Read here December’s newsletter
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
It has been an especially difficult year for India’s most vulnerable communities. But with the support of our wonderful donors and with Tiljala SHED’s hard work, we have been able to provide huge amounts of food relief, educational support and disaster relief. Read on…
When India locked down on 25th March, no one was able to go out to work. In the marginalised communities of Kolkata, families live hand -to-mouth on the daily wages of one or two family members. Rickshaw drivers, street vendors, stall holders, beggars, rag pickers, factory workers, maidservants suddenly lost their incomes. Where families had bank accounts and savings these were soon run down and desperate people crept out of the shanty towns to find help. Crowds of desperate people came to Tiljala SHED.
Distributing Food Rations during COVID 19 Lockdown
Local groups and individuals mobilised to supply sacks of rice, dal, onions, flour, biscuits, oil. We converted the beauty training salon to a warehouse and distribution point. Staff members who were able to come in got busy, registering applicants, handing out food vouchers and then organising COVID safe distribution. Funds and in-kind donations flowed in from all over Kolkata, from across India and around the world. Our team of around 10 staff and volunteers have managed to provide food rations to upwards of 35,000 hungry people over the course of the last few months. Your donations made a huge contribution to this effort. Read more
Worse was to come when Cyclone Amphan blasted across the Bay of Bengal sweeping away many thousands of homes. People who had been on the edge of survival now lost their homes as well. A Facebook appeal led, via Global Giving—to Tiljala SHED. We were offered funds to help in the relief effort, so our small team headed by truck, car and boat out to a very remote and deprived part of the Sundarbans (in the Ganges Delta, where the tigers live) with a large delivery of food rations and tarpaulins for a highly vulnerable community that had been destroyed by the Cyclone. Read more here
Repairing the Tiljala SHED Vehicle
All the heavy work required of Tiljala SHED’s single vehicle, a 12 year old Suzuki van, was too much for it. Rats had also moved in through holes in the bodywork and the suspension was gone. I sent out an appeal for help—and although not enough to replace the vehicle, sufficient funds were raised to repair it. It is now back in service, driven by Aslam, one of our most hard working and thoroughly dependable staff members. Tiljala SHED can do little without this car and driver—and your generosity have kept both on the road. Thank you. Read more
Back to Education though not yet to School
As India’s lockdown came to an end and people, especially those of our beneficiaries who work in India’s vast informal economy, were able to resume work and our attention needed to turn back to our core concerns: education, women’s empowerment and livelihoods. Schools remain closed in Kolkata. Many children have access to online learning but in these communities, it is rare even to have a smartphone, let along a laptop. These children, already severely disadvantaged, have fallen months behind. But, thanks to the generosity of our donors, once again responding to my appeals, funds were raised to buy smartphones and data packs for 20 of our neediest secondary school pupils. This is currently a pilot scheme, but I anticipate we will need to find funds for many more. Read Bhola’s Story
The Topsia Evening Class
I have written before about the Topsia Evening Class and how impressed I am by this group of highly vulnerable but driven and ambitious young people. They are working hard to lift themselves and their families (and their community) out of poverty. With our help they will make it. I truly believe this little group can transform their entire community with a small amount of support from us. They are now returning to evening classes 5 days a week and learning to use their smart phones to access their schools and online education. They also seem to have mastered Facebook. Read about Saika
The Smaller Children
Meanwhile the smaller primary age children have returned to our centres for daily classes. With the help of masks, hand sanitizer (especially important where there is no safe running water 18 hours of the day) and maintaining social distance by halving the class size and doubling frequency we have been able to resume our vital work with this group too.
Just when everything seemed to be returning to a new normal and the children were once again engaging with their education, 2 disasters rocked the Topsia community……..
First, one of our lads in the Topsia Evening Class, Fahim, lost his mother in a horrific road accident. The poor boy is heartbroken. He is 17 and left to look after his sick father and two younger brothers. He wants to be a lawyer but the loss of his mother, the main breadwinner, a maidservant earning just Rs2000 (£20) a week, means that he will be under huge pressure to leave education and get a menial job, just so that the family can eat. Thankfully, Tiljala SHED , with the help of our donors, will be able to help support the family whilst Fahim and his brothers remain in education.
On 9th November we distributed smartphones to 20 young people to help them access their education online. They were so thrilled – even Fahim raised a smile. But the very next day, their neighbourhood went up in flames. 110 homes were destroyed leaving 110 homeless families. I just couldn’t believe that this deprived little community could have had so much bad luck this year. We are still working on the relief effort. Local organisations, other NGOs and many private citizens came forward with tarpaulins, mosquito nets, solar lamps, food, cash donations and offers of help. And as I write the resilient residents of the Topsia Canalside Squatter settlement will quietly rebuild their homes and get on with the harsh business of carving out a livelihood, feeding their families and getting an education.
You can see how vulnerable these communities are, but there is real hope for those who want to change their future. I am especially interested in education and how small donations can help keep children in education, keep them safe from abuse and child labour.
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.
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.
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.