MAGIC BUS USA

Magic Bus will give millions of children living in poverty the opportunity to control the way they view the world, the freedom to choose the role they will play in it, and the power to define their own destiny.
Sep 12, 2016

19-Year-Old Nazmeen paves her own path...

Once Discouraged from Studying, This 19-Year-Old Is Now on Her Way to Becoming a Teacher

Nineteen-year-old Nazmeen battled gender bias, family pressure and societal expectations, but never gave up on her dream to get educated. Today, thanks to her job, she helps support her family. 

Nazmeen lives in Haiderpur, in North Delhi. Her father migrated from Bihar in search of better livelihood opportunities, leaving his wife, Nazmeen’s mother, behind. Nazmeen was not even born then.

“This is a common occurrence; men marry, then leave their wives and go to the cities in search of work” she explains.

After three years, Nazmeen’s mother decided to follow her husband to Delhi. She had three children by then. With no source of income and little to no support from her husband, it became increasingly inconvenient for her to just depend on relatives.

Her struggles followed her to Delhi where she lived at the slum cluster, Anand Parvat, with her children. Her husband worked as an ice-cream vendor and earned a meagre income.

There were days when the family of five would go without food.

Yet, Nazmeen’s father would give no more than Rs 500 to support his family. The rest of his income would go towards alcohol and gambling.

On a neighbour’s advice, Nazmeen’s mother decided to move to a juggi at Haiderpur, with her children. She also started working as a domestic help, earning Rs. 2,500 per month.

The family was saved from starvation; but the limited income still meant that Nazmeen’s older brothers had to stop going to school and take up daily wage work at construction sites instead.

In her mother’s absence, Nazmeen’s older sister discontinued schooling and took up domestic responsibilities. At 17, Nazmeen’s oldest sister got married.

“She is 30 years old now and has four children. She was pregnant within a year of her marriage, at 18. I never found out what her dreams were. I shudder to think of a life like hers,” Nazmeen says, her voice breaking as she recalls the many opportunities denied to her sister.

Nazmeen got a chance to go to school at the age of six. She would see children in the neighbourhood go to school and plead with her mother to send her to one. Her younger brother followed in her footsteps and also got enrolled in school.

“I remember both of us went to get enrolled. We were the last ones and the school refused admission. On pleading with them, they said one of us could get enrolled. My brother asked me to take the seat. ‘I will get enrolled in the next year, behen,’ he said. I will never forget that moment. It was then that I vowed to make the most of the opportunity I had been given, ” her voice struggles to remain steady.

Throughout school, Nazmeen worked hard, never forgetting her brother’s sacrifice, her mother’s struggles and her own resolve to make the best out of the opportunity she alone had. She never came second in class.

When Nazmeen came home with a glowing report card at the end of each year, there would be no one to share her happiness. Her mother, worn out by financial troubles, would ‘place her hand on her head, utter a blessing and wipe a tear from the corner of her eyes.’

“It would leave me with an overwhelming sense of guilt that I was not supporting her financially. But, I would console myself by saying that a time would come when I would support her better, with better pay and working conditions,” she explains.

Nazmeen scored 75 percent in the tenth standard. Her teachers were happy with her performance, but she was sad. She knew her family would not support her dream to study further.

Her mother confirmed her worst fears. “She asked me to take sewing lessons instead. She was concerned that I did not have any skills to become a suitable bride,” Nazmeen laughs.

“I pleaded with my mother to send me to school. After a lot of fights, she permitted me to study for two more years. I was relieved,” she says.

Nazmeen paid her school fees from a scholarship she had won for her academic achievements in the tenth standard. “I came first in the 11th standard examination and scored 86% in my higher secondary examinations,” she says with a hint of pride in her voice.

Nazmeen knew her mother would not allow her to go to college, but wanted to make one last attempt to convince her. She requested her mother to accompany her to the school to collect her higher secondary report card. At school, her mother met Nazmeen’s teachers. All of them heaped praises on her daughter’s performance and appealed to her to let Nazmeen study further. But she was not convinced.

“My brothers supported my mother’s decision to not allow me to go to college. They were worried that I would become ‘too educated’ to get any groom,” she explains.

Nazmeen soon found a way to go to college. She had Rs. 6,000 in her bank account from a government programme (Ladli Scheme) for adolescent girls in Delhi. She got herself enrolled in an open learning course (BA in Political Science) in Delhi University.

“No one in my family knew about it. I wanted to study further. After coming so far, I didn’t want to stop. I chose this course because there would be no regular classes, just one examination in six months. I thought I could make an excuse and give my examination,” she explains.

A year ago, another opportunity came her way. Magic Bus’ programme had just begun in her locality. Pooja, a Youth Mentor, approached her with an offer: How would she like teaching children the importance of education through activities?

“I loved the idea. I thought I could make use of my free time and teach children. But my mother refused to allow me to step outside. She was not comfortable with the fact that both boys and girls would come for these sessions.” she explains. Pooja, however, succeeded in convincing her mother to send Nazmeen for the sessions. But, on the first day itself, her brother told her that such freedom is not ‘honourable’ for adolescent girls and strictly forbade her from going to the sessions ever again. “I was a Community Youth Leader for a day,” she sighs.

Pooja never lost touch with Nazmeen. She would often visit her and talk to her about her career plans. It was from Pooja that Nazmeen first heard about Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre. Pooja convinced her mother to send her for these classes, assuring her that she would be under strict supervision.

Nazmeen started attending the training at the centre from November 2015. She started classes on life-skills, computer lessons and English literacy. The staff helped her plan her career ahead. But Nazmeen seemed to have hit a dead end. She didn’t want to dream any further.

“I was exhausted fighting at home. I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to do a job. I knew they were looking for a groom for me. I shared my problems with the counsellor. I shared my dream of becoming a teacher one day. She listened to me. She gave me the confidence to negotiate with my mother again. She assured me that she would even come to my house to meet my mother. I have never received such support from anyone in my life,” Nazmeen says.

Nothing Nazmeen said could convince her mother to allow her to work. “She told me clearly that our neighbours would start looking down on my brothers if I start working outside. I was crestfallen. I thought my luck had run out,” Nazmeen says.

The next day, she was surprised to find the Centre Coordinator and the Counsellor at her house; they spoke to her mother and brothers. “If it hadn’t been for them, I would have been stuck at home now. All my efforts would have gone in vain,” she says.

In December 2015, Nazmeen got her first job with the HDFC bank for a salary of Rs. 10,000 a month.

“I couldn’t believe it. For the first time, my mother was happier than me. She knew I could support her financially,” she says, adding, “I don’t fault her for being difficult with me all these years. She had never seen anything better during her youth. She was my sole confidante all this while. My father was never there for any of us, but she was.”

Nazmeen gives a part of her salary to her mother and saves a small part for a teacher-training course.

“I haven’t forgotten my dream yet; it is to be a teacher,” her voice sparkles with silent excitement as she looks forward to her dreams with renewed vigour. 

Jun 16, 2016

Divya Mahawar: Dreaming of an Equal World

Divya, arriving at her Magic Bus session.
Divya, arriving at her Magic Bus session.

“A girl is no less than a boy. We learned it in a Magoc Bus session. Then, why should she not go to school? Why should she get married?” 

12-year-old Divya lives in Shanker Nagar in Jaipur, a hilly area surrounded by the historic forts of Nahargarh and Amber. Home to Koli Mahawars, a Scheduled Caste (SC) group, Shanker Nagar’s residents are mostly unskilled workers. 

The earliest account of this area is hardly historic or impressive to the tourists drawn to Jaipur’s royal forts and temples. Only the oldest residents like Divya’s grandfather remember the struggle to find work during those days “when most of the area was covered by forest”. Although much has changed about the settlement, the struggle for livelihood continues to underwrite the lives of its dwellers. 

“The forests have receded. Our houses are now made of brick. But, finding a job which brings in enough money to make ends meet is still a distant dream,” says Divya’s grandfather pausing only to remark about the insignificance of recalling a past which is no different from the present.

For the poor of Shanker Nagar, history isn’t demarcated into eras. Divya belongs to the same Koli Mahawar caste as the rest of the families in Sunder Nagar. Her father is a plumber and mother, a homemaker. The monthly income of the family stands at 5000 rupees.

Divya reads in the sixth standard of a local private school. She has two brothers. One of them goes to school while the other is too young to be enrolled. She lives with her extended family: three uncles, aunts, grandmother, and several cousins.

Her perception of life is influenced by her parents’ constant encouragement to dream of a better future after she completes her higher education. 

“I want to be a doctor. People in my community laugh it off saying I can do no better than my father.  But, I know, I will prove them wrong,” she says.

She joined Magic Bus a year ago. “People living in Shanker Nagar lack gainful livelihood options. Most of the inhabitants work as unskilled labourers just like Divya’s father. Alcoholism is common. Initially, there was no open and safe space for children to come out and play. The area we chose for our sessions was a little away from the community, right at the foothills. We made efforts to ensure that children are safe when they come here”, says Magic Bus’ Neelima who is in charge of the Magic Bus programme in Jaipur.

Her words are echoed by Divya. “Our community used to be unsafe for children because of alcoholics. Once during a Magic Bus session, a man approached a girl in my group to “play with him behind the trees”. Bhaiya and didi (local terms referring to Magic Bus’ Community Youth Leaders) immediately protested. I, too, stood up and asked the man to back off and mind his own business. I did not feel afraid to stand up to a man twice my age. Such incidents are common but we have learnt not to remain silent”.

Divya shares how a girl in her area was sold off by her own uncle so that he could buy alcohol. At a personal front, she has often faced crude jokes for being “dark-skinned”, a quality, her neighbours and children of her age, associated with “difficulties of getting a groom without paying a large dowry”. 

Her dream of being a doctor has been rebuffed by many as an impractical and impossible dream as she was a “daughter of a plumber”.

Such incidents have led her to recognise the unequal treatment meted out to girls and women. It has also helped her find a way to address them through the Magic Bus programme.

“Silence is definitely not the way out”, she says emphatically. “Ever since I joined Magic Bus, I have grown confident of my ability to make it big in this world. With my mentors support, I have stood up to people who tease me about my skin colour or look down upon my dream to become a doctor. I have decided never to discriminate or tolerate discrimination, she shares.

She feels that other children who come for the Magic Bus sessions have changed a lot in the way they behave with each other, particularly towards children of the opposite sex. “Children who would earlier say demeaning things to each other, or behave rudely have changed their ways after coming to the sessions. Children who come to the Magic Bus sessions stay away from alcohol and substances. I have seen many of them encouraging their peers, and sometimes even their parents, to give up on alcohol and other substances”.

She points out the exact reason for her interest in the sessions. “All of us get to learn something new when we come to these sessions instead of sitting at home”. The lessons learnt during the sessions are not quickly forgotten. They are discussed in the peer circles and with parents. Divya’s mother testifies how her daughter is always excited about the “new information” she learns at Magic Bus sessions. 

“She is the leader among the younger children. She makes sure no one misses out a session”, shares her mother.

“A girl is no less than a boy. We learnt it in a session. Then, why should she not go to school? Why should she get married?” she asks. Her parting question tells us much about a 12-year-old’s conception of a gender-equal world.

Mar 21, 2016

How 16-year-old Mamta rewrote her own destiny

Mamta, inspiring youth at our annual Youth Summit
Mamta, inspiring youth at our annual Youth Summit

In 2015, Magic Bus launched its first series of Youth Livelihood Centers across India.  These centers serve as skills training hubs in the disadvantaged communities in which Magic Bus works.  Every year tens of thousands of impoverished youth across India proudly become the first secondary school graduates in their family, but don't have the access to markets that is required to get a job.

The Magic Bus Youth Livelihood program is designed for these youth in mind.  It is a one year program that coincides with the youth's final year in high school.  The program trains the youth in computer skills, interviewing skills, and resume building skills that are vital to securing employment.  This cohort of students also serve as a network for one another where they can study and practice together.  

On March 4th, Magic Bus held its first ever Convocation and Employment Assembly for graduates of this first batch of the Youth Livelihoods program in Delhi.  The photo shows Mamta sharing her inpiring story with the audience.

When she was 16, Mamta's father was involved in a horrible accident that left him unable to use either of his arms. Overnight, he was unable to provide for his family of four and the family's INR 4,000 (USD $60) per month vanished and Mamta and her family were relegated to borrowing money for basic groceries.

She shared that borrowing money to cover costs was unsustainable, so the her family made the very difficult decision to leave their village in search of opportunity and found themselves taking shelter at Mamta's uncle's home in Jasola - a very poor slum community in Delhi.  While her uncle showed kindness in taking her family in, his view on gender equality and girls' education didn't portray the same kindness.

"From day one, my uncle decided that as a girl with a disabled father, I had no business attending school," Mamta shared.  He argued that the sooner she was able to get married, the sooner she would have a husband who could provide for her and would be one less mouth for her mother and father to feed.

For millions of girls like Mamta, the daily pressures of living in poverty, being forced to drop out of school and into a marriage before they turn 18 - is rooted in this logic.

Mamta shared that this is when she was introduced to Magic Bus and her mentor Mohit.  Mohit says, "Mamta continued on in school with Magic Bus helping her stand up to her uncle and graduated high school!  This is a testament to her fighting spirit."

Mamta had shared with her audience her next step in her Magic Bus journey:

"My Magic Bus mentors recognized the potential I had to break the future that was 'destined' for girls like me and I enrolled in the Youth Livelihood Center in Jasola.  Over the next 4 months, I developed the skills I needed to find and keep a job in the retail sector.  My Magic Bus mentors even accompanied me to the interview."

Mamta was overjoyed when she learned that her hard work and determination helped her land the job.  Over the last 5 months, she has been working as a salesperson at a leading home decor store located 8 km from her home.  

"I earn INR 11,000 every month and I have opened a government savings account and get one day off every week," she smiles.  "It feels so good to know that I am the provider for my family."

"The best thing about our training is that it gives Mamta a competitive advantage at work," says Mohit, who continues to provide Mamta with the information, advice, and guidance a first-generation office worker needs. "The fact that she was the only one in her cohort to be promoted within 5 months of starting her first job proves the value of the skills she has learned."

 
   

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