Sowing Dreams With Education
Anupama is a 17-year-old currently studying History, Economics and Civics at KSN Government Junior Girls College in Anantapur. She is also preparing to write various competitive exams. She wants to be a teacher and help others. But how she got to where she is today, is heart-wrenching.
“My uncle, who is married and stays in Nandyal, told me he is in love with me and that we can live a great life together. We eloped and he kept me in a small place on the outskirts of Nandyal district. I thought I was happy,” she recalls.
With the young girl naive and immature and in danger of being pushed into sex work, the situation was grave.
However, her mother, who was a traditional sex-worker, came to her rescue. She alerted the local sex worker community members, who got in touch with the police. They tracked him down and brought the girl back. She wasn’t happy to be back and questioned the community members and her mother, “What is wrong in following my mother’s profession?”Aghast, the community members counseled her.
“They told me that sex work is not wrong but when I have the choice to study and live a dignified life, I should opt for it,” shares Anupama. Though it was almost two months into the academic year, the community members pulled some strings, called the Women and Child Development department and got her admission. Rest is history.
Anupama is one of the 26 girls who were enrolled at various schools and colleges. A total of 102 children have benefited from the many government schemes identified and utilised by the sex worker communities.
“While a few children are dropouts, some haven’t enrolled in schools due to poverty or other reasons. So, as part of the Single Window programme, we brought together people from various departments to meet the sex worker community representatives to educate them about the schemes back in the year 2013,” explains Upendra Nath, district programme coordinator, CFAR in Ananthapur.
Constantly in touch with the community members, he ensures that they receive the help they need.
Under various government schemes and departments, vulnerable children are offered security and other benefits that help them attend school without any hassle. “There are Bala Sadan hostels for girls upto 16 years of age. They are open throughout the year and the girls attend nearby municipal schools. It is taken care of by the Department of Women and Child Development. For older girls, there are Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalays that function under the Sarva Sikshya Abhiyaan scheme. These are open throughout the academic year. For those who cannot go home during the summer, one school in five mandals will be open,” elaborates Upendra.
For the boys (upto 16 years), there are Urban Deprived Hostels. The sex worker community children are also placed at various social welfare hostels – BC, tribal and the likes.
Meera, a 22-year-old community member’s son is a beneficiary. “My son is eight years old and never went to school. I am a single mother. He was scared, vulnerable and sad most times when I enrolled him at the Sarva Sikshya Abhiyaan, Urban Deprived Hostel in Anantapur. He was hesitant initially, but he doesn’t complain now,” says Meera.
Community members went through the grind in 2013 to ensure the children are put in schools. One of them is Neeraja who worked relentlessly – meeting government school officials, goverment department representatives and community members, educating and discussing about the schemes and how to benefit from them.
“I have an eight-year-old daughter and I was adamant not to let her enter the profession. I struggled to get her into a school. Once she got an admission I decided I should work for the other community members,” she recalls. Neeraja has been successful in getting nine children enrolled in schools.
As challenging as it is to bring representatives from various government departments to meet with and educate the community members, ensuring that these children stay put after being enrolled in schools is an equally difficult task.
“Some students are dropouts and miss one or two years. We took one student to a school and a principal asked him to read a few words written on the board. He couldn’t and was declined admission. We had to make department officials call them and only then was he admitted. He is now taking remedial classes,” shares Upendra.
In case of children whose mothers migrate, grandparents take the students home and it becomes a problem. “They feel that the children need to be close to family. Mothers are mostly convinced but other family members create problems. Besides this, we came across two boys who were unwilling to study. Such cases are exceptional and we cannot help it,” he adds.