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Educational Sponsorship News

A brief update on the Topsia Evening Class Education project in Kolkata

I am in regular touch with Parveen our programme co-ordinator and who has taken a special interest in this cohort of young people.  This is what she tells me:

  • Our centres are open and the vulnerable children from our communities are coming in for daily classes. As you see from the photos social distancing is minimal, but then their living conditions also make it impossible.  There is a very low instance of the virus in these communities (very young population… make your own conclusions)
  • We have recently started dedicated English lessons for the Topsia Evening Class (something they have been clamouring for). Aftab has been with Tiljala SHED for many years, speaks and writes beautiful English after spending time in London as a young man. He never saw himself as a teacher – but as with so many in the pandemic, he has found a new role for himself. He teaches every weekday – the kids are very lucky and thrilled to have formal English teaching.
Aftab’s English Class

Using smartphones for online learning

We distributed 20 smartphones after a fundraising push in September. These enable the children to access their schoolteachers and to engage in online learning. They are finding this extremely helpful. It really is a leveller in a society where middle-class kids have phones as a matter of course.  There are more youngsters who need phones – we will distribute phones as funds come in

Saika and her new bicycle

We were able to buy a bicycle for Saika. She attends extra tuition classes and needs the bike to travel. I have also received requests from Suman and Bhola. Both these boys also attend distant tuition. Suman collects large bundles of slippers to bring home for his mother to trim (she will earn less than £1 a day for this). He carries the bundle on his head at the moment, but the bike would make it easier and he could carry more. Bhola also wants to cycle to keep fit. He is very keen to join the army or police force. The bikes cost about £48 each. Thanks to your sponsorship, they will get their bikes.

Heera-di takes Rina to collect medication

Rina had a medical issue in December, but thanks to her sponsor, her expenses were paid. Our oldest and most experienced staff member, Heera-di, accompanies Rina to her medical appointments. Rina received her smartphone in November and is happily getting on with her online schoolwork. She attends Aftab’s English classes as well as external tuitions. She is studying for her class X board exams in May.

Bhola quizzes the Deputy Commissioner of Police

Last week the Evening Class were paid a visit by the new Deputy Commissioner of Police Mr Faiyez Ahmed. He was there to give a motivational speech and encourage the youngsters to think about a career in public service. The youngsters were enthralled. Bhola and Qumrun among others were particularly interested. Mr Ahmed will continue to offer moral support. With your sponsorship, the children’s enthusiasm and hard work, Mr Ahmed’s support and Tiljala SHED’s facilitation, there is a very exciting future for these children. Do please follow Tiljala SHED on Facebook. You can read about the event there.

Saika and DCP Ahmed
  • Qumrun and Rohit are very hardworking young people. They are both working towards their class X exams this summer. Because they have a sponsor, they are able to attend external coaching classes. We expect these two to do very well.
  • Parveen also asked me to authorise the provision of dry rations (flour, rice, onions, lentils etc) for the families of Rina, Suman, Bhola and Neha. Thanks to our sponsors, this will happen. All these children are from destitute families which have suffered very badly during the lockdown. Many families will need this kind of support – especially as we are asking them to keep their children in education and out of paid work for many years longer than they had expected.

There are total 20 young people in this Topsia Evening Class group at the moment. 6 of them have named sponsors. There are anonymous sponsors for 4 more.  I am looking for another 10 sponsors to sign up for £30 a month. After that there are about 40 more young people in secondary education who need the same kind of help. We are paying for teachers’ salaries and other basic expenses out of general donations, but to ensure the long-term success of the project we need a substantial list of regular donors who can commit to monthly contributions. If you know of anyone who might like to get involved, do please let me know.

Meanwhile, thank you so much for your amazing support. You are changing lives and giving hope for a better future.

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Educational Sponsorship News

Fahim

This is Fahem. Yesterday his mother was crushed to death by a truck.

This week Fahem and 19 other young people from our Topsia Evening Class are due to receive smartphones to enable them to continue their education online. Fahem is 17 years old and wants to be a lawyer.

Fahem lives in a shelter beside the Topsia Canal (actually a huge open sewer). His father used to work in a garage but ill health means he is now a rag picker, subsisting on collecting and selling on other people’s rubbish. Fahem’s mother held the family together with her Rs2000 (less than £20) per month income as a maidservant.

Her death leaves Fahem and two younger brothers aged 10 and 13 without a mother, looked after by a father who is himself sick and unable to earn enough to feed the family.  Not to mention their broken hearts.

Today he is sitting in the Tiljala SHED office, inconsolable. He was asking for £75 to pay for his mother’s funeral.

This is not the way I intended to launch our new educational sponsorship scheme, but Fahem’s plight highlights why promising, ambitious and hardworking youngsters from these desperately poor families need the extra help to keep them in education. Without their mother’s income, Fahem and his brothers will be forced to drop out of school and find work. Fahem’s dreams of going to college and becoming a lawyer will be dashed.

For £30 a month and perhaps a little extra to buy food, Fahem and his brothers can stay in education and have the opportunity to make something more of their lives. If you think you could help a youngster like Fahem, please get in touch. No need to have direct contact or even be connected to a specific person, but every £30 keeps a young person in education for a month.

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Educational Sponsorship News

Saika’s Story

Saika is 17 years old and lives in a a shelter beside the open sewers of Topsia in Kolkata. She lives with her father, who is a street vendor selling puffed rice and gram; her mother, a homemaker; a sister and brother. The family struggles to survive on her father’s tiny income. Yet all three children attend school and have real hopes for a better future.

I have long been impressed by Saika. She is a founder member of the marvellous Topsia Evening Class. Along with around 50 others she attends this class every weekday evening after school*. Here they receive additional academic support from Tiljala SHED’s tutors. They have an opportunity and the space to complete their homework. They are also part of a “Child Club” dedicated to child protection. It is important for youngsters in very deprived and illiterate communities like this to understand and to assert their rights: child labour and child marriage are common. This group now actively campaigns for children’s rights and have prevented child marriages within the community. They also rehearse and then perform street dramas highlighting child protection issues. They also have self defence lessons – an activity they all enjoy and skills that, sadly, they need.

Practising Self Defence

Saika is a confident and outspoken girl who has taken this public role further. She fought on behalf of the whole community to receive food rations when India’s lockdown began. On Independence Day this year, she initiated a flag raising ceremony for the community and requested funding to be able to provide snacks. Last Tuesday 10th November when fire tore through 70 homes in Topsia, it was Saika who raised the alarm. And Saika and friends were in the forefront of the relief operation when Tiljala SHED’s staff were distributing food, tarpaulins and mosquito nets in the days that followed.

Saika on Independence Day

It was fortunate that Saika had been issued with a smartphone just the day before. These phones have been given to 20 members of the Topsia Evening Class to enable them to access their education online whilst the schools are closed. We had no idea that one of these phones would be used to save lives and homes.

Of all the young people in Topsia, Saika strikes me as being most likely and determined to change her story. She wants to be an airline pilot. But, being a girl, she faces huge cultural pressure to marry. Marriage would end her hopes of any serious career. She told me when I saw her in January that her mother wants to send her back to the family’s ancestral village to get married. So far Saika has resisted. Her very best chance lies in her education. We want to give every one of the young people in the Topsia Evening Class but it would be a particular tragedy to lose Saika. If I can find a sponsor for her, we can provide enough support to persuade her family to let her remain in school and go on to further education. And knowing she has been sponsored would give Saika a huge boost.

£30 a month would provide all the educational support Saika needs: books, stationery, travel expenses, extra tuition, shoes, uniform.

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Education Educational Sponsorship News

Bhola’s Story

This is Bhola. He is 16 years old and lives in the Topsia canalside squatters, a row of shacks built on a spit of land in the middle of an open sewer in central Kolkata. There are two fresh water taps for the 710 families in this community. The water flows for a couple of hours twice a day. Keeping clean and having access to clean drinking water involves queuing and frequent arguments.

Bhola’s family are destitute. His mother earns Rs500 (less than £5) a month as a tailor and his father, normally a driver, recently broke his leg and has lost his job. The family of 4 has depended on food parcels from Tiljala SHED through lockdown.

Bhola collects food rations for his family who are suffering in lockdown

It would be regarded as normal for a boy in Bhola’s circumstances to have dropped out of school and found some low paid labouring work to support the family. But Bhola is a bright boy and is determined to do better for his family.

 

Bhola with new school books
This week Bhola was able to buy books so that he can continue his studies

He is a member of Tiljala SHED’s “Topsia Evening Class”, set up 3 years ago to provide educational support and encouragement to secondary school youngsters at risk of dropping out of education.

This cohort of young people has become a close knit, hard-working, socially aware and determined group. Bhola and four others passed their class X public exams this year. This is unheard of in a community like this. He wants to become an accountant.

It is a commonplace in the aid world that donor money is best spent on the girl child or on empowering women. And there is good reason for this.  However, I have known many many young men who have embraced the help they have received and have gone on to play important roles in civil society. They are financially independent, good fathers and often give back to the aid sector that helped them. And as one researcher reminded me about these communities, these are the boys that the girls will marry.

I also observe the children’s parents. The fathers are often broken by poverty: hard labour as rickshaw drivers, in factories and on building sites ruins their bodies. Soon they cannot work and are unable to support their families. Many turn to cheap hooch and domestic violence ensues. Family breakdown is common. The women work tirelessly to hold the family together. It’s a depressing story that repeats and repeats.

Bhola aims to break the cycle, but he is in a terrible position. School is closed because of COVID. He wants to learn but can’t even access the online classes. The family is hungry – it must be terrible for him.

But we can help. In September, through Global Giving’s Little by Little campaign, we raised enough funds to provide Bhola and 19 other members of the Topsia Evening class with smartphones and data packs.   A small monthly contribution will provide Bhola with all the books and stationery that he needs. It will help keep the Evening Class going and give Bhola access to teachers, career counselling, extra tuition, food rations and moral support.

If you would like to sponsor a young person like Bhola, a monthly donation of £30 covers all his education expenses. A further £15 provides a food parcel for his whole family.  Knowing he has a sponsor in a far-off land will give a youngster like Bhola tremendous motivation to keep going. It is terribly difficult to resist the downward pull of poverty in a marginalised community like this. But I know it is possible.

Bhola is 16 years old. He lives in the Topsia canalside squatters, a row of shacks built on a spit of land in the middle of an open sewer in central Kolkata. There are two fresh water taps for the 710 families in this community. The water flows for a couple of hours twice a day. Keeping clean and having access to clean drinking water involves queuing and frequent arguments.