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India: From Basket-Making To School

Shivani. Photo: © 2012 Annila Harris/World Vision

Shivani. Photo: © 2012 Annila Harris/World Vision

This month our country of focus is India, where World Vision’s Strong Women, Strong World initiative is focusing on child protection. The following story was contributed by Annila Harris, World Vision.

Shivani started making baskets out of bamboo with her family when she was just 7 years old. She worked all day, making 10-20 baskets that were sold for just 7 cents. She couldn’t go to school because her family needed her to work at home. Then World Vision opened a free “transit school” in the neighborhood, and counseled with families to encourage them to send their kids to get an education. Shivani and her family were reluctant, and she started at just one hour a day. Now she goes to school from 8am until 2pm, and her parents love that she is learning, even though money is still short in their family.

Running down the narrow alleys of her neighborhood, Shivani navigates her way out of the slums.

Just at the entrance, a child sits crafting bamboo baskets. Plunking herself besides heaps of bamboo poles, Shivani describes the process of making a bamboo basket.

“First we cut a bamboo pole into small pieces. Then each piece is split into two from the middle. After measuring, the pieces are made into thin strips. We peel strips. Once the peeling is done the bamboo is shaped and molded by hammering it. Then nails are put in so the shapes stay. That’s how a basket is made.”

Passed on from one generation to another, the bamboo craft making is the sole means by which the Kumar family endured poverty. At a very young age, Shivani stared poverty in the eye. A shortage of money and the illness of her mother nudged her into following the path of her forefathers.

“Extreme poverty compels children to quit their studies and start working at a young age. Parents, out of desperation, decide to send their child to work and it is done at the expense of education,” says Binu Zachariah, a project manager of World Vision India.

Shivani Kumar was seven when she first held a saw in her tiny hands to cut bamboo poles.

Crafting varied types of baskets was all she knew and basket-making became a natural phenomenon in her life. From 10am to 6pm, the women of the Kumar family dedicated their entire day towards intricately piecing the bamboo sticks together into baskets that were sold for only 0.07 US cents per basket.

“I could make about 10 to 20 baskets in a day. Along with my sister and mother, we made about 50 baskets which my father went to sell in the local markets,” Shivani says.

Awarding priority to survival, education was deemed insignificant. Sunita Kumar, Shivani’s mother, understood this predicament as she faced the same dilemma when she was young.

“I did go to school and studied till grade 7 but my parents had challenges to face so they pulled me out of school and decided not to educate me further. We had to support our family in terms of getting income. Looking at their helplessness, I let go of my wish to study. We were not able to educate our children because we do not have money. We earn just enough to survive. I felt pain when my children had to go to work in front of me. It was time for them to play and study but they had to work out of necessity,” Sunita Kumar says.

In 2011, the Tallawamandi transit school instituted by World Vision India was opened in the area with the intention of providing basic education to children such as Shivani. The process of rehabilitation from work to school was an uphill battle and a very gradual process.

“We informed the people living in this settlement about the importance of education and why working at a young age is detrimental for the growth of a child. We told the community that with studies, the children have a solid future. Parents would ask us how they will benefit by sending children to school. ‘We would lose hands at work,’ they would say. They only saw the now and present. The future was too far away for them to be concerned about. But with counseling and awareness programs, we were able to persuade them to send the children to the transit school for short periods. The children came in for an hour and then went off to work. Slowly, an hour became two and the children started taking interest in studies. Then we had to get the parents’ support and consent to enroll the children in local government schools,” says Kanchan Sharma, a World Vision volunteer.

Extremely restless on the first day of transit school, Shivani ran back home within 20 minutes. She had never been confronted by an environment conducive to learning. Everything was new for her. But curious to see what happened in class, the next day Shivani peeped in to see children like her holding books in their hands and reading out loud. She remembered the time when she had passed by a school where the gates were open, she had wished to study but she couldn’t due to her circumstances. Here, for the first time, she had an actual chance to learn.

“I saw the charts on the wall. It was all so colorful. The madam was teaching and I joined the class. I saw and learned about things for the first time. At first, I sat in class for only an hour then I went to work. But after a while I wished to stay longer and started to stay for two hours. I love learning from the charts. Now, I like studying,” Shivani says.

World Vision staff and volunteers got Shivani admitted into a local school. From 8am to 2pm, Shivani attends school. According to Seema Sharma, a World Vision volunteer, there is a lot of improvement in the way the Kumar family has started to regard education.

Earlier, none of their children went to school as they worked all day. But now, along with work, Shivani’s parents have agreed to send her siblings to the transit school.

Shivani’s mother, filled with pride, raves about her daughter and the transit center. “I started sending Shivani to the transit school because they don’t charge and they teach really well. I feel good that Shivani now goes to formal school, thanks to World Vision. I ask her everyday what she learned there. I also go to school and talk to her teachers and ask them about how my daughter is faring in class. Her teacher says she is good in studies. Now it is up to Shivani, what she wants to become. If she wants to be a teacher, why not, at least she will be standing on her own two feet. She won’t be stretching her hand in front of anyone.”

In the past two years, through World Vision’s intervention programs, 115 children from Tallawamandi who were once child laborers have been weaned off work and are admitted into government schools. An additional 284 more children go to school and work short hours.

“Along with awareness programs and providing education through transit schools, there is a need to create sustainable sources of income for parents of child laborers. Once this sustainable income is guaranteed, then children who are attending school and working at the same time will not have to work at all. They would be completely rehabilitated,” says Awungshi Rumthao Kahor, a finance officer of World Vision India.

Shivani has started a new trend among her peers. Looking at the example set by her family, others in the community are gradually sending their children to the Tallawamandi transit school, a small step towards winning the battle against child labor.

Shivani has dreams and aspirations for the direction in which her life should head. Having strong opinions on the issue of child labor, she says, “Children should study. Studies will help in the future and we can become something great. We can do work which has more English in it. I want to be a teacher and teach children. If I see children working, as a teacher, I would advise them to study. If the children don’t listen, I will advise their parents to send them to school to get education. It will be good for them. They would become something in life.”

The financial situation in Shivani’s home is still difficult. But Shivani’s parents are still determined to educate their children. Life without studies is unimaginable for Shivani anymore. With a big grin on her face Shivani says, “I will not leave studies because I like it now.”

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