Today CIEE took a program field trip to a girls’ (though there were some boys) “bridge school” in Aloor, a rural area about an hour and a half away from Hyderabad. What a bridge school does is take in children previously involved in child labor and get them up to grade level so they can enter regular schools. It was really interesting and a lot of fun.
The second we got off the bus a group of smiling children approached us. Though they only knew a little English and Hindi, and none of us really speak Telegu, we were able to introduce ourselves. They were all really fascinated with our cameras. We let them use our cameras, and they were totally thrilled. I’ve been looking back through my pictures, and there are some pretty good ones.
Eventually we sat down to listen to a lecture about the organization (the MV Foundation). What the foundation does is finds children who have not had the opportunity to go to school. They then work to get the kids up to grade level, so they can enter into regular schools. This is important, as, for example, forcing a ten year old to sit in first grade with six year olds is a sure-fire way to get him to drop out. The foundation is also trying to expand the definition of “child laborer” to include any child who is not in school. Right now, most people imagine the term “child labor” to only include the most horrific of circumstances: sweatshops, factories, etc. But the foundation is trying to emphasize that even a child who just works on the family farm is at a disadvantage. No matter how necessary or fulfilling the work is, the child will nevertheless be blocked from the opportunities that educated children receive.
After the lecture, some of the girls got up and talked about their experiences. The first two girls were about five years old, and sang some songs for us. One of the songs was about child labor, and the other was a tribal song. It was very cute. The next girl was named Swathi, and she was about fourteen years old (most of these kids aren’t really sure of their exact ages). When she was quite young, her father took a second wife, and forced his first wife (Swathi’s mother), Swathi, and her older sister to leave. Their mother worked hard, and tried to keep them in school, but she became addicted to alcohol, and the girls ended up having to work as well. Eventually, their mother died, and the girls returned home to their father’s house to see if he would take them in. He said he would give them food, but they would have to work, and they were not allowed into the house. Swathi’s sister agreed to work, but begged her father to let Swathi go to school. He would not listen. So the girls slept outside the house and worked; Swathi at home, and her sister as a street sweeper. Though their father had agreed to give the girls food, his wife refused to, so the sisters ended up going to a nearby school and collecting leftovers. It was at the school that the girls got in touch with some MVF representatives. They are now in regular schools and up to grade level. The reason that they were at the school at the time of our visit was that it was vacation time; the bridge school campus is now their home.
The next girl who spoke (I very unfortunately can’t remember her name!) had originally lived with her mother and stepfather. After her mother died, her stepfather wanted nothing to do with her. Her uncle took her in, and received money from the state for doing so. However, he kept the money for himself, and forced his niece to work around the house. The girl was passed along a chain of relatives, each situation as bad as the last. Eventually, she decided she had had enough. She stole 200 rupees, got into a taxi, and went as far as her money would allow her to go. Fortunately, soon after getting out of the vehicle, she was discovered by some members of the MVF foundation.
After a crazy photo session, we had lunch, separately from the kids. After we finished, some of us went into the kids’ lunch room and (sort of) helped to serve them food. One girl, Swaranthi, who I’d made friends with while taking pictures, called me over, and started feeding me her rice, which was really cute. (I checked to make sure that the kids get enough food, and they do. I would have felt truly horrible if this child had been giving up her rice for me!) After lunch we played with the kids, who turned out to be really good at volleyball, even the tiny ones! In the middle of the game, Swaranthi took me to see her room. (“Come see my box! My room!” was what she said which was really cute.) Then she and a bunch of other girls gave me a “makeover”. They did my hair with flowers, and put a bindhi on my forehead. It was really fun.
When we left, everyone on both sides was really sad, but it was a great day. Pictures are on Facebook if you want to see! (I would upload them to the blog, but it takes WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too long).