Neelam has been begging since she was very young. She does not remember the exact age since she started begging to support her family of five, including her husband and three kids. Her husband goes to the nearby city to earn a daily wage. She has begged all her life and so have her grandmothers and the other women in the small community she is a part of. Going to school and thinking of any other livelihood source was never a possibility for her and the other inhabitants of Chakrabhata village in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh.
The men in the Chakrabhata village throng to towns and cities to find labour work on daily wages to bring back home meager earnings which just about meet the most basic needs of their families – food, clothing and shelter. While the men go out for work, the women who are also burdened by the financial adversities go begging. Lack of proper education has made it difficult for the women to leave begging that has been going on for generations in the community.
But this does not mean that they do not dream of a different, improved life for their children. If anything, their helpless situation has made them more determined to ensure that their children do not have to face similar hardships. “Our only wish is to see our children live a dignified life, where they do not have to asks for alms and depend on the mercy of others to feed themselves”, says Neelam. Thus, it was the mothers who took the initiative of enrolling their children at Smile Foundation’s Mission Education centre MITWA when it was first started in their village.
With the implementation of this centre, the children in the community are now not deprived of the right to education. And their mothers are not deprived of hope anymore. Just like the other women in the community, Neelam feels joyous when she sees her children reading and doing their homework. She continues to beg but is hopeful that her kids will have a better life. She says she has a better aim in life now and that is to get her kids educated so that they can lead good lives. Her kids love going to the education centre and they love reading the stories written in their books.
In addition to learning, they also enjoy playing with their friends and the poem recital class in the centre. The Mission Education Centre now has more than 100 children enrolled. Computer education is one of the major skills that the children are being taught at the centre. Deprived of education, proper food, adequate healthcare, the children now experience the little joys of a happy childhood. In addition to lessons for a brighter future, the students are given lots of love and care at the centre. While some of the children come to the centre without any goals, some have even realized that their motive to get educated is that they have to get skilled to earn a good job so that someday their mothers do not have to beg anymore.
A big percentage of our population still lives in destitution and one of the major reasons for this is the lack of education. A person who is not educated and aware is not equipped with the right mindset to take the right decisions in life. Limited and unequal access to education in our country makes it difficult for the weaker sections to emerge and contribute towards the growth and development of the society and the country as a whole. Education is both the means as well as the end to a better life; means, because it empowers an individual to earn his/her livelihood, and the end because it increases one’s awareness on a range of issues – from healthcare to appropriate social behavior to understanding one’s rights, and in the process evolve as a better citizen.
With the children in Chakrabhata being nurtured as first generation learners, there is an even bigger responsibility on the teachers to ensure the holistic development of each child, so that they can grow into good human beings, responsible citizens and potential change-makers. These children after all will not just be writing their own future, but also will be the way their families and community have lived for generations – forever!