Robert has been working with Street and Slum children in India for nearly 10 years. He has seen many of the original group of children grow up, and has helped them with their education enabling many to attend school. A few of the children who were just 4, 5 or 6 years old then, are now in 6th and 7th Standard in school. They have come a long way, and as a reward to them and other students from the 6th and 7th standard, the local government has introduced a scheme for the children to receive an android e-tablet. The government started the Cyber age scheme twelve years ago, providing desktop computers to higher secondary students. Last year, students studying in 10th standard were provided laptops through the same scheme and it is hopes to cover standards 8th and 9th in the not too distant future.
The children received invitations addressed to their parents/guardians for the distribution event and several of the children asked Robert to attend the event in place of their parents.
The local hall they used was packed with children, who were extremely excited, and several parents. Once the Deputy Chief Minister had arrived and the usual Indian formalities had concluded, the children's names were called out and each went to collect their tablet on stage and return to their seat.
The 7" Acer tablets come with special e- learning packages enabling the students to revise their studies at home and to become familiar with the media age in which we now live. Many of the children rarely have access to computers, so these tablets will enable the children to learn skills and acquire knowledge which is so vital for success in today's world. The tablets come with a 16Gb memory card and a USB slim keyboard-cum case.
The tablets come ready, programmed with a few facilities on them, but if anyone can recommend any good educational programs to add to the android tablets, then please do get in touch.
Forcing Children Out Of Education And Into Marriage
, Mapusa, Goa, India
Children's lives are often short lived in India. It has been reported recently that 309,000 Indian babies die on the day they are born. For the children that do survive, their childhood is often taken from them and they are often denied an education; this is especially the case for girls.
Of the girls who do manage to attend school, their educational path is often short lived, as when they start to mature, they are taken out from school so that they can be married off.
On one occasion recently, Robert was visiting a school when Rukmani, one of the girls came to him in distress. Her half brothers had come from the home village wanting to remove her from school and take her and her younger siblings back to the village. This seemed particularly bad timing as it was just a month before the end of term. It is quite common for teenage girls, especially Muslim/ Hindu girls to be taken out from school in their teens. What made things worse is that she did not even know the two men (half brothers) who were both in their 20's/30's, and Rukmani was terrified as she knew she would have to leave her education, friends and that she would be forced into marriage with a man not of her choice. One of the brothers said "when girls are 12 years old they, should stay at home".
Robert had known and helped Rukmani since she was 7 or 8 years old. He helped Rukmani and her siblings get into school. Rukmani is now a well spoken teenager and has a good grasp of the English language. She is studying in 9th standard and has become an independent young woman.
Ruckmani's education has progressed slowly on account of her late start and the poor support from her family. Her father has given little support to the family due to his drinking and abusive habits. Her mother, who admits that she was made to marry at too young an age to an abusive husband, and was herself uneducated, cannot see any option other than to agree to the same sort of future for her own children.
Thankfully, as Rukmani has acquired some education, she has gained some self worth and confidence, which is often stripped from young girls from overbearing family members, who want to take away any rights and options from their children.
Rukmani was unwilling to leave school and wanted to stay in Goa and finish her education. She spoke with her half brothers (from her fathers' first marriage) who were insistent, and determined to take her with them back to the home village. Thankfully Robert and several of her school friends were there to speak out for Rukmani, who had no intention of leaving with them.
Robert contacted Child Line and spoke with social workers about the issue. The Child Line social workers spoke at length with Rukmani and her family to see if a solution could be found where she could continue in school. The negotiating went on for two hours, both sides not willing to budge. The brothers finally got hungry and went for lunch and Rukmani continued to speak to Robert, teachers, friends and Child Line, looking to find the best course of action.
Her half brothers left the same day without Rukmani back to their village, but before they went, they locked most of Rukmani's clothes and belongings in a metal cupboard so she could not access them, and took away the keys.
I am glad to report that Rukmani is continuing at school and has met up with her mother on a couple of occasions. Sadly, her two younger siblings are already in the village and two more have been in and out of school the last week.
We hope that Rukmani has the support from friends, and preferably family, to allow her to continue her education for the foreseeable future. This will enable her to become a stronger and more able young women. She, of course, will have our continued support, as we strongly believe in children's right to education, the right to chose and to be heard.
*Names and Photo have been changed for Child Protection Reasons.
The 11th of February was carnival day for the children when Declan and his group of performers came to entertain the children.
We had informed the children the day before and told them we were all going down to the riverside to hold a small carnival show for them. We weren't sure how many children would come as some had to go for sports practice in Panjim, but we had hoped there would be at least 40. This would be the first show for some of the children and many of the new ones would be only 3 or 4 years old, but we hoped everyone would enjoy it.
The performers arrived just after 2pm and our first job was to round up the kids and take them over to the riverside, where we had planned to hold the event. As some of the performers warmed up, Declan and a couple more were taken to collect a few more transient families who were based close by. As always, the children were excited and looking forward to the event. The parents were informed of the location and also invited to come and see for themselves. A couple of the performers led the children and their parents down as Robert went to meet with Mr Banana (a performer) who wasn't sure of the location. The children huddled round, mainly split into groups depending on where they lived. The performers had already started letting the children have a play with the hula hoops and distributed some crayons and paper. Some of the children tried their hardest to keep the hula hoops up, while others sat down drawing houses and birds on the paper. Fruit was handed to the children who were encouraged to settle down as the first performer, a robotic body popper, started his routine. Each act took 15 to 20 minutes and there were 5 or six acts which included hula hoops, swizzling batons, dancing, mime and song time.
As the show went on, more and more people gathered around to see the performers. The final performer was the extremely talented Mr Banana who, as always, was a great hit with the children and adults alike.
After the performers had finished, we headed over to the children's park to allow the children a second chance of learning to hula hoop, and some of the boys had a dance off with the performers. The performers were impressed with the children's moves and it was great to see that the donation Declan made last year had helped children attend dance classes and improve their skills as intended.
The day had to come to an end and the performers packed their things away. The children waved goodbye and it was the end of a great and fun packed day. A huge thank you goes to everyone who made it possible, especially Declan and My Banana Show who have kept in touch over the years.
During the last week, we have had to step in and take action against a teacher at a local school, who has been accused by several children of beating them, slapping the students across the face and hitting them with a stick. In December, we wrote to the school highlighting one instance and asked the school for their help in stopping such abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse continued, so further help was sought by the children.
As more students complained about the severe treatment by this newly appointed teacher, we decided that it was important to do as much as we could to prevent this teachers shameful behaviour from continuing, so a letter of complaint was distributed to the school, the Director of Education and the Director of Women and Child Development in Goa.
On the same day as we submitted the complaint, a call was received from several students saying that the teacher had once again beaten a student around the face and also hit his arm as he sought to protect himself from a second assault.
Robert received the call, where it was explained what had happened and was asked if he could come down immediately to help. On arriving at the school, there was already uproar as students were obviously unhappy by the behaviour of the teacher.
The teacher was adamant he had done nothing wrong and denied attacking the pupils, although in another sentence said he was justified in doing so as the children were naughty.
According to The Right to Education Act and Goa Children's Act, it is an offence to physically abuse a child. We hope that the Education and Women and Child departments will take this matter seriously and show that such violations are not in the best interests of the students or the school.
Unfortunately, some teachers from this school seem to have no respect or consideration for their students. Even though the teacher in question has beaten so many of the children, many of the staff are happy to continue to blame the students rather than their colleague.
We will continue to take a strong stance when it comes to such cases and hope that this teacher in particular can change his ways. Robert met up with a few of the teachers/staff at the police station and it was agreed that the teacher in question would refrain from assaulting the students from now on. We dearly hope that he will stand by his words so that the students can learn to respect the teachers rather than fear them.