Some hand-holding for migrant workers’ kids

nupama Ramakrishnan
Last Updated : 15 June 2019, 19:48 IST
Last Updated : 15 June 2019, 19:48 IST

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Each morning, a team from Diya Ghar picks up children of migrant construction workers from their settlements in Horamavu and Kalkere and brings them to their centre. After a wash and breakfast, they sit down to learn Math, English and Kannada through the Montessori method. Post lunch, the children get involved in art and craft activities, story time and singing. After milk and snacks in the evening, they are dropped back to their settlements.

These children, who drift from one city to another and grow up in the makeshift tents raised on the toil of their parents, see a ray of hope here.

Diya Ghar is run by Saraswathi Padmanabhan and her husband, Shyamal Kumar. Saraswathi had volunteered with an NGO working with street children in Mumbai and while in California, with an NGO helping children of prisoners.

“We saw young children playing on construction sites in the midst of heavy machinery. We were saddened to see the plight of these children of construction labourers and wanted to start a preschool,” recollects Saraswathi.

“Birth to six years is very crucial in the development of a child and the only option available for children under the age of six is Anganwadis which are too few and starved of resources,” she told DH. So she went on to do her Montessori training and started the preschool in 2016. They now have three centres.

“These children face issues ranging from neglect to all sorts of abuse — physical, emotional and sexual. They also have alcoholic fathers and become victims of physical abuse at the hands of their parents. Moreover, they do not have access to electricity, clean drinking water and sanitation and are prone to health hazards. They also do not get balanced food at home,’’ she says.

Lack of awareness

The parents don’t want to send their kids to schools. The reasons are many. “They go back to their village every few months for festivals or harvest and every trip is at least a few weeks’ long. They feel the school won’t admit them,” says Saraswathi.

Clearly, the parents do not fathom the necessity of early childhood care and education. “When the child is six or seven, parents want to leave them in the village, where, they say, they will go to school. The workers also don’t easily trust people in the city and therefore hesitate to send their young children to the centre,” she adds.

Sometimes, the older children stay with the migrant workers’ parents in the village. “In the four to five communities that we work with, younger ones are brought to the construction site or are left in the care of an old lady at the settlement,” she says.

The problems faced by these kids are bottomless while solutions remain elusive. “They don’t have Aadhaar cards and government schools insist on that. Since they return to the village frequently, they feel that the school will not accept them. They are also not able to drop and pick up the children from school,’’ she told DH.

There are other factors too compounding the educational issues of these children. “The government schools have only one room, with one teacher for 45 children, and are not able to accommodate more children. Anganwadi is the only option for them,” points out Saraswathi.

Every day, unfortunate childhoods are being built on these construction sites with risks lurking at every corner and there is much left to be done. “Construction sites having more than 20 children in the community should have either mobile creches or creches,” says Saraswathi. “The public too can help -- either with the resources or by volunteering as teachers and building awareness on the problems of the children,” she says.

In another part of the city — HBR Layout — Outreach, an association of volunteers for rural development, under its Onsite programme, takes care of the educational, nutritional and health needs of children of migrant construction workers.

Sujata Nayak, programme coordinator of Onsite, says, “We provide preschool and non-formal education for the children here. Regular and special health camps, and awareness camps are also conducted.”

What stalks most children is malnutrition. “Parents are neither aware of the importance of providing them with nutritional food nor can they afford it. Once a month, doctors visit the children and prescribe medicines, including iron and multivitamin tablets,’’ she says.

“For the families, clean drinking water and gas connections are being provided by builders,” she adds. But she feels if children also get access to playgrounds, it would help improve their physical health.

Meanwhile, Sampark, which works with women and children, has been covering 20,000 migrant workers in the city. They run mobile crèches which become bridge schools for the children of migrant construction workers.

“These children hail from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha etc. Since language is a major problem for them, they can’t get enrolled in government schools,” informs V Prameela, programme director, Sampark.

“In urban areas, we work with builders. Although labour colonies are all over the city, we can’t take care of all of them because of the lack of resources,” she says.

“Children aged six and above attend classes through a non-formal education programme. They get health and nutritional support. Mid-day meals are provided to the children in the crèche with the help of Akshaya Patra Foundation,’’ she informs. The help notwithstanding, convincing the migrant workers to send their kids to study is easier said than done. “Parents do not send the children who are in the age group of six months to three years as they believe no learning happens at this age. It is after seeing our interventions and attending parents’ meeting that they realise the importance of it,” she says.

‘Freelance’ labourers

There are also those labourers who ‘freelance’ or those who do not work with any builder. “It is difficult to track them,” says Prameela. “They do not have any facilities, including electricity, ” she told DH.

On the bright side though, many of Sampark’s children have joined local government schools. Recently, one of their students completed Class 10 and is ready to pursue his PUC now.

Still, a large number of migrant construction workers’ children continue to exist in perilous conditions. With no rehabilitation reaching them and no safety net to hold them, they tend to fade into the underbelly of the city.

Published 15 June 2019, 19:28 IST

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