May was challenging for the young CRY volunteers. Ignoring the scorching and sultry Kolkata summer, they were to be found in the urban slums of the city, and not in the air conditioned malls their peers were frequenting during their holidays. The volunteers were busy conducting summer camps for the children of the Kolkata slums. In one such, a bunch of them met Sabina*. This little girl lives in the interiors of Ballygunj (otherwise known as one of the posh parts of the city). No! where Sabina lives, there are no jazzy shops or eateries, nor palatial mansions. She lives in a shanty, much like her friends.
Like most of the other residents in the area, Sabina’s parents are engaged in making shoe-straps. Since their economic condition is extremely poor, they were forced to engage Sabina into the same trade since she was 9 years of age. Though she is enrolled in a school near Topsia, she is barely regular as most of her time goes into work, for which she earns a daily wage of Rs. 20. The only reason that could get her to school was the mid-day meal!
Often, this 11 year old girl was subjected to mental violence and physical abuse in order to earn bread for the family.
She came to know about the summer camp from her friend who encouraged her to join. She fought with her parents and started attending the sessions. She was particularly interested in maths and origami classes and started opening up to the volunteers about her situation. “I want to attend school regularly” she says. The volunteers readily started counseling her parents. At first they did not pay much heed. The situation changed when Sabina correctly introduced herself, in front of them, in English. “What have you done?! I cannot even write my name in English and look at my daughter!!” Sabina’s mother was in tears.
This was all the push her parents needed! They have taken the pledge that they will send her to school regularly and even though she needs to continue her work, the working hours will be reduced. They may soon find a tutor for her so that she can learn better. “I want to become a teacher. My favourite subject is math. But now I like English also,” smiles Sabina.
Dutikeshwar Ballav, the volunteer who was actively involved in the counseling session, says “It was a life changing experience for us. These children can do so much if we support them a little. I feel, as the youth of this country, we all have responsibilities towards these children. There are so many Sabinas waiting for a gentle hand of support”.
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*Name changed to protect identity