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Delhi: In pandemic year, how marginalised children juggled work and studying

Some children spoke about their experience in a discussion hosted by NGO CHETNA to mark the International Day for Street Children on Monday.

By: Express News Service | Delhi |
April 13, 2021 10:20:54 am
The government has made fifty percent attendance of teaching and non-teaching staffs on the working and examination days . (Express Photo: Amit Chakravarty, File)

From a girl who worked with her father at a vegetable cart till 7th grade to a 12-year-old boy who prepared for and took an open school exam while working at a mechanic shop after the lockdown, several marginalised children went through extreme distress in the past year. For many, just being able to continue with their studies was a challenge — which some were able to tackle.

Some of these children spoke about their experience in a discussion hosted by NGO CHETNA to mark the International Day for Street Children on Monday. The children have been aided by the organisation in their journey of being admitted to government schools or open school, and in carrying on studying through this year.

The challenges of the last year pushed a 13-year-old girl, a student in a Delhi government school, to help her father sell vegetables door-to-door in a cart during the lockdown. She helped him keep account of their sales and purchases. They worked in two rounds during the day — from 6 am to 11 am, and from 3 pm to 10 pm. But she continued with the remote learning being conducted in her school and has recently been promoted to class VIII.

“My father used to drive an auto but that stopped during the lockdown and he couldn’t even pay the installment for his vehicle. Because of financial troubles, we both started taking out the vegetable cart. Then one day, I heard that online classes were happening but didn’t know how to join because we didn’t have a smartphone. But we saved some money, borrowed some more, and bought one. I did the schoolwork between the work I was doing. I did well, I was told I stood second in my class” she said, smiling.

Like her, a 12-year old boy has also been selling fruit, running a cart with his father, while continuing remote learning from the government school in which he is enrolled. “I had to work because we didn’t have a grain to eat. We alternate work on the cart through the day… Since we don’t have a smartphone, I went to school once a week to collect worksheets, and the didi from CHETNA would explain things I didn’t understand over call,” he said.

Another child who was pushed to work at a mechanic shop because of his family’s financial distress was a 12-year-old from a West Delhi slum. He was not enrolled in a school – his name had been removed from records after a long absence when he had to return to his village as his mother fell ill. However, he was preparing to write Open Basic Education Level B (equivalent to class V) from NIOS.

“My father already worked at a mechanic shop. When the lockdown happened, there was such little work that even I started working there. I do odd jobs like carrying things, lifting tyres and operating jacks. I still feel scared to work with the jack,” he said. While he is still working at the shop, he managed to write his Level B exam. He said he wants to be a teacher.

Like them, a 15-year-old is preparing for class VIII equivalent NIOS exam while working as a domestic help; a 13-year old has been balancing studying with working at a garment shop from 3 pm to 10 pm; and a 15-year-old wrote her class VIII equivalent NIOS exam while helping her mother do cleaning at a shelter where they live with her father.

“Street-connected children faced a very difficult time during Covid but the skills they acquire on the street probably helped them overcome the challenges. The ability of these children to continue with their studies despite all they went through is amazing… With them speaking about their experiences themselves, we hope policy makers will take notice and help them move forward,” said Sanjay Gupta, director, CHETNA.

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