The a Saviour of the Enslaved

Umi Daniel speaks about the struggles faced by children of migrant workers and the care he has provided for them

Published: 07th December 2014 07:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th December 2014 10:38 PM   |  A+A-


Our education system gives little thought to children of those who migrate from small villages to study in big cities. With their parents finding employment in cities, a large number of children are forced to move out at a young age and are cast into alien surroundings. A lot of them struggle to cope with the sudden change in environment and it affects their health and education, among other things. Umi Daniel, Regional Head, Migration, Thematic Unit of Aide Et Action (an international development organisation), South Asia, has been working towards understanding the lives and difficulties of migrants and trying to provide a better environment for the children of migrant workers, for close to 20 years now.

“We help provide childcare, nutrition and education to children of migrant workers. A lot of children migrate to different places along with their parents. Cities have a lot of opportunities for workers, so they take their children along and move to these places. However, when they move, the children find themselves in a completely alien surrounding and are deprived of proper education, health, nutrition and early childhood care,” says Daniel.

Having lived his life in Odisha since birth, Daniel moved to Hyderabad in 2002, and worked as Regional Head for ActionAid foundation, an anti-poverty agency for five years. “During my time with ActionAid, I realised the problems faced by migrants and their children and decided to do something about it. Now, we are trying to come up with some sort of an initiative with the support of the Government to see that all basic facilities are available to migrant children in big cities,” he shares.

When children move out of their native places at a young age, they lose a lot of friends at school and it takes them a lot of time to get accustomed to a new place. And this will have an impact on their education, says Daniel. “When children move, it definitely affects their education. Although Right to Education says that any child, at any point of time, can enrol in any Government school, they have their own problems, like language barriers for instance. So we are now experimenting how to deal with this and make them more comfortable. In Tamil Nadu, we have Odia schools at the work site, so we are taking youth from Odisha, providing them training and conducting a few programmes with the help of the Tamil Nadu Government. We are demonstrating that if this is possible, even if a child moves out, he/she can find a school where they are comfortable. Even in Hyderabad, we have conducted several camps to help Telugu children feel at ease,” he explains.

The veteran social worker feels immigration affects not just the education of a child but their entire lives are changed. “All basic entitlements they loose out when they move out. Our role is to ensure that they are provided with these facilities,” Daniel says. Though currently based in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, Daniel is constantly travelling and is working on a number of projects in various cities, including Hyderabad. “In Ranga Reddy district of Hyderabad, we came up with housing for people living inside brick kilns. They lived in unlivable conditions deprived of water, sanitation and education facilities, so we built small flats complete with basic necessities for them,” Daniel informs.

Work in a brick kiln is designed in such a way that every member of the family has a role to play. “Newly-made bricks are laid out to dry and children are made to walk on them in order to check their consistency,” he says. These families fall in the category of bonded labourers, which though banned is still rampant in many parts of the country.

Recalling an incident which really shook him up, he says, “We stumbled across a family that was working in a brick kiln for 22 years, as they had signed a bond with the owner. They felt they were indebted to the owner and had to fulfill the debt. In other words, it was bonded labour. We rescued them right away.”

Despite working for nearly two decades, Daniel is in no mood to hang up his boots. “Every child is entitled to education, health, nutrition and care, regardless of which part of the country they are in,” he says, vowing to continue his determined mission to help out as many children as possible.



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