These children come from the Topsia Squatter Community – a strip of land between 2 sewage canals. They are among the poorest and most marginalised in Kolkata (Calcutta). Opportunities for these children are rare but, thanks to you, Tiljala SHED provides a safe space and educational support for 600 children for 3 hours every day after-school. Sometimes others are prepared to cross the bridge over the stinking effluent to help out. In this case Mr Das, a black-belt Taekwondo teacher, conducts training in our community centre every Saturday and Sunday. The youngsters love it and are doing very well. Last week Mr Das took five of them to the West Bengal Taekwondo championships. Three of the five youngsters won medals – amongst a crowd of over 300 participants. An experience like this shows all the children that they CAN participate and succeed in mainstream society. The martial art makes the girls feel safer, provides an outlet for their energy and a much needed break from the daily traumas of living in poverty, in unsanitary conditions and with the crime and violence that attend them.
It costs just *INR1200 per month to provide a child with 3 hours of after school tuition 5 days a week, homework support, remedial teaching, song, dance, art and craft, daily healthy snacks PLUS Taekwondo and sport coaching at the weekend.
FAHIM, 21, lives beside the Topsia sewage (the city dirty water flows beside the settlement). He lost his mother 4 years ago in a road accident, and since then life has been very difficult for him. But he never lost hope and continued the education. Tiljala SHED stood beside him through these difficult times and ensured he did not drop out from school. He also attended our remedial classes by specialised teachers which benefitted him immensely.
He did not disappoint our team and completed his schooling despite many challenges making him the first member in his family to complete High School.
Now, he is in the second year of Undergrads, pursuing Bachelor of Arts. He loves English as a subject.
A new cycle was given to him, and he started logistics work but that did not last long due to some problems with the company. The cycle helps him to reach his college and save his bus fare. Besides college, he is engaged in some event management company and earns some amount for his family. The cycle helps him a lot to accomplish his part time work.
He will be undergoing an electrician training soon and will start his work in the local area and has plans to go out of India and work as a renowned electrician.
Fahim’s hard work will take him to the path of success and he will soon be a successful electrician.
This journey was not possible without your support. Fahim, would have been working in a factory, if the support was not provided on time. The death of his mother was a turning point in his life and he decided to move on and make his mother proud of him.
Fahim has dream in his eyes to acquire electrical work skills and go overseas to work and earn for his family. Regular counselling and a holistic education helped him overcome his challenges and he is now a confident young boy who wants to achieve something which no one in his family has achieved.
I was shocked to hear on BBC Woman’s Hour this morning that working women in India were 7 times more likely than men to lose their jobs in the catastrophic labour shock that hit India in the pandemic. And those women were 11 times less likely to return to the workplace. Men, the report said, found their way back to work through the informal labour market or the gig economy but this was not a solution for women.
It reminded me of two young people from our education programme who have been very much on my radar this week. Late on Wednesday night (2 am in Kolkata) I had a message from Sultana. “I tell you. I don’t know why my eyes are watering by themselves. After enduring a lot I messaged you.” I have known Sultana for a number of years. She is smart, ambitious and feisty. She told me once she wants to be a journalist. She is from a destitute family in the Topsia squatter community, living in a makeshift hut beside an open sewer. She attended our children’s after school classes since she was five years old and graduated straight into our evening classes for secondary school students when we launched them in 2016. She was and remains a leading light in the Topsia Evening class, helping organise the child protection activities and performing in street drama to raise awareness of child labour, domestic abuse and child marriage. Last May she introduced me to her mother (pictured). Her mother said how grateful she is to Tiljala SHED for all the help Sultana has had, how happy she is that her daughter had passed class X and is literate. But then the bombshell… but that’s enough she said. Sultana doesn’t need any more education. Sultana’s eyes told me my job was to persuade her mother otherwise (all through an interpreter of course). Sultana wanted to complete her education and get a job. Her mother is terrified Sultana will disgrace the family by taking a boyfriend and wanted to find her a suitable boy to marry, thus avoiding shame for the family. Sultana stayed in school and is due to take class XII (complete her schooling) next spring. But on Wednesday she told me how relations with her mother have now broken down. She has left home to live close to her sister and has no means of feeding herself as her mother has refused to support her.
She continues to go to school but she’s hungry and frightened. I don’t know where this will end but we are doing what we can to support Sultana so that she can be free of society’s expectations and craft a life for herself. It doesn’t seem much to ask but in these very traditional societies it seems almost impossible.
Thanks to Tiljala SHED and you, the donors, we can provide food and educational support to get her through. We can’t overturn the culture though. It’s so frustrating – but for her, just knowing that you the donors are there and there is practical support, maybe she’ll make it.
On a happier note, but perhaps a reflection that he is male, Fahim now has a bike is starting to deliver food for Zomato – a delivery app. He continues to study at university and still plays cricket regularly. Thank you to everyone who donated. He’s another great kid who deserves to do well – especially after losing his mother in a tragic accident 2 years ago.
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