When you visit the Topsia canalside squatter community in Kolkata, one of the things you’ll notice is how many men, women and children are engaged in “chappal trimming”. The manufacturer delivers truckloads of untrimmed rubber sandals to the community every morning. Workers are paid 50 rupees (about 58 pence or 72 cents) for trimming twelve dozen pairs. This is exploitative piecework – but many families rely on it to be able to eat.
My colleague, Chanchal, who runs the education project writes….
“RUKSHANA lives with her large family at Mazdoorpara Topsia . Her father Safdar, who was a driver, cannot work after he met with an accident. Now he is involved in trimming slipper straps along with other members of the family. The income from this activity is very low hence there is a perpetual pressure on meeting the basic need of the family. His eldest son has married but does not contribute toward the family expenses. His other son who works in a factory contributes a nominal amount. His eldest daughter who was once married but has separated for her husband also lives with them with her daughter. She works as a maidservant. Her income just about supports her and her daughter.
Rukshana is studying in class X in Panchkari Radharani Adarsha Vidyalaya.
She got admitted in school quite late because of the family’s weak financial position. She tries to help the family by trimming slipper straps.
Tiljala Shed is trying to help her to come up in life by giving her opportunity to learn computer operations and also providing free coaching. She likes to take active part in games so that she remains fit and healthy.
SUMAN and his brother SUMIT live at Mazdoorpara Topsia with their family members. Suman studies in class X. His father is Ram from a neighbouring state Bihar. He used to work in a factory and earned enough to maintain his family but he met with an accident and lost his hand while operating a machine. He was laid off and the family earnings plummeted. He along with other members of the family are now involved in trimming slipper straps which is a highly exploitative vocation. He tried to ply a van rickshaw but found it very difficult and had to give it up. One thing about the parents which is positive is that they want to educate their children who are also very much interested in studying. The brothers are very sincere and help to manage the class when required. They are also good in sports. We thinks they are very able and with our help they will do well
The boys have a dream to become successful in life and change the fortunes of the family."
The families in these two case studies are truly in need, as you’ll read. But despite this they are determined that the children will stay in education. This project provides the necessary support to ensure children from Kindergarten upwards are encouraged to stay in education. Every day we run after school classes in our Community Centres where the children come for remedial help with schoolwork. They have computer classes, singing lessons, homework support, sport, drama, nutritious snacks, occasional excursions and health care. The parents are engaged too: they are almost all illiterate themselves but they understand the importance of education and are encouraged to see the big picture and not to marry their daughters off early or withdraw their sons from school to send them to work.
Parveen and Suman have done extremely well. They are both studying in class 10. Until this project began it was unheard of for children in this community to remain in school much beyond class 5 (aged about 10). There are now dozens of young people who dare to dream of a better future than heavy labour or early marriage.
So if you ever visit the Topsia canalside squatter community, I hope you’ll notice how many young people are in school uniform, carrying books and school bags, perhaps heading off to well-paid work or to college. And that no family needs to trim chappals to feed hungry mouths.
Thank you for your continued support. We desperately need more donors to help keep this project afloat, so please share this with friends and family.