Apr 8, 2019

Your donation is worth 60% more this week

Kashmira loves school and our after school classes
Kashmira loves school and our after school classes

Each time I visit the Topsia Community Centre, I am bowled over by the children's singing.


Tiljala SHED’s 5 community centres are located in the heart of each of the 5 highly vulnerable communities where we work. The Topsia Centre can only be reached by crossing a footbridge over filthy water onto an island where 700 families live in illegal shelters surrounded by the foetid run-off from Kolkata’s sewerage system. Many won’t visit purely because of the smell. For the 150 children who attend our afterschool classes this is the only home they have ever known.


Step into the centre after 3 pm and you’ll be greeted with songs and poems. Although the children do not learn English at school, they have an extraordinary ability to pick up the language from the songs they learn after school. A working knowledge of written and spoken English provides a route out of the slum and into mainstream society. And they know it. If I ask the older ones what they really want, they all agree it is English lessons.


This week, all donations up to $50 (£38) are being matched 60% by GlobalGiving. This means that a £38 donation from a UK tax payer would be worth £70 to us. And that is enough to pay a month’s wages to a dedicated English teacher.
Please consider an additional donation this week or even set up a new regular donation, so that we can appoint English teachers in our 5 centres and give these children this opportunity to change their futures.

About the project
600 children of rag pickers, rickshaw drivers, maidservants, vegetable sellers are enrolled on Tiljala SHED's Education and Child Protection programme. They are required to attend their local government school but in the afternoon they attend remedial classes in T SHED's 5 centres, one in the heart of each community where we work. Here they play, sing, complete their homework, attend remedial sessions and child protection workshops. They love the classes and attendance is very high. Their parents are also closely involved - after all it is only with the parents' consent that the children remain in education and avoid dropping out. Tiljala SHED works very hard to persuade the parents that a proper education is worth the sacrifice of anything a boy might earn rag picking or working in a factory. And infinitely better than marrying off a daughter as soon as she reaches puberty.

 

Kashmira
Kashmira is nearly 7 years old and she lives in the Topsia squatter camp with her family.  Bablu, her father, makes about £1.50 ($2) a day pulling a riskshaw. Her mother, Meena, supplements this meagre income by working as a maidservant for £17 ($22) a month. At the moment, Bablu is sick and hasn’t been able to work for a while.  This is common: hard labour and poverty makes you vulnerable to illness, especially at this time of year when it is so hot. But to meet Kashmira you wouldn’t guess what hardship her family suffers.  She is the life and soul of the Topsia class.  At just 6 years old, she is a natural performer and leads the entire class of around 60 children in singing. She also loves school and is a top performer there too.  But sadly the realities of life in a community like this mean that there is a high chance of Kashmira dropping out of education and being married off as young as 14 to repeat the cycle of poverty, exploitation and child bearing.  All this energy and potential would be wasted. She needs your support to help her stay in education and make a different future fort herself.  It costs just £11 ($15) per month to support a child like Kashmira

Kashmira in Feb 2018
Kashmira in Feb 2018
After school session at Topsia
After school session at Topsia

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Mar 11, 2019

Usha - The "Sareewalli"

Usha receives her cheque
Usha receives her cheque

Each time I visit Kolkata I make a point of visiting as many of the beneficiaries of this project as I can. Mainly because these women’s stories are so uplifting. Read here how a small micro loan of just £200 empowers a woman to lift herself out of poverty.


"Usha’s husband died just few years after her marriage. She has 2 sons. They were very small when her husband passed away.
 After her husband passed away she faced struggle and hardship and ultimately, she became a maidservant and it was just contributing Rs.1500-2000 per month to her family. This small income was not enough. Usha always wanted to do something big which she had in her mind. But time was not with her and she faced many hurdles. She became a part of the CIG and eventually she got a loan of Rs.20,000/ to start her saree business. She is selling sarees door to door and also gets her customer at her doorstep. She lives in a small hut at Topsia canal side and the condition of the house is ramshackle. With her sincere effort, the saree business was booming, and her sales were touching skies. She repaid the loan in 6 months which had a time period of 10 months. She has bigger plans for her expansion. She applied for loan again and after discussion with the CIGs she again got a loan but this time Rs.30, 000/. She is the first beneficiary to get a Rs.30, 000/ loan and she is repaying fast without any delay.
After her husband passed away she faced struggle and hardship and ultimately, she became a maidservant and it was just contributing Rs.1500-2000 per month to her family. This small income was not enough. Usha always wanted to do something big which she had in her mind. But time was not with her and she faced many hurdles. She became a part of the CIG and eventually she got a loan of Rs.20,000/ to start her saree business. She is selling sarees door to door and also gets her customer at her doorstep. She lives in a small hut at Topsia canal side and the condition of the house is ramshackle. With her sincere effort, the saree business was booming, and her sales were touching skies. She repaid the loan in 6 months which had a time period of 10 months. She has bigger plans for her expansion. She applied for loan again and after discussion with the CIGs she again got a loan but this time Rs.30, 000/. She is the first beneficiary to get a Rs.30, 000/ loan and she is repaying fast without any delay.
 
With her income she is planning to shift from her kacha kouse (temporary makeshift) to pucca (permanent structure) house in the slum which is an indication of her stable income. She is famous in the area and people call her "sareewali" - the sari seller. Usha is trying her best to transform her life. She is one of many who inspire us in our daily life.”


Almost 400 women have now benefited from this fantastic project. We desperately need new funds so we can continue to provide loans and ultimately make this project entirely self sustaining. 

 

Feb 1, 2019

Rehan wants to be a software engineer

Rehan wants to be a software engineer
Rehan wants to be a software engineer

Education is one of the most effective agents of change in society. When a child is able to go to school today, he or she sets off a cycle of positive change. But, thousands of children in India lack access to education and can’t even write their own names. (CRY India)

This is Rehan. He is 15 years old and lives with his parents in a makeshift shelter in the Topsia Canalside Squatter Camp, a narrow strip of land with huge open sewers running down either side. There is no proper sanitation, no toilets and the 2 drinking water taps (for 710 families) operate for just a few hours a day. Many of the residents here are rag pickers but all work in the informal economy: rickshaw drivers, fruit sellers, daily labourers. Illiteracy, child marriage, child labour, domestic abuse, alcoholism and substance abuse are rife. Rehan’s father is a rickshaw driver earning Rs3000 – 4000 (£33 - £44) per month. His mother is a housewife. Rehan’s older siblings have all married and moved away.

I met Rehan in Tiljala SHED’s Topsia community centre where he and 47 other youngsters gather after school every day for computer classes, remedial education evening classes and to meet as members of the Child Club. This group of young people astonished me: they explained how they are guardians of child protection in the community, how they recently had a child marriage stopped by going to the right authorities, how they know which children are labouring rather than going to school, that they know where abuse is happening. I asked them about themselves. Rehan told me he wants to be a software engineer. His friend Afsar is a talented dancer and would like to make a living from dancing. “If that doesn’t work” he told me “I want to be a policeman”. The girls laughed when I asked about marriage. Their mothers were married in their mid-teens, but the girls have bigger ambitions. Resham wants to be a journalist and Saika a scientist. Marriage is definitely not in the plan yet. All of them asked for English lessons.

Tiljala SHED is doing such amazing work in these desperately deprived communities and the ambitions of these young people are, to me, a potent sign of what can be done to lift society’s most vulnerable communities. There has never been, as far as we know, a single university graduate come out of the Topsia Squatter camp. Rehan and the others are determined to change that.

There is one more hero in this story. Rehan’s father, the rickshaw driver. From his meagre earnings he sends his son to a private English Medium School. It costs Rs600 (£6.70) per month and must be a huge sacrifice for the parents. But this is their investment in the future.

It is such a commonplace that the men in these communities are so broken by hard physical labour and the shame of poverty that they turn to drink and violence. “Oh, the husband is a useless fellow” my colleagues often say when I interview the women. Rehan’s father breaks the mould.

Tiljala SHED wants to do everything possible to support Rehan, his father’s dreams and all the bright ambitious young people in Topsia and the other rag picker communities where we work. But we need help desperately.

To provide each of the 600 children with remedial education, the child protection activities, nutrition, sport, computer classes, occasional excursions, access to healthcare etc. costs just Rs 1000 per month. Or £11per month per child

 

For a fraction of what we in the UK would spend on an hour’s maths tuition you could give hope to a rag picker’s child in Kolkata for a whole month.

Girls in the child club
Girls in the child club
Rehan and his friends - making a difference
Rehan and his friends - making a difference
Rehan
Rehan's home
 
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