BENGALURU: Nagaraja, a 10-year-old boy from a slum in Summanahalli used to pick garbage during the day, until social workers intervened and enrolled him in a school. Today, Nagaraja says, he couldn’t be happier for the new life at school. “I love studying and would like to become a police officer someday,” he says .
He is one of the 44 children, who were otherwise earning as rag pickers and beggars at traffic signals, now attending a private school thanks to efforts by an NGO Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota, or BOSCO. Children of daily wagers from north Karnataka, they have been enrolled with St. Joseph’s Convent School in the neighbourhood.
Many of these students look forward to school everyday. “Now I have many friends to play with,” says Pradeep from the second standard.
“I love the lessons my teacher teaches me. In the evening, I recite them at home in front of my parents,” says Anitha from the third standard.
The parents too are now beaming with pride over how well their children can read and write, something which they fail at. “Neither does my husband nor I know how to read or write. My two children can’t either, but now my grandchildren are going to school and I am thankful to God that I’ve lived to see this day ,” says Rangamma, who migrated from Koppal, North Karnataka.
She hopes that schooling will be their ticket to a better life. “We migrated to the city after we lost our farm and now we lead a miserable life. At least my grandchildren can do better,” she adds.
“My husband and I can’t read and write, but now I can take the help of my child Durgappa,” says Lakshmi, a proud mother.
“We didn’t think education mattered, but the volunteers convinced us,” says Durgalakshmi. “Maybe our children can give us a better life.”
The volunteers had faced from resistence from the parents, so they took help from local community leaders. The leaders stepped in and even threatened the residents with social boycott, if they didn’t send their children to school.
There was the stick and then there was the carrot. “We talked to the parents about benefits of schooling, besides seeking help from community leaders. Along with leaders from Dalit Sangharsh Samithi (DSS), public gatherings were organised, where residents were asked to send their children to school or leave the community,” says Joseph Devaraj K, coordinator of Child Safety Net campaign.
Logistics had to be looked into as well. “We were planing to send them to a government school, but that is far from where they live,” says Prasad SDB, Director, Bosco Life Skills Training Centre. “They woud’ve hesitated to attend classes there.” Today, children attend a private school and the NGO bears all the expenses.
Special classes are being conducted to help these children catch up with their classmates. This because most of them could not read and write properly, whatever their age.
“Initially, it was not easy for the children to adapt to the discipline and time table of the school. They were running around class rooms and not interested in learning. We then made a separate class room for these 44 students,” says Asha C, teacher at St. Joseph’s Convent School.
The school has enrolled 44 students: 13 to LKG, nine to UKG, 12 to first, four to second, one to third, four to fourth and one to sixth standards.
The NGO is also planing to conduct similar drives to find children who have never been to school.