We are still four months away from the new school year, but we are being asked each week if we can help more children. There are so many families in the surrounding area and many are from low income families who struggle to ensure their children go to school or have everything they need to do well. Random mothers often arrive on our doorstep and ask if we can help their son or daughter. It is lovely to think that they see our work as beneficial and something they want to be part of but the numbers we can help are restricted due to funding and resources. In the last year we have probably been asked to help 400 children, on top of the 100 we currently help, and each time we say we can´t, we have reached the limit, they say, "it´s just one (child), just my son/daughter". We tell them that is what the other 100 parents say....
This year we will hopefully be increasing the number we help, but we will still get more than we can realistically help. Our priority this year will be the girl child. Last year and this year also a couple of the girls have been pulled from school by parents, due to the girls talking to boys. The young romance (girls are usually 14+) are really just chatting at school and might include hand holding but this is seen as a slippery slope by many families who think it´s just not a suitable way for their daughters to behave and the knee jerk reaction is to take their daughters out of school and send them to the village. It really is sad and we do as much as we can to encourage parents to allow the girls to keep studying, but there is a deep worry about what people will say if their daughters are seen talking to a boy and the reaction can be severe. This year we are introducing a rule that if there is a daughter of school age but no longer attending school we will not provide assistance for the brother. It is a hard stance but girl children really need our support so that they can continue their education and have a better voice through knowledge and understanding.
In November there was an advert for a second hand BMX for sale. It was a good looking bike and we thought it would be a great resource for the children to have access to. Very kindly, a supporter was happy to donate the cost of the bike, thank you Alison.
Each month the bike is given to a new group of kids to 'share' and take home, one child is put in charge and then that child allows the other children to use it. So far just one of the children has been a little selfish and not been willing to share as much as he should, but there are always consequences for such actions which will mean he might not get the chance to be in charge next time but have to rely on the kindness of others.
As well as the BMX the older boys have been borrowing Roberts old mountain bike, they have been using it on and off for the last few years. It got to the stage that Robert bought himself a new one as the kids were using it more than he was, although it is starting to show its age as the children are children and ride it hard. It currently has a buckled back wheel and one of the spokes is broken. So it needs a little bit of attention, but hopefully it will be sorted this week as one of the children requires a geared bike for a Bicycle test on Friday. If it doesn´t get fixed then Robert will have to lend out his new mountain bike and he´s a little apprehensive about that!
Thank you to Alison for her kind donation and hope the BMX and mountain bike bring lots of joy to the kids.
Although our main aim is to get and keep children in education there are still lots of children we help that are not around all year round but are still in need of help. One of our favourite times is Christmas as we get to give out presents, but we do other small projects throughout the year whenever we can.
Iris, a supporter who has known Robert for 10+ years has been travelling in India for the last couple of months and wanted to do a small activity while she was in Goa. Iris had successfully given out footwear in Hyderabad and hoped to do the same here.
Iris met up with Rob and went equipped with a pencil, A4 paper and an assistant - thanks Anwarshi. Each time Robert visits this particular site they automatically line up, which is a major breakthrough as they were quite unruly when we first started helping them. All the children are from out of state but their parents come during the tourist season to sell items and the majority of the children spend their days looking after their younger siblings and wandering around the neighbourhood. When we arrived, the children lined up so we went over and asked them to follow us to the steps where there was a nice flat surface to sit down on and take measurements. The A4 paper we brought wasn´t really to make lists, it was used to draw round the children´s feet so we had accurate outline of the size of their feet, only a couple of the older children actually had any footwear and I don´t think any of them knew what size feet they had. As India is India, footwear sizes would unlikely matchup to the items bought as shoe sizes seem to differ greatly between different manufacturers.
Rob was in charge of drawing while Iris found the youngest ones and brought them to the front of the queue and Anwarshi helped with the children´s names and spelling.
In total we measured 35 children´s feet. Most of the children were fine but a few of the very small ones were a little apprehensive about what was going on. The process was quite quick so we headed home and started to cut round the feet, making sure we wrote their name clearly on them. These were then sorted into size order and as we were still good for time, we thought it would be worth trying to see what was available in the market.
The first few shops we went to had the larger sizes but none of the smaller ones, most of the shops were only stocking size 5 and above. But then we stumbled upon a small stall that had size 1 and above. This still wasn´t as small as several of the children needed but it was great to finally find shoes for most of the kids. The stall even provided us with a nice discount, more than the other shops were willing to give. We still had a handful of small sizes to find so we continued to check and was relieved to find somewhere with flip-flops going down to small size 10. They were a different brand, but as they were for the youngest kids, it was not a huge problem.
We had told the families we would return at the weekend to give out the footwear, this gave us time to make sure all the sizes and names were paired up and to make life easier the templates of the children's feet were taped to the boxes. Sunday arrived and Iris came back to help give the footwear out. The children ran out to greet us as we arrived and with the help of Anwarshi it was a simple job of handing them out. There were a few new children who had arrived, so as not to let them miss out we said we would come back later that day to bring an extra few pairs. The only mistake was one of the children had a pair a size too big, so these were also exchanged. The children were great and it´s good to know that the children have footwear to protect their feet against the sharp rocks and broken glass that surrounds where they stay.
After the madness of Christmas and New Year we have had to get back to work and this meant sorting out the rice quota which we give out to the children each month. The rice quota is an incentive for the families to ensure that the children continue at school throughout the year. As we now have over 100 children it does mean that the amount supplied keeps increasing.
Up until now it has just been rice, but as a few of the families mentioned that the flour we supplied during Diwali was so nice we have split the rice quota in half and made up the other half with flour. A total of 200kg of rice and 200 kg of flour was ordered from the supplier. It's quite a lot to manhandle especially due to storing it at the centre which is on the second floor! The supplier is in Mapusa so we usually strap the goods to the back of the bike and take 5 or 6 trips to the shop to pick it up, but thankfully the Trustees were on hand this month and kindly offered up their car to carry the majority of the weight. Thanks to Rhy, Ishita and Rahul for their helping hands.
There is normally a couple of the older lads willing to help take it up the steps, this time, Ganesh, Acchelal and Gopi helped Robert take it up to the centre. It´s a good way to keep fit and does provide for a effective cardiac workout carrying the large backs up 45 steps!
Over the following few days the rice and flour was distributed to the families. Thank you to everyone who made this possible. It costs around Rs 100 (£1) per child per month for the educational rations and we are always open for sponsors who would like to help.