Five years ago, the communities where we work were almost entirely illiterate. Children dropped out of school as young as aged 10. The boys would find labouring jobs and the girls would be expected to help at home until they were married off, thus repeating the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and misery endured by their parents.
But in 2016, with a modest donation from a local corporate, Tiljala SHED was able to extend the after-school classes and offer continuing educational support to youngsters from class 6 and upwards. These evening classes, at first covering just 25 students, attracted a huge amount of demand within the 4 communities where we work. Soon there were 50, then 100 and now we have over 200 students studying in class VI up to class XII. This year we have 8 students in college. This is unprecedented – this is the very first cohort to attend university.
So in five years these communities in Topsia, Park Circus and Tangra have gone from being almost entirely illiterate to having a serious cohort of literate young people. Many have now also completed diplomas in computer studies and during lockdown, thanks to our generous donors, we supplied them with smartphones.
This has transformed the community. Computer literacy means that the youngsters can help their families apply for government schemes – bank accounts, widows’ pensions, health insurance, ID cards, ration cards. They can help their parents with their businesses, reaching new customers.
Fahim (pictured) lost his mother in a terrible accident a couple of years ago and is now helping support his family as well as being one of our first cohort of undergraduates. He takes on labouring jobs at the moment but would like to become a delivery driver with one of India’s app based delivery firms. He has the knowledge, the motivation and the smartphone and has asked us for a bicycle. He assures me this won’t interfere with his college studies. We fully support all our undergraduates taking on part time work as we know that it is their job skills and a reliable income that they need most of all. Fahim will get his bike very soon.
My colleague Parveen reports on Fahim:
Fahim is studying in First Year B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) in Bangabasi Morning College and preparing for his First Semester Government Examination to be held in March 2023. He is also one of the team members of the Topsia Cricket Academy under the leadership of Rehan, a youngster from the same community. He goes for the cricket practices held twice a week on Thursdays and Sundays from 6 to 10 am in Park Circus government playground. He is interested in doing a part time delivery boy job for which he requested Shanty Trust for a bicycle. He sometimes does temporary part time jobs as daily labourer to earn some money to meet his most basic requirements and support his family. He also helps his father in household work such as cooking and washing ever since his mother died in a road accident. Fahim is a quiet fellow who is very obedient and well behaved.
With your generosity we can do the same for others. A bicycle costs about £80/USD100.
Whenever I visit Kolkata my top priority and absolute favourite visit is to our education centres. 600 children from Kolkata's canalside and railway squatter camps come every day after school for our classes. They love the joyful environment, learning songs, dancing and crafts. They receive remedial help with their school work and plenty of extra tuition from our dedicated teaching staff. We ensure they are properly fed and look out for their safety, noting any problems at home or at school and providing any additional help they need. The most important outcome of our classes is the love of learning and the children's enthusiasm to continue their education and aspire to a better life. Below some of the children tell their own stories.
I am Kashmira, 11, studying in Class IV (Topsia Primary School). My father is a rag picker; my mother a domestic help. I stay beside the sewage canal in Topsia; the city wastewater passes our hut. Our family income is around Rs 200 to Rs 300 a day; during the rainy season, the income is lower as paper and waste rates decline.
It would not have been possible for me and my four siblings to study without Tiljala SHED’s support. We are first-generation learners. My favourite subject is maths and I aspire to become a doctor.
I am Aafreen, 10, studying in Class IV of Topsia Primary school. I aspire to become a doctor. My hobby is dancing. My father passed away when I was small. My mother’s run the family by selling Aaloo chatpati and jhaalmuri. We are four siblings. I stay beside the sewage canal in Topsia; the city wastewater passes our hut. I am the first-generation learners of our family.
I plan to change the destiny of my family with the power of education. I aspire to become a doctor. I will leave no stone unturned to achieve my goal.
It is the support from Tiljala SHED that we are still able to attend school and continue our education. My mother earns a small income of 250-300 a day which is very difficult to run the family. Your support will bring smile to us and help me to stay in school.
I am Altamash, 11, studying in V in a government school, staying beside the sewage canal in Mir Meher Ali Lane; the city waste-water passes our hut. I want to become a Professor (Scholar). My father is involved in leather cutting and mother a homemaker. My favourite subject is English and loves to play with my friends in my spare time. My family monthly income is Rs.8000 (US$ 100). We are 3 siblings. Tiljala SHED has supported me throughout my education, otherwise I would have been a drop out.
Note the gap between their own ambitions and their parents' reality. The kids best hope for a better future is education. Without our classes the children drop out of school aged between 10 and 13. The boys become labourers and the girls are married off, thus perpetuatin the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and misery.
Your contribution of just £11/$14 a month provides hope for one of these children. Please consider a regular donation.
Sultana is 19 years old, although she seems older. She is a natural leader in the Topsia Evening Class and one of the founding members who, in 2016, took the important decision to attend the new evening sessions the Topsia Centre and thus to continue her education beyond primary school. Until then Tiljala SHED was only able to offer classes to children up to class 6. And typically, once a child stopped attending our classes he or she also dropped out of school
From the age of 5 Sultana attended the primary after-school classes in the centre. 90 or more small children pile into a small room and spend 3 hours every day after school singing, playing and, of course, studying. Our teachers supplement their school education as well as provide a joyful learning experience and a love of learning. We keep the children safe and productively occupied while their parents work.
The children’s mothers are very grateful and most understand the importance of education. Illiterate themselves they supplement the family income either by rag picking (collecting and selling waste), domestic work (highly exploitative, long hours and badly paid) or chappal trimming (trimming sandals for 35 pence for 120 pairs). Sultana’s mother is no different. All these families live in illegal makeshift shelters with no running water or proper sanitation beside a canal (an open sewer effectively). All any mother wants is for a better life for her children than the life of poverty, drudgery and misery she endures.
At the age of 19 Sultana is resisting society's expectation that she will drop out and get married. Her mother is very supportive but also feels the pressure to conform. We will do everything we can to ensure that Sultana can fulfil her dream of a better life.
The opening of the Evening Class, thanks to a local donor, has brought new hope for young girls and boys like Sultana and her friends. She has recently passed her class X exam and wants to remain in school for class XII and go on to college. She aspires to be a journalist although she is pragmatic and accepts that this is a high ambition. Thanks to your generosity we are sending Sultana and 24 others to computer training, which they absolutely love and which is going some way to preparing them for the next steps and levelling them up with kids from more privileged backgrounds.
It only costs £37 or USD45 to send one of these youngsters on a 6 month computer course. Or £30 a month for all the costs of keeping one secondary age youngster fully supported in education (including all tuition fees, uniform, computer classes etc)
What if Tiljala SHED did not run education centres in 5 of Kolkata’s most deprived communities?
See this report from Parveen, programme co-ordinator at Tiljala SHED: “Sajjat is a 16-year-old boy residing in a slum beside the railway track near Park Circus in Kolkata, India. He is studying in Kazi Nazrul Islam High School Class X. His father is a casual labourer and his mother is a maid servant.
His father does not get regular work. He is an alcoholic and most of the money he earns is wasted on addiction. The family is dependent on the income of his mother which is not adequate. Very often the family has to compromise on food intake.
Sajjat had become a rag picker and had stopped attending school. We counselled him and his family especially his father on the importance of education. Sajjat realized his mistake and rejoined school. Now he is regularly attending school. His father was insisting that he should continue working to support the family. But he did not agree with his father. He wants to study. Besides attending school he also attends evening classes the Topsia Coaching Centre. Sajjat is doing well in studies and has a special aptitude for drawing and painting. He is also good in sports.”
441 children aged between 5 and 18 who live in five of Kolkata’s most marginalised communities attend classes outside school hours run by Tiljala SHED and paid for by you. Sajjat is one of these children.
I have been doing a thought experiment – what would life be like for those children if they did not have this opportunity?
Over the last 2 years of the pandemic NONE of the primary aged children (147 girls and 116 boys) would have had ANY education at all as government schools were continuously closed in Kolkata from March 2020 to February 2022.
In fact our centres remained open throughout all but the severest lockdowns providing these 263 children with a routine, remedial classes every weekday, nutrition and attention to their rights and their health and their safety. We have helped keep these children, who are highly vulnerable to dropping out, child labour and child marriage, on the path to literacy and a better future.
For the older children aged 11-18, 124 girls and 54 boys, secondary schools did open, but only for a few weeks and only for youngsters in classes 10, 11 and 12. There was no school for classes 6 – 9. Without our education centres many of these children would, like Sajjat, have drifted away from education. Many families fell into hunger and destitution because the breadwinners were unable to go to work. Even beggars and ragpickers were swept from the streets. Street vendors, maidservants, rickshaw drivers, factory workers - all daily wage earners – couldn’t work for months and their families went hungry.
But because of Tiljala SHED’s Education centres and our programme of educational support, we were able to supply smartphones to all the youngsters who needed them to access their education online. These 178 youngsters attended daily classes throughout and have stayed motivated to continue and get their qualifications. These are communities where passing board exams is unheard of, let alone going on to higher education, but this year we expect to see our first cohort do just that. There are 4 boys and 5 girls in class XI or XII with big ambitions. Without our education programme, the girls would be married, bearing children, illiterate and hopeless and the boys would be labouring, driving rickshaws or even joining gangs.
These 9 are just the start and will be an inspiration to the rest.
Thank you for supporting this programme. You have brought promise and hope to all.
You can support a primary age child for just £11 a month and a secondary school student for £30 a month.
Mansur is 11 years old. He lives in a hut made of bamboo poles with a plastic roof and a mud floor in the Park Circus Railway Squatter community, a vast shanty town stretched out along the railway tracks beside Park Circus Station in Central Kolkata, India. Here many families subsist through rag picking, begging and other very low paid daily labour. Mansur lives with his grandmother, once a rag picker but who now begs for a living (earning just 50 – 60 rupees a day), with his parents, Shakila and Mannu, his sister and 2 uncles, aged 11 and 17. His father is a cycle rickshaw driver. He earns 5000 – 6000 rupees a month (£50 - £60).
Tiljala SHED runs after school coaching classes in its community centre right there beside the rails and Mansur is an enthusiastic attendee every day after school.
The children are fortunate to have Mehnaz as their teacher and she reports that he is a very bright boy. He is in class VII in a local government school. Schools were closed for over a year during the pandemic and many children from vulnerable families dropped out. Boys as young as 10 find menial work in factories or informal restaurants to help support their struggling families. They soon drop out of school altogether finding the money more motivating than their school work and end up illiterate and faced with a life of poverty and hard labour.
Lockdown was particularly hard for families like Mansur’s. Mannu couldn’t go out to work for many weeks when India first locked down and then when he was able to go out onto the streets there was very little work. Tiljala SHED supported Mansur’s family with dry rations during this time.
Despite the terrible hardships Mansur and his family must have endured over the last 18 months, Mansur returned to the coaching centre as soon as it opened again and is now happily back at school.
Thanks to your support, we at Tiljala SHED will continue to provide the support and encouragement he needs to stay in education because that is his only hope for a better future.
This programme provides daily after school coaching for 600 children from extremely vulnerable households. Alongside their academic studies they enjoy singing, especially in English, art and other creative activities. Through our Child Protection programme we ensure the children are safe both inside and outside the home and we help them to understand their rights.
Thank you as ever for your generous support. It costs just £11 a month to provide all this for a child like Mansur.
It costs £30 a month to sponsor one of our older secondary school students working towards public exams and college
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