Nov 2, 2020

Shehnaz: Redemption in Education

Shehnaz recently
Shehnaz recently

This is Shehnaz. She lives in an illegal shack in Tangra, one Kolkata's squatter ragpicker communities. Her mother is a ragpicker. But Shehnaz is studying at Victoria College in the University of Calcutta. She wants to become a teacher. Until recently it was very unusual for us to persuade families to keep their daughters in education but Shahnaz is an exception. 

This is what I wrote about her in a report in January 2019

“To grow up the child of a rag picker puts you among one of the most marginalised and despised groups in society. Even within the slum where you live, you are at the back of the queue for water. In a highly stratified society you are right at the bottom. Shehnaz’s mother is a ragpicker. She supports her family of six by collecting cardboard, plastic, paper and metal waste from the streets and selling in on to dealers.

Unlike many other rag pickers Shehnaz’s mother wants her children to stay away from child labour and to get an education. All the children except Shehnaz’s disabled 6 year old brother attend school. We admitted Shehnaz to this programme because her mother couldn’t afford to pay for the additional tuition necessary for her daughter to pass her exams. Since then Shehnaz has passed her class X and is happily studying in class XI. With your support and her hard work she will pass class XII next year and have the opportunity to go into higher education.”

The COVID-19 lockdown and the closure of schools in India has put girls like Shahnaz at great risk of being pushed into early marriage. So we at Tiljala SHED have been extra vigilant throughout these difficult times ensuring that Shehnaz and the other girls have continued as far as possible with their education. This has meant in many cases supplying the whole family with food rations at times when there was no work for daily labourers and even beggars and ragpickers couldn’t go outside to scrape a living from the streets.

I am delighted that Shehnaz passed her class XII and is now at University - she is unique in her community . And in order to help her access her education online we will be giving her a smartphone later this week.  She will be able to keep in close contact with her lecturers and her curriculum. We have also mobilised a team of volunteers who will provide technical support, mentoring and career advice – all to be delivered via Shehnaz’s phone. 

We still desperately need sponsors to come forward with support for more girls like Shehnaz. It is girls like her who will go on to bring positive change to her community and to help other vulnerable girls to escape a future of abuse, poverty and exploitation.

Just £30 a month can transform a life and even a community…

Sep 8, 2020

"Hunger will surely kill us even if the virus doesn't"

Taking Food Relief to Abijul's Community
Taking Food Relief to Abijul's Community

Ajibul is a daily wage earner. He lives in the Sundarbans, a rural area in the Ganges delta. At the best of times 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Since lockdown and Cyclone Amphan, it is far far worse. He has 3 children: his two daughters study in Class VIII and V respectively. His son studies in class III. His monthly income was just Rs.3000 (USD40 GBP30) before the crisis. Since lockdown started it has been the biggest challenge of his life to find work. All his savings are finished. His family survives on the relief provided by social organizations and sometimes by the government. The lockdown has taken away his livelihood. Ajibul has been searching for a regular work like before but to his surprise he could not find any except a few working days of the month.

He says, “Even if we don’t die of coronavirus, surely we will die of hunger and poverty.”

He was very happy with the food parcel though “We are very grateful to the people and the organization who took this initiative and came so far to help us out in this crisis situation.”

For Abijul and his family, COVID19, seems less of a threat than the lockdown itself. Families who depend on the wages of daily labourers found themselves with nothing to eat. Savings were quickly used up and families went hungry. Across India individuals, local government and philanthropic organisations have rallied to help the poorest members of society. Food parcel distributions are a common sight but the need is vast.

Tiljala SHED, as a grassroots organisation working closely with Kolkata’s very vulnerable urban communities, is ideally placed to deliver relief when and where it is most needed. Over the past months Tiljala SHED has been able to distribute food rations to over 6500 families.  We distributed rations to the communities where we normally work, bringing livelihood support and education to rag picker and ultra-poor families. But we also went further afield, delivering aid where it was most needed across the cityand in rural West Bengal.  

On 4th August,with a special donation from GlobalGiving, collected by Facebook in the wake of Cyclone Amphan, our team of volunteers took food relief to Abijul’s community in the Sundarbans. Living on islands and very low-lying land in the Ganges delta and many surviving on crab fishing, this population, already living below the poverty line, were especially hard hit as the flooding form the Cyclone meant they couldn’t rebuild their homes. We purchased the rice, flour, dal, onions and other items in Kolkata and took a truck and boat out to Prathar Pratima to deliver emergency relief.

Your contribution to this Emergency Food and Medicine Project has been a lifesaver throughout the COVID19 pandemic.   As infection rates rise throughout India, the poor will continue to be the hardest hit, and your contributions will be more important than ever as the effects of the disease itself roll out in these vulnerable communities. It is easy to grow weary of this dreadful situation but please consider a special donation to boost funds. We have now spent every rupee so far donated to this project and desperately need contributions so that we can continue to help those most in need.

Beneficiary with food parcels
Beneficiary with food parcels
Queuing for Food Parcels
Queuing for Food Parcels
Food distribution - queuing
Food distribution - queuing
Abijul
Abijul

Links:

Jul 22, 2020

How COVID lockdown affected this project

Looking forward to coming back to class
Looking forward to coming back to class

I last reported on this project on 24th March just as country after country around the world was going into lockdown, including India. 
Overnight, India's informal economy was forced to a halt. The daily labourers, rickshaw drivers, street vendors, domestic helpers, beggars and ragpickers found themselves unable to earn the daily wage they needed to feed themselves and their families. Starvation was only days away for many.
Schools closed and so did our after-school classes, the daily gatherings of up to 100 children in each of our community centres. 600 children from families which now faced an unknown future with no work and no income. The importance of education was brought into sharp focus by the lockdown. First, the children lost the midday meal and the day’s schooling provided by the state. Second, they lost the Tiljala SHED classes. They lost the joyful learning experience, the singing, the drama, the child protection education, the homework support, remedial education, the sport, the computer classes, the extra tuitions, the excursions, the library, the one-to-one support of our exceptional staff. Now they were at home and hungry.

Tiljala SHED’s main focus became overnight the relief of hunger. Swiftly Tiljala SHED's staff was reduced to the few who lived close enough to reach the target communities and an emergency office was set up in T SHED's Beauty Training Parlour.  We could no longer run our education programme but instead we needed to ensure all these children and their families were well and able to eat. 

Donations began to arrive from local philanthropic groups. Sacks of rice, lentils, flour, onions, biscuits, masks, gloves, hand sanitiser. We set up fundraising pages  at GiveIndia and here on GlobalGiving. As Support began to roll in, our amazing staff rolled up their sleeves and got to work. Since early April Tiljala SHED has distributed food aid to well over 30,000 people. The team is exhausted but they are doing an incredible job. Crowds of destitute people line the alley way beside the emergency office begging for help. Staff take names, distribute coupons, purchase vast quantities of supplies, package it for individual families and then distribute. All through the hottest time of year, through Ramadan and now through the monsoon.

And when this is all over, we need to regroup, and most importantly to get these children and their families back in their feet. The children will need to be coaxed back into school (where they are often discriminated against because of their poverty) and welcomed back into our daily classes (which they love). Your donations will be more important than ever as we rebuild the education programme and support the children to reach for better lives and good employment in mainstream society.

Tiljala SHED itself is also going to need institutional support: our immediate crisis is the vehicle. Our 12 year old van is finally worn out. Without it we cannot bring the aid to people who still desperately need it, so please consider today a donation towards replacing the van. We also still badly need donations for emergency food relief.

Thank you

Emergency Food Distribution
Emergency Food Distribution
Park Circus class - January 2020
Park Circus class - January 2020

Links:

 
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