One of the fathers in the slum had been ill during the day and had his 3rd fit around 10pm on the 13th April, The man was not looking well and he had already been to hospital earlier, but had been sent home. This time Robert went with him and asked to know what the problem was. Robert took him on the bike and was a little worried he might have another fit on the journey, but thankfully they arrived safely. On arrival they went straight to Casualty and the doctors' first questions were "is he an alcoholic", he does have a drink but he is far better than many of the adults in the slum and he hadn't had a drink for at least 24 hours. The nurse took his temperature and everything was normal, which ruled out Malaria, the nurse then took a small blood sample and also a cardiogram and there were enough signs for him to be admitted. His brother had arrived and Robert left the father with his brother to finalise the admission.
Hopefully things will get better for him now he has been admitted and is receiving treatment. We wish him well.
Continuing the saga of Rukmani, the girl whose family wished to forcibly take her to the village where she would be 'held' until her marriage. Robert received a call from the school as her mother had come looking for her. The mother had arrived back in Goa with the step family to take Rukmani and was upset to find Rukmani was not around. Robert gave the girls phone number to her mother so they could speak, but the calls were not connecting as the girls' phone seemingly was out of credit.
The headmaster requested Roberts help in sorting out the situation and Robert offered to take the mother home and to talk to the step family. On arriving Robert spoke to the house owners and family via a neighbour who spoke excellent English saying why Rukmani had gone on holiday and informed them that she was safe and well as they had spoken on the phone just over a week ago. One of the neighbours was unwilling to accept that an 18 year old girl should be able to decide how she should live her life and wanted to blame Robert for her disappearance. He stated that Robert was in charge of the girl since she left home over a month ago and thought he should call the police so a complaint could be made. Fifteen minutes later a police jeep pulled up and the neighbour narrated that the girl was 'missing' and that Robert should be forced to say where she was as they thought he knew.
Robert and the mother took a trip down to the local police station and Robert spent most of the time waiting while the mother spoke to the inspector and took a few trips out to the slum where the girl had stayed with friends. This gave Robert a chance to call Childline who had helped in Rukmani's original case where she said her step brothers were forcing her to go with them. Thankfully, her mother brought Rukmani's birth date proof (an Affidavit), signed by her mother, stating that the girl was over 18 and legally an adult. Childline confirmed that no action could be taken and that they would speak to the police on Rukmani's and Roberts behalf if necessary. During the hours of waiting, a police man repeatedly asked where the girl was. Rukmani had confided in Robert before leaving that she was going with friends but never knew where she was staying, he thought she was in Karnataka but couldn't really help any further. Robert was asked to return later to give a statement, but when he did, he was not really required as seemingly the girls' mother decided to blame a boy for her disappearance (one of the friends she went with).
The police during their questions came to the opinion that Robert was assisting the girl, due to comments made by other people and the involvement of Childline a month ago. As no one could contact Rukmani, Robert put some credit on her phone and managed to speak to her the same night. The call was very beneficial and clearly highlighted that the girl was safe and well, she also confirmed that she was just 'on holiday' and was avoiding her family as she didn't want to be forced back to the village to be married off to someone of her families choosing. A copy of the call was given to the police and helped a lot in promoting her case.
Three days later Rukmani returned from her trip and visited the police station and gave a statement explaining everything. I would like to thank the police for being vigilant in their enquiries and thank everyone who supported Rukmani. A special thank you goes to Rukmani for being strong enough to stand up for her rights and making a change in the world.
*Names and Photo have been changed for Child Protection Reasons.
While visiting the school on Wednesday 9th April Robert witnessed yet another member of staff beating the children. This time the weapon of choice was a steel ruler, which made a distinctive sound as it landed, and Robert made sure that the member of staff was well aware he had been observed. Robert also mentioned this incident to the headmaster whose immediate response was that the staff member was the boys 'incharge' at the government regulated children's home where he stays. The head seemed to think that was a get out clause for beating the children. He was quickly corrected that he is beating the children at School and as his guardian and 'carer' he is also breaking the rules of the Goa Children's Act. (18) Every Children's Home shall ensure that no child under its care or custody is exposed to child abuse, or sexual offences or child trafficking or child prostitution or violation of its rights and that the best interest of all children are protected. Care givers shall also be personally responsible for the same. (19) Any contravention or non- adherence of any provisions of this section by any Children's Home shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to a fine which may extend to Rs. 1,00,000 /-.
Later on the same day Robert visited another local school in Mapusa. The whole atmosphere seemed very different and the teachers seemingly went out of their way to help the three children we had taken for admission. These three children have yet to start school and none have been in formal education, so the school offered for them to attend a 'pre' school session so they could get ready for the new school year. We wish them all the best and will continue to help them with their educational needs and offer incentives for the children to stay in school and to do well.
Earlier this year one of the slums was demolished by the local council and several families were left without a roof over their heads. Many of the families moved onto a new area but six or seven families stayed put and have in the last couple of weeks started building their homes again. One thing they were all missing was protection from the monsoon rains.
Robert was visiting one day when the families requested help in providing plastic sheeting that would be tied to the roofs of the houses that consisted of a few bamboo poles and cardboard.
Each of the rooms were roughly around 5m x 5m, the plastic sheeting although not hugely expensive was lost during the demolition and the families wanted help in buying new waterproof sheeting in time for the start of the rains.
At the start of April around 50 meters of plastic sheeting was purchased and distributed to the families. Each one of the huts houses from 4 to 10 people. The plastic was handed out on the 4th of April and later on that day the thunder and first drops of rain came to Goa. The timing was perfect, although the rain didn't really have any impact and was just a warning splash of what was to come in a month or two. In Goa the monsoon usually starts the first or second week in June and when it rains, it pours.
Hopefully all the families will have prepared their rooms and made them water tight so they can at least sleep without the fear of getting wet.
The cooking gas scheme that started nearly a year ago has been a great success with many families taking up the offer. In the last month another 2 families have been given Gas Cookers and another couple have shown interest. Cooking with Gas is a huge step up from a health standpoint as cooking on an open fire caused smoke to billow out and cover the parents and children with smoke which got into their lungs as well as providing all their clothes with a smoky pungent smell.
We hope that we will be able to continue providing the gas cookers for families. If this is something you might like to support then a donation of £20 will enable us to provide a family with a gas stove.
Kajal, one of the older girls recently finally shared with her mother a skin infection that had plagued her for the last two years. She had been embarrassed to tell anyone but thankfully finally showed her mother who in turn informed Robert. Her mother asked Robert for some cream for a rash, and he explained that there are so many different types of Cream, and it is important to use the correct cream for the rash otherwise it would be a waste of money and time. Robert asked for more information and to see the rash, the mother gestured that it was on the girls' side, then leg and he finally spoke with the girl who finally got up the courage to say the problem was in a more intimate area.Thankfully Robert knew the perfect doctor for the job, Dr Uma, a dermatologist who has been helping the children for years and was, most importantly, a female doctor to reduce any embarrassment.
It was a quick trip lasting just 15 minutes and a simple fungal infection was the cause. A course of treatment was given and we hope that the problem will dissipate and her two year infection will finally be gone.
*Names have been changed for Child Protection Reasons.
The end of the tourist season gives performers like Declan enough spare time to do something for the children. Declan as well as bringing performers to entertain the children in February and of course organising the fabulous Ash Charity Event had a couple of friends who wanted to do a little group work with the kids.
Declan along with Jenni Ives and friend wanted to give the children a chance to make, decorate and use a simple to make, but fun toy for all ages. Declan and the girls had already been out buying the supplies and arrived at the small slum which we had pre- arranged to visit. The children ran out of their huts and spent a few minutes welcoming everyone and shaking their hand. This definitely broke the ice and we asked one of the families if they had a mat which could be used for the children to sit on while they made their new toys.
The 'teachers' sat down and started immediately; to reduce the rush, Robert took half of the children (the girls) and gave them clothes while the rest of the children started making their hoops. The basic hoops were really easy to make and then the children had chance to decorate them with sparkly tape. Some of the children went a little over board on the tape, but it was ok, as it was supposed to be fun. The groups then swapped round, the boys received clothes while the girls set to making their hoops.
As soon as they were made the children tested them out, some more successfully than others, but all with the same verve and excitement. A few of the children took to it very quickly, a few of the younger children really had to concentrate but their beaming smiles made you sure they were enjoying every minute. A couple of the mothers also joined in with the fun and games and they smiled easily as much as the kids. It was a fabulous session and as it was starting to get dark we had a few last minutes for photos and then said goodbye.
Thanks to the three teachers and the kids for making it very enjoyable evening.