Thursday, July 20

The girl with big dreams and a bigger determination to fulfill them: Sravya Madasu from Telangana


Sravya Madasu

14-year-old Sravya Madasu wants to be a doctor. “There are no hospitals in the radius of 10 km of our village. It is so difficult to get a doctor during emergencies. I want to be the first doctor of Pudur village and open a hospital in my community.”

Sravya goes to a government school in Bollaram and is ‘happy’ that her mother cannot afford to send her to a private school. “Would I have met Magic Bus had I been studying in a private school?” she asks innocently.

She lives with her maternal grandparents. “We live in a kuchcha house – the one which is made out of mud,” she explains. “I live with my elder sister, mother, and grandparents,” she says. After a small pause, as if out of habit, she adds, “My father does not live with us. He left my mother just when I was born. He did not want two daughters. My father believes that daughters are of no use. I have never seen his face since.”

“My mother has been an inspiration to both of us sisters. She was married at 17 and really struggled to educate herself. She is a graduate and wants to study further. She works as a computer operator at the Gram Panchayat office with a salary of Rs. 5000 a month. She wants to complete her B. Ed. so that she can be a teacher. Teaching pays better.”

Her mother learnt from life. She was forced to marry early because her parents – both of them were agricultural labourers – had barely enough money to educate three children. She works hard so that both her daughters study further and build their own careers. “My mother never speaks about marrying any of us. My elder sister is studying electronics. I want to be a doctor. She is forever supportive of all our dreams,” she says proudly.

With Rs. 5000 a month, a day-to-day struggle to have enough to eat, is inevitable. “There have been so many days that we have slept hungry. Sometimes we just have rice with a little bit of pickle. But that is fine as long as the family is together and supportive of each other,” she says. There are times when Sravya’s uncle steps up to support the family financially.

So what brought Sravya to Magic Bus?

“Actually it was the other way around – Magic Bus came to my school. Initially we were all hesitant to participate. Is it another P.T. class? We used to wonder. Gradually, we understood that Magic Bus was less about the balls and cones, and more about application, drawing parallels and inferences with our real life,” she explains. Sravya joined Magic Bus two-and-half years ago.

Sravya at her school

“None of us at school ate healthy, nutritious food. In fact, we used to pick and separate the vegetables and eat rice alone. Through the sessions, we came to know how important it is to have nutritious food. Similarly, we have learnt so many new ways of taking care of ourselves, of leading healthy and hygienic lives,” she says.

Doesn’t her mother tell her about everything she needs to know?

“Even if she wanted to, she barely has time to do that. In Pudur village, every other person is engaged in daily wage work that keeps them out for long hours. They cannot give their children the attention they require. There are so many children in my school who are irregular; there are others who do not pay attention in class. All of us need mentors in our life to guide and inform us. Our Magic Bus didi is just like that to us,” she explains.

While underlying the immense value of mentors in each of our lives, Sravya also promises that if she ever gets an opportunity to mentor someone else, she would take it up happily just like those who made a difference in hers.

Monday, July 17

Learn at leisure: Learnings from the DISHA programme

DISHA programme is funded by HDFC bank and implemented by Magic Bus, Life Labs,
 and Learning Links Foundation, in partnership with the State governments of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra. The programme aims to build life skills of adolescents, improve their learning levels in numeracy, reading, and science, and ensure first-generation learners complete their formal education. The programme works in 172 schools across four states impacting the lives of 17,500 adolescents.

One of the challenges in school-based interventions is the discontinuity that takes place when the schools are closed during vacations. Disha being such a school-based intervention, we were concerned about the long summer vacation in the months of April to May. We wanted to continue the learning process despite the school being on vacation. We wanted to ensure that nothing interrupts the learning process that Disha has fueled. This gave birth to the idea of a Summer Camp!

While summer camps are a fairly common urban phenomenon, it is unheard of in the back and beyond areas where the Disha project operates. The children living in these remote regions have never experienced anything like this. Summer vacations for these children mean visiting relatives, playing with friends; some children, especially in tribal belts, accompany parents to the forest to collect forest produce such as tendu leaves, selling the produce at weekly markets, making brick kilns. Girls end up helping with household chores. Sometimes children even start gambling, playing cards with small sums of money. Being first generation learners and with no support system at home, children start disengaging from the learning process.

We put our heads together to make it a different summer experience for our children, one that would be joyful and full of learning. The focus remained on developing life skills and improving their numeracy and literacy skills. The underlying principle was to make learning fun and engaging. We worked with the children and not with their teachers.

The camp was called Masti-ki-Pathshala in Madhya Pradesh and Dhoom Dhadaka in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Not all children who attend the Disha programme came for the camps due to lack of resources to cover all the schools under the programme. There were many children who had left for their native villages during the summer holidays.

Masti Ki Pathshala

Under life skills education, some of the innovative activities included Best out of Waste, Community Mapping, Collage Making, and Treasure Hunt.  These activities encouraged children to work in groups, think out-of-the-box, get creative, solve problems by engaging with others, negotiate, and take decisions.  Science-based activities and projects were also undertaken to ensure children have more clarity on science-related concepts that they learn in schools. To improve language and numeracy skills, innovative activities and Teaching Learning Material (TLM) was used. For example, building vocabulary related to daily life through a game of dumb charades, using story boards to narrate stories, using pebbles to teach counting, number line, learning about shapes through everyday objects.

Best out of waste
Learning to count using pebbles


Masti-ki-Pathshala received wonderful support from the community. Parents, Gram Panchayat members and SMC members have supported it wholeheartedly. In Chhattisgarh, 643 children attended the Summer Camp. SMCs were actively engaged in planning and organizing them. In one of the locations where the Resource Person (RP) was finding it a challenge to reach on time, the Sarpanch provided temporary accommodation to support the camp. Seeing the success of the camp, the Chhattisgarh government has recommended that in the coming year, we organize a camp across all of Disha’s schools!

In Rajasthan, 150-200 children were attending the camp every day. Those who were marked as absentees in school were found to be a regular at these camps.  They have now promised to be regular in school in the new academic year. In fact, some of the schools not covered by the Disha programme have also requested for the camps to be organised in their schools’ coverage area. The camp will end with an exhibition to showcase the work done by children where community leaders and other stakeholders groups will be invited.

In Maharashtra, the Summer Camps were organized within the school premises. This was a wonderful opportunity for us to build rapport with children and school stakeholders as the Disha programme is in its inception phase here. We started the Camp in 15 schools out of the 28 schools where Disha is functioning at present. We reached out to as many as 423 children! In Nagpur, the Principal of a school was so impressed with this initiative that he purchased a cricket bat and ball along with a football for the children in his school.  Teachers said that the students who would never come to the school started coming regularly for the Camps. In some schools there were no cupboards for the Science programme but post the Camp, the Panchayat resolved to pool in money for its purchase.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Camp was conducted in 10 schools. One of the biggest highlights is the role played by the Community Coordinators in getting children for the Camps. They conducted door-to-door visit, informing and involving the parents in the process. They worked really hard to develop a link between the project and the community.


Numeracy

By: Team Disha

Friday, June 23

Magic Bus - Changing and moulding lives of thousands!

"Maybe, not everyone is blessed enough to live a life they actually dream of.”
But maybe, there yet exists a bunch of people who  are busy spreading humanity around.


“Magic Bus”, mere a 8 letter word seemed worth exploring when I first heard it. There exists super man with super powers and then there exists some hearts who just can’t resist spreading good. Indeed, Magic Bus is a latter one.  

This Non Governmental Foundation,  with a worldwide reach is really changing lives around. The words “Childhood to Livelihood”  are not mere the words they give, but something they get into action, changing and molding lives of thousands. Running in almost 22 states of India with a strong base of about 4 lakh children already enrolled, today Magic Bus has been ridiculously changing lives.

Getting an opportunity to spend a day out with a few kids was actually a great thing. It was around 10:30 in the morning and I saw a bus coming from far.  As it stopped, kids ran out, carrying their bags, with a real happy face. Actually, this made me smile. What was next? From the way they greeted their mentors to the thought process they have developed, they got me wondering, how in every broken lane of our country, lies a talent, an art, and a true self.



From getting them enrolled in schools, counseling and helping them design their lives, the organization is really giving the best they could. the staff and the mentors engaged, are really doing a job worth a loud applause.

Just in their primary schools, these kids dream  something even we lack to! They want to be a police and save girls from eve teasing. They want to be a doctor, cause they saw some one dying, merely cause a doctor in their slums could not be approached. They want to be cricketer, because they saw Captain Dhoni getting awarded and that they want to be one.

And yet we see them with a different perception? They think the same as we all do or maybe a step ahead. And what’s worth wondering again is the fact that they actually want to learn, to grow and to prosper. Just because they don’t get what they want, and hence lag behind, we take our eyes off them?

But as mentioned, there yet exists pure hearts and fragile souls, and no doubt Magic Bus is a bundle of them.

It takes huge effort and a great wisdom to come ahead and dream of changing lives. And yes, Magic Bus is doing this. An appreciable effort and obviously a salute deserving team!



By: Khushali Shah


Thank you Khushali! Your lens has beautifully captured the happiness and zeal of children and youth associated with Magic Bus Programme. 



Magic Bus stands true to its name



Who am I? I am someone who chose his parents & pin code wisely.

How far you go in India depends on the parents you were born to & the pin code. I call it the ovarian lottery. I have been lucky, I chose my parents and my pin code wisely. 300 million didn’t and therefore are reeling under abject poverty.

Magic Bus stands true to its name and is symbolic of the work they are doing in the area of educating & empowering children right from childhood to livelihood.

I have been to several NGO’s across India, so much so that I have lost count, but I have never ever visited a slum.

Today, courtesy Magic Bus, I visited a slum in Milind Nagar, Mumbai, my first reaction was that of bewilderment, small dingy cobbled roads, heavily populated with shanties on either side, garbage dumped in pompous display, even the dogs don’t move, so you have to be an amateur steeplechase athlete to jump over both the dog and the pipes. I managed it all three times with panache. Welcome to Mumbai - Welcome to India because true India lives here.

I was extremely impressed by the dedication and sincerity of the Community Youth Leaders, Babu & Supriya. Babu had spent 9 years with Magic Bus -  The way they went about their work, enthused me, the children had one thing in common, dreamy eyes and a flashing smile. The children were being exhorted to a small interesting game under the simple principle of “each one teaches one “.
Babu’s & Supriya’s  impact on these young children is profound & long lasting. They shape the character, curiosity level & intellectual potential of these children. In other words, they help shape our society.

Hats off Supriya & Babu - It’s not easy what you are doing, that’s the reason why you are doing it. You are the chosen one.

As Gabriela Mistral has so poignantly said. “We are guilty of many crimes, but our worst sin is abandoning the child; neglecting the foundation of life. May of the things we need can wait; The child cannot. We cannot answer tomorrow. Her name is Today “
Education is also a basic component of social cohesion & national identity. The foundations for a conscious & active citizenship are often laid in school.

What Magic Bus does to a nicety is, it gives shape to children’s dreams, gives the child a sense of belonging – making him/her feeling wanted. The schools where these children go are not particularly great, therefore a dovetailing of situational awareness coupled with a basic understanding such as washing hands before eating goes a long way in eliminating the vulnerability.

Another unique feature of Magic Bus is that it uses a robust learning model ABC (Activity Based Curriculum ) that uses activities and games to change attitudes and behaviours. 40 sessions per year - each with a key message, teach children important life skills around education, gender, and health.


My message to the children was simple “Don’t worry about where you are now, focus on where you want to go “ Embrace these challenges & hardships, they will make you strong & keep you rooted.
Working at the bottom of the pyramid is a daunting task, but this is where a radical transformation must happen. These 300 million people must enter mainstream for India to stand any chance of stamping its prowess on the global arena. In a country where we have more cell phone’s than loos, we don’t even realize what we need. That is what poverty can do to you.

But our dreams are more powerful than our memories & life is lived forward but understood backwards.

As I made my way outside the dwindling path – to the more comfortable surroundings, I thanked the Lord Almighty & Magic Bus for giving me this opportunity to see the blatant reality of life.


By: Shajan Samuel


Thank you Shajan! Your lens has beautifully captured the happiness and zeal of children and youth associated with Magic Bus Programme. 

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.

Reference Image


“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
poured
Out.
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. 

Reference Image

“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.

Reference Image

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
https://twitter.com/nuts2406

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