consideration is that most of the children are malnourished and weak. We are providing a daily meal to the children so that they can learn in a better way with a healthy mind.
Ultimately our aim is the complete rehabilitation of these underprivileged children so as to start a change from the grassroots level itself.
I am ensuring there will be 100% enrolment of the targeted group of underprivileged children so that they are not engaged in child labour or begging activities.
On the very first day of school, only three or four kids were ready to sit with us. But now the number is steadily rising to 40 to 50.
Some of the parents are still not ready to send their kids as they are a source of income through begging.
These children are the second or third generation of their families who are living in Pune. But still, none of them are educated.
These kids do not know what to do with the money they earn after selling balloons or begging at signals. My aim is to give them an education that will channel their energy and enable them to do something meaningful in life.
Yes, these children are my hope living under the bridge. :