One of the younger boys has had severe pain in his stomach and lower back for months, combined with a slight skin infection, he has been to the government hospital several times, although as is often the case the doctors prescribe medicines without actually informing the patients of the cause.
The father who had taken him to hospital the previous times was not getting any support so asked Rob to come to the hospital with him to, hopefully, find out and bring a solution to his sons' problems.
Anyone who has been to a government hospital in India will surely know that it's not the most inviting of places, there are queues and queues everywhere and very little assistance. However saying that I do believe they provide a great service as registration costs just 20 rs. It is important to get in early to get at the front of your first queue for the registration papers which opens at 8:30, but then the doctors do not arrive till 9:30. If you're not one of the first in line, then you can be waiting for another 4 hours to be seen as people try their hardest to squeeze through the system to gain some time and push their way in.
Thankfully the father went in early and got to the front of the queue (token 1), but 6 or 7 people managed to see doctor before we were allowed in. The doctor seemed to care for the patients before us and that was a good sign, and when it was our turn she examined the boy well and narrated that it was most likely just worms and stomach acid from spicy food, however this diagnosis might have had more to do with their status rather as she assumed that they were not drinking clean water. Doctor also asked for a blood/urine test to be done just in case.
Sadly, one of the children has not been able to take her exams this year. It could have been avoided with support from her family and school, but as often is the case, the family is more concerned about themselves and their right to 'own' their female children and dictate how they will live and who they will marry. The girl also feels lost without support from the school but she feels that they would provide no protection or help for her.
A month and a half ago, two of the girls' step brothers came from the village in Karnataka to take her out of school. There was to be no choice, they wanted her to leave there and then, as she was now mature and in their eyes. They thought she should not be going out any more, especially socialising where boys were present. The step brothers were of the opinion that once girls reach 12/13 years of age they should be kept at home, until they are ready to be married off to someone of the families choosing. It is a sad fact that far too many children are married off and forced into marriages with people not of their choosing.
It also has been highlighted in a local paper this month that some family members even sell their own daughters/granddaughters to people for prostitution. "Mapusa police arrested a woman who sold her 16 year old granddaughter for Rs 2,000 to two persons to be used for prostitution". Even marriages are often little more than transactions for the family with no, or little thought going into how it may affect their children.
Rukmani was not about to let this happen to her, so she took action and had heard that her step brothers with their wives would be coming back to Goa to try and force her back to the village. As it was exams, they would know exactly where and when to find her and there would be little chance to stop it from happening. Her only option seemed to be to miss her exams and not give them a chance to find her. It was a hard decision to agree to, as we believe strongly that education and exams are so important, but realised that the school would unlikely be supportive, was sure it was worth asking, but sadly she had little faith in them and is now missing her exams. Rukmani reached 18 this year so is an adult and can legally make her own decisions in life. However, her life will be more difficult without family support, although to be completely honest there was little support from the family anyway and Rukmani has been running the household for several years.
We will continue to support Rukmani with education and helping her find work experience and jobs so she can have a more safe and secure life.
*Names and Photo have been changed for Child Protection Reasons.
Declan and his talented friends have been supporting street and slum kids for many years by providing a variety show for the children, Declan and a handful of acts came in February this year and performed in front of the children. It was a mixture of music, comedy and dance. As a extra bonus this year Declan put on a special fundraising night at Ash in Arambol to raise funds for the children who they performed for. Robert was asked to arrive early and it was a good job as Ash is hidden away in the sand dunes just off Arambol beach, Ash is housed in a beautiful small area, to enter you walk through an Indian Teepee into a relaxed chilled out zone.
Robert arrived just after 6:30 and a few of the acts were already starting their preparations for the show. Prierrik (Mr Banana) was setting up his laptop and projector to display the video and pictures from their visits to the slums and it seemed really quiet and stayed that way until around 8pm when many people seemed, magically, to appear. The floor matting was quickly filled with around 200 people as the first musicians took to the stage. While watching the warm-ups it was obvious it was going to be a fantastic night, but the audience added to it with the love and appreciation for the acts.
There were 15 to 20 different acts on the night, these included singers, dancers, contortionists, musicians, artists, comedians and so much more, all of the acts combining and helping each other. Half way through the evening an artist was introduced and she had a platform above the stage with a 5x7 ft canvas where she painted while dancing and watching the other acts perform. After an hour or two the picture was looking nearly complete so it was put up for a special 2 minute auction, which. probably, actually lasted 5 minutes. The first offer was 1000rs and it quickly went up to 5, 6, 7, 8,000rs. A special mention really needs to go to Rachael, who finally won the auction, who showed great support and out bid herself a couple of times. At the end of the enthusiastic auction the painting went for an astonishing Rs 26,000. The painter kindly donated the unique freshly created work of art free of cost.
The night continued till gone midnight and the cheers were changed to waving of hands to show appreciation so that the night could continue without upsetting the locals with the noise. It was an outstanding success and all in all Rs 105,899 was raised after paying out for small incidentals and preparation for the night.
A huge thank you to everyone who was involved on the night, the acts, the staff at Ash, Tom Heine for taking the fantastic photos, the kind police who allowed the Show to go on and Declan for enabling and organising this amazing evening.