Tuesday, June 20

She finds her feet

After years of domestic abuse, this 29-year-old not only decides to break out of it but also finds a way to be independent while fighting those mindsets that subjugate women in all societies.

“I did not know I could be anything apart from a daily wager, just like my parents,” says 29-year-old Sashwati (name changed to protect identity) At Ambadi village in rural Bhandara district of Maharashtra, almost every other person is an agricultural worker. “Some have land. The majority don’t. The ones who don’t have land work for those who have,” she explains.

Sashwati went to school. She completed 12th standard and was married immediately after. “It did not matter that I finished my secondary schooling. I was not allowed to go to college because it was at a distance. There is a lot of fear about young, unmarried girls stepping out of their homes. And so, I was married off at 21,” she says with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. “My parents thought that marriage would protect me and help me have a small world of my own. Little did any of us that it would actually push me towards my own destruction,” her voice trails off and she can continue no longer.

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“It was painful. I thought I will get a lot of love and respect after marriage. I was let down repeatedly. I was abused day after day. Suddenly home was no longer what I expected it to be. I was scared, stunned that this could happen to me,” her voice carries the weight of pain and betrayal. Sashwati never shared a word about the abuse and beatings at home. She never told her sisters or her brothers that she was unhappy. Her in-laws kept torturing her for dowry. “I almost started living with the pain and humiliation. I was unhappy but I knew there was no way out,” she accepts.

After the birth of her first child, she hoped to take refuge in the new relationship. She also hoped that her husband would change his behaviour. But it was not to be so. The violence continued and grew worse since her in-laws knew she could be threatened with her son. “When my son was 3 years old, they beat me up so badly that I had blood streaming down my head. My son saw it and was scared of even approaching me. That was the moment I realised I am not in this alone. He would be suffering with me. I picked up my child and went to the nearest police station to file a complaint against my husband and in- laws. That night, I went to live with my sister. I told her the entire story and spoke to my brother. My husband and I were called to the Nagpur police station the next week. In the presence of the police and my brothers, he threatened to kill me if I went ahead with the complaint,” she narrates.

Sashwati refused to give in to her husband’s threats. “After a point, I stopped caring about what he could do to me. I had to make him stop somehow. I knew I had to live for my son.” She returned home and became a target of gossip by her neighbours. Even her sisters-in-law appeared hostile when they learnt she would never go back to her husband. 

“They were afraid that I would claim my share of the property. I had no such plans. My parents are so poor that they have barely anything to stake my claim on,” she shares with a laugh. Isolated in her own home, Sashwati decided to work twice as hard as before. “To forget my past and to earn so that no one would blame me for being a burden on my brothers,” she sighs.

She went back to doing what her parents did – long and hard hours of sowing and harvesting in the fields, under the merciless sun, for Rs 100 a day.

It was around this time that Vaishali, a Magic Bus staff, came to visit her house. She was enrolling children on the Magic Bus programme and asked if Sashwati’s niece would like to join them for a session. Her brother wasn’t willing to send his daughter out to play with people he barely knew. Vaishali assured him that it would be safe for his daughter and invited him to come for a session too. Sashwati appealed to her brother to let her niece participate and promised she would watch over.

During the two hours that she watched her niece play with 24 other young children, Sashwati momentarily forgot the nightmarish life she had lived in the last several years.“I laughed. I cheered. I listened. I realised how little of this I did in the last eight years of my life,” she shares.

Her interest in the sessions and about those who conducted them (the Community Youth Leaders or CYLs) brought her to Priyanka Patil, another staff in charge of mentoring those who deliver these sessions. Priyanka was looking to involve more enthusiastic Community Youth Leaders, as the number of children attending the sessions grew each month. Sashwati volunteered. When Priyanka told her about a five-day-long offsite for the training of CYLs, she was perplexed. She shared with her family and they reminded her that she was a mother of a five-year-old. “You can’t go just like that. Who will take care of your son?” they asked her. Sashwati prevailed with them. “It was an opportunity for me to do something that I wanted to. I did not want to let go of it,” she says.

Her family supported her decision grudgingly; and Sashwati found herself on board her first journey to a place far away from home, with people who were as similar as they were different. “It was all so new and exciting,” her voice quivers with excitement.

Things started falling into place faster than she had assumed. Months after she started her work as a Community Youth Leader, she was spotted by the Programme Manager, delivering a session to children. “Her confidence and enthusiasm drew our attention,” says Prashant, recollecting the first time he saw her. Later he came to know all about Sashwati. “They knew my financial problems. They were happy with my work and so they offered me a job: I could be a Youth Mentor at Magic Bus!” she beams.

“As young girls, we never had the freedom to step outside our homes. We moved between school and home. We were asked not to loiter, not to be loud. It was almost as if we learnt to remain unheard. Magic Bus is breaking this mindset and I am happy to be doing that for a living. I understand the value of helping each girl to grow up to be resilient and independent,” her resolute words linger on as she takes a brief pause. “More than anything, this job has helped me win back my self-esteem. I am no longer destined to live anonymously. I have a name within my community. I am not the subject of pity or derision. I am loved by my children and more by my son. He says he wants to be a District Magistrate one day and not let me work at all,” she laughs.

“I am 29 years old but my life seems to have just begun,” she sound buoyed with newfound energy and hope.

She was quiet for the longest time.
Till a point when,
Her unsaid words gathered and
Washing out all:

A clean slate, once again.

Wednesday, May 17

Paving her way towards her dreams: Asma from Mysore city

“All my siblings are married. My brothers continue to work odd jobs after marriage. My sisters are homemakers. My father was never in favour of girls’ working outside their homes. That way, my siblings are living to our father’s wishes,” Asma (21) says with a shy smile.

Asma lives at Rajiv Nagar in Mysore City with her family. She has seven siblings. Earlier they used to live together in a rented house. The rent was Rs. 3000 per month. With time, as her siblings married and started their own family, they moved away to live on their own.

Asma is the only girl in her family to have completed a pre-University course and work as an insurance agent, earning Rs.4000 per month. Her father is a scrap-dealer. “He is 65 years old now. When he had just entered the profession, he would make Rs. 300 per day. Now he barely manages to make Rs 100 a day,” she explains. 

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“Girls in my community are married off before they reach 18 years of age. Throughout our childhood we are taught household chores. Our aspirations to work and earn are never encouraged. It took me a great deal of convincing to get my father to agree to a job for me. None of my five sisters were allowed this freedom,” she explains.

She remembers the time her mother used to roll beedis to pay for school fees. “Somewhere deep down, my mother knew that I dreamt of working one day,” she remarks.
Convincing her parents to let her study and work wasn’t Asma’s only challenge.

I have not done much walking and running around since a polio attack at the age of five. It made people around me look at me with a lot of pity. No one likes to be pitied,” her voice grows serious. Asma’s family perpetually fell short of the money required for her many surgeries. They borrowed from the relatives. The burden of debt followed them around like their own shadows.

“When I heard about the Magic Bus' Livelihoods Centre from a friend in my neighbourhood, I was eager to join,” she says. “The Centre appeared to be the only way I could get a job, be independent and support my family financially." The Centre was 5kms away from her house. She would hop on to the tri-cycle she had received from the government and drive down to her classes.

At the Centre, Asma devoted herself to picking up skills that would help her find a job. “Since my childhood I wanted to stand on my own feet. With this job I am a little closer to my dreams,” she says.

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Her determination paid off. She was rejected multiple times, all on account of her disability. But these experiences made her more determined to give her best to each interview she faced.

There is a difference in believing in yourself and getting the world to believe in you. With this job, I have done the latter. I want to go on. One day, I will have a business of my own,” she shares.

Friday, May 5

The way to the classroom: Phoolwanti’s story from Bihar

“Bihar has nearly 2.2 million Musahars, according to the state Mahadalit Commission’s interim report. Community activists, however, claim that the population of Musahars cannot be fewer than three million in Bihar. About 96.3 percent of them are landless and 92.5 percent work as farm labour. Literacy rates in this community, which upper caste Hindus still consider untouchable, is only 9.8 percent; the lowest among Dalits in the country.” The Quint, The Musahar Community in Bihar struggles to educate its children, 23 January 2017

12-year-old Phoolwanti lives with her family in Lohanipur slum cluster in Bihar. Her family is a small one, comprising her mother and her younger sister. “My elder sisters are married and have children my age. They were married at my age,” she says, adding, “My entire family is into rag-picking. My father was a rag picker. He died of tuberculosis. When he fell ill and could not work anymore, he was less concerned about recovering than about getting my elder sisters married. I think, the tension and debts killed him,” her voice falters. “I cried a lot when father died. Mother tried her best to save him. She took him to the hospital. She worked extra hours to pay for the medicine. All of us ate one meal a day to save some money for his treatment. But we could not save him,” she sighs.

Phoolwanti from Bihar

Phoolwanti lost her younger brother to a disease she “knows nothing about. I simply know he would lay curled up in the corner of our house, clutching his stomach in deep agony.” Her mother works as a rag picker. “Her day starts at 6 in the morning. I hear the dragging sound of her sack on the floor and know it is time to get up. She works the entire day, collecting scrap, walking long, long hours in the sun,” her voice appears strained recounting a day in the life of her mother.

For Phoolwanti, the squalor of her surroundings is the only reality she is used to. “We live on garbage. We drink dirty water. We boil our water sometimes. Most of the times there is not enough money to buy fuel to light the hearth. On such days, we do not think if the water is dirty enough to drink.”

Lohanipur is home to a large number of Musahars – one of the most marginalized castes in India who are routinely forced to live in subhuman conditions and face rampant discrimination. In the struggle to put together two meals a day, most of these families do not send their children to school. Children, like Phoolwanti, either accompany their mothers at work or stay at home to finish household chores and take care of younger siblings. “None of my sisters went to school. My parents did not send me to school. Instead I went with my mother to collect and sell scrap every day. On days I went to work, mother made 300 rupees a day. Without me, she would only get 200 rupees a day,” she explains.

Phoolwanti had no time for school. But she wanted to go to school. She imagined how school would look like every single day she set out to work with her mother.

Prior to beginning sessions in this community, Magic Bus staff first reached out to enroll parents into the programme. Phoolwanti’s mother agreed to send her child for the sessions and volunteered to participate in the parents’ meetings as well. But when both of them failed to turn up on multiple ocassions, Magic Bus staff, Ritesh decided to pay them a visit. Phoolwanti’s mother shared her plight with him. “I can’t send her to school. If she goes to school how would I feed them? How will I return the money I had loaned to marry off her elder sisters?” she asked. Ritesh reasoned with her, calmly. But Phoolwanti’s mother remained unconvinced.

What followed was a series of follow up meetings with Ritesh visiting Phoolwanti’s mother to convince her to send her daughter to school. In those meetings, he tried to explain how early marriage and lack of education have been some of the reasons behind their abject poverty. When he learnt that her mother was planning Phoolwanti’s marriage, he firmly explained how this would destroy her daughter’s future. “She will never be able to move out of this suffering if you marry her so young,” he said.

“To me, the best aspect of Magic Bus’ approach is involving youth from a community to work with children from the same community. This creates trust in the minds of parents. It was easier for me to convince Phoolwanti’s mother because she knows I belong to the same community and live in the neighbourhood,” says Ritesh who has been working in Lohanipur as a  Magic Bus Youth Mentor for the last one and half years.

“Ritesh bhaiya never gave up. It is because of him that my mother put me in a school and asked me to study instead of working,” says Phoolwanti. There were many times when pushed to starvation, her mother considered pulling her daughter out. But Ritesh always helped her reconsider.

Phoolwanti goes to school today. “I want to take my younger sister with me too. But every time I get her to the classroom, the teachers drive her away. She has to have her name registered to attend classes. Next year, I will get her name in the muster rolls,” she resolves. “I find English and Maithili difficult. I enjoy Hindi. There are so many stories. I love reading them,” she sounds excited “I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I see so many children not being able to go to school. I want to bring them to school. I want to tell their parents about my story and encourage them to support their children’s dreams. Just like my mother did. Just like Ritesh bhaiya did”, she signs off.

Friday, March 10

A Ray of Hope in Guntur

In Guntur, Magic Bus works in 13 slum communities, all of which are in the outskirts of the city, and have only recently been brought under the Guntur Municipal Corporation. These are some of the poorest communities in Guntur, and where most of the people live in kutcha houses, and the communities lack even basic infrastructure.

In the last 18 months, in addition to working with children and youth, we have engaged the community leaders and have empowered and assisted them in demanding their rights from the Municipal Corporation. As a part of our review, we visited three communities, and met children, youth, parents, school authorities, anganwadi workers and community leaders to get a first-hand understanding of the programme.

One of the first people we met in Guntur was the Headmaster of a Government School, and he was full of praise for the work we do. “After Magic Bus came, prosperity came to our community”, he said. “We got electricity. And now, roads are being constructed and drains are being dug”, he added, waving his hands so we could take in the construction work going on around the school grounds. We dismissed it as hyperbole, but when we later checked with the Programme Manager we found that there was indeed a direct co-relation between us starting to work in the community, and the development – our Manager had invited the Municipal Commissioner to one of the events, and then repeatedly petitioned him to invest in basic infrastructure in the community. Though electricity, water and surface infrastructure should have been provided after the community came under the Municipality, it might have taken years if not for the timely intervention of the staff working on the HGS-Magic Bus Programme.

The same story was echoed in the two other communities we visited. In both, we interacted with the parents of children on our programme, and they told us that the Programme Manager, the Training and Monitoring Officer (TMO), and the Youth Mentor (YMs) supported them whenever they wanted to make a representation to any Government department or agency. Our programme staff have assisted in polio campaigns and government health camps, and they ensure that all the children are the community are enrolled in schools under the RTE. Two community leaders we met both said that after the programme started, not only have the children started indulging in physical sports (as opposed to marbles and gambling), they have also become better behaved and less rude. Whenever there is any issue concerning the community, the elders consult the YMs, TMO and Programme Manager – in fact, one of them even joked that if the TMO chose to stand for elections, he would be elected in a landslide!

Of the dozen Community Youth Leaders (CYL) we met, some had gone through the Livelihood Programme and had been placed in good jobs (the rest are still studying). However, they continue to be involved in the programme, and ensure that they conduct sessions on their weekly leave. One of them had even taken a day off, so he could meet us and tell us how becoming a CYL had changed his outlook towards life and of how he would only stop being a CYL when Magic Bus asked him to stop. Another CYL who has got placed spends her weekends performing the duty of a YM, because her community does not currently have one. We also met the mother of a CYL who told us that she was worried about what would happen to her son, but that he has discovered a purpose in life, she knows that he will do her proud.

There are many cases of people going way beyond their duties to bring about change. Here is just one:

Lavanya is a Youth Mentor who has got dozens of first generation learners enrolled in school (47 was the number shared by the Headmaster of the school). We met three children who she had enrolled just a week back. After losing her husband, the mother of the children made her way to Guntur where she found a job as a domestic help. While the mother went out to work, the three girls, the oldest of whom was 9, were left alone to fend for themselves. Our Youth Mentor got their papers made and enrolled them in the local school. In just one week, the girls have learnt to say “Good morning” and “Thank you”, though their English vocabulary does not extend much beyond that. None of the girls are old enough to be enrolled in the programme, but we have already made a difference in their lives.

We also met a woman YM who lost her husband a couple of weeks back, but was back at work 11 days after the tragedy. She said that she knows the impact of the work she does, and that was what gave her the strength to fight back.

In Guntur we are clearly going beyond our stated vision of helping children and youth break out of poverty – we are empowering entire communities to access their rights and take advantage of available resources. It is almost a textbook case of what an Integrated Community Development project should look like. We wish we could take you to some of these communities so you can see first hand the impact that the HGS-Magic Bus Partnership is making.

Posted by:
Natasha Ramarathnam

Wednesday, March 1

Dreams with responsibilities: Vaishnavi’s story from rural Maharashtra

Vaishnavi Kathelkar is 19 years old. She is in the final year of graduation and wants to pursue post graduation afterward.

Vaishnavi Kathelkar
She belongs to Chinchala village in Chandrapur district of Maharashtra. There are six members in her family. She has an elder sister, who is preparing for Civil Services; and two younger ones in the tenth and twelfth standard. Her father worked as a mason until he met with an accident that took away his ability to work. Her mother is an LIC agent. She makes Rs 3000 per month.

Vaishnavi with her mother
Vaishnavi and her family live with their uncles and cousins in a six-room house. Each family lives in one room. They share a kitchen and bathrooms. But do not share expenses. “When father met with an accident, none of my uncles came forward to help us out with money,” Vaishnavi points out.

Despite the financial pressure, Vaishnavi claims they never thought of dropping out. “Both my sister and I are good in studies. Our parents have always encouraged us to pursue our career aspirations. But when father met with the accident, both of us decided to take turns to support our mother. We were confident about balancing education with a job,” she shares.

Vaishnavi with Magic Bus Youth Mentor, Yogita
A year ago she and her sister were introduced to Magic Bus by Youth Mentor, Yogita Satpute. The latter was convinced that both the sisters could be great role models for girls in her community. “Unlike other communities, people in Chinchala are aware of the importance of education. Parents encourage their children to go to school. What they do not understand is that schooling is only a part of education. Life skills are as important as the lessons children learn in school. It helps a child negotiate and make most of the different situations,” Yogita explains. Vaishnavi agrees, “The training for Community Youth Leader was an eye opener for both of us. We did not know how important it was to learn essential life skills like the negotiation. We had never had the scope to think beyond books and school. The curriculum is refreshing. We enjoyed every minute of interacting with the children.”

Her father’s accident compelled her to look out for work. “Yogita di told me about Magic Bus’ Livelihoods Centre. I thought it was a good idea to get some guidance on planning my career. I learned skills to help me face interviews. I also improved upon my language skills,” she says. She took up a job at the Maharashtra State Electricity Board (MSEB) as a Punching Operator. Her working hours start from 11.00am and continue up to 5.00pm. She earns Rs 3,500 per month which goes to running the family. “I would go to college at 7.00 in the morning and attend practical classes till 10.30am. I would then rush to office, work till 5.00pm and reach home at 7.00 in the evening. On some days I am too tired to even have my dinner,” she shares.

Vaishnavi undergoing Complete Need Assessment at Magic Bus Livelihood Centre
The long hours and exhausting travel does not stop her from dreaming. “I wanted to be an Army Officer. But that couldn’t happen. I want to join the police. I find tough physical activity exciting,” she signs off.

Saturday, February 18

LION, the movie

Dev Patel-Nicole Kidman starrer LION is based on the hard-hitting, real-life story of Saroo Brierley. Ever since its release, the movie has won countless hearts, nominations and awards. It is only a matter of time before it releases in India. On 24th of February this month, we will finally get to see what the world is raving about.

A lesser-known fact about this film is that the makers are also leading a social impact initiative through their #LionHeart campaign. Magic Bus is proud to be one of the charity partners of LION.

Don’t believe us? Here’s what some of our heroes have to say about this film.

“Lion is a beautiful film. It moved me deeply. Sunny Pawar and Dev Patel are both outstanding as the child and Adult Saroo, and Nicole Kidman’s monologue in which she tells her adopted son the truth about his adoption is the most powerful scene in another exceptional performance. I loved the moments when Saroo’s past and present seem to fuse. Congratulations to all concerned. It’s a terrific piece of work.” – Salman Rushdie, award-winning author

“Lion is the most real, moving, bonding and universal story I have ever seen on film. And it’s a special gift now that we are being told to isolate ourselves and pretend we are not all passengers on space ship Earth.” – Gloria Steinem, writer and activist

“As a refugee, an immigrant, and a mother, LION resonated deeply with me. It is a remarkable film and testament to the indomitable human spirit.” – Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State.

“Lion is a profoundly beautiful testament to the power of finding and understanding your identity. People from all backgrounds and all walks of life will be moved by this universal story.” – Chad Griffin, President of Human Rights Campaign, the largest national LGBT organization

“In a world that seems to be broken apart by divisiveness, LION roars with the kind of hope we are looking for.” – Global Citizen

 “Lion is an inspirational movie, a true story of joy and hope in adversity. Beautifully shot and directed, it has moved audiences around the world.” – Lionel Barber, Editor, Financial Times

“Lion takes you on an emotional, visceral journey. It’ll give you another good reason to believe in the magic of humanity.” – Andrew Ross Sorokin, New York Times Columnist/Editor, Co-anchor of CNBC’s Squawk Box.

“When a powerful story is told with emotion, beauty, pain and love, it can transcend geographies and self-interest. This is what Lion has accomplished and why it is an incredible tool that is creating impact across the globe. May it guide the human desire to do more in a disparate world” – Justin Reeves, Executive Director of Magic Bus USA

“In Lion, the human heart roars, pulses, and quivers in the search for what really matters.” – Dr. Oz

“Each night before my match I have my team come for dinner and movie night. We watched Lion before the final of the Australian Open - what an incredible movie.  It’s one of the most emotional and amazing films I’ve ever seen. It has my vote.” – Roger Federer

Don’t wait. Get your free pass to a private screening of the movie on the 22nd of February in Mumbai. Participate by clicking on this link: http://bit.ly/LIONscreening

Thursday, January 5

The Zeal to Excel

Johar and his family of seven members—including his paternal uncle—live in a make-shift tin shanty. He is the oldest among his siblings. His father and uncle are both carpenters and his mother is a housewife. The average family monthly income is between Rs. 8000 to Rs. 10000 ($118.8 to $147.8). Both is parents are school drop-outs (father is a Class 8 drop-out and mother dropped out in Class 5).

                                                                             Representative image. 

In 2011, Johar joined the Magic Bus programme and also got his three younger siblings enrolled. He got interested in the programme as it gave the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities and learn through interactive activities. There, he honed his interests in wrestling and kabaddi and went on to win awards at the zonal level competitions in both these sports. He also plays football for his school team and has brought laurels in inter-school football tournaments.

Academically, Johar is in Standard 9 and is appreciated by the Magic Bus TMO (Training and Monitoring Officer) for his hard work and sincerity. For Johar this appreciation and encouragement from his TMO constitutes one of the best memories associated with Magic Bus.

Magic Bus has transformed Johar in many ways. He has now become more punctual. His interest in sports has increased and proudly expressed that. The activity based learning approach of the Magic Bus programme has strengthened his inclination towards education. He is quite motivated by the encouragement received from the Magic Bus staff, and aspires to serve his nation.  

We wish Johar all the best for his future endeavors.