Eleven-year-old Purnachandra from Odisha was in class V when he was uprooted and brought to Chennai, one fine day. According to his father, starvation far outstripped education and hence, it made sense to move here when he found a job as a daily-wage labourer. “I was not even allowed to write my final exam. I can't wait to go back home,” says Purnachandra.
The little boy is only one among several children who have lost their bearings and any chance of a school education as their parents move from one construction site to another. Udavum Karangal, an NGO working for the betterment of orphans and abandoned children, has launched a mobile school for children of migrant workers.
The bus is equipped with an LCD TV, toys and stationery, and shuttles between two construction sites, one in Nungambakkam and the other at Thiruverkadu. Vidyaakar, the founder of Udavum Karangal, said, “Over 20 children in the age group of 3-11 are taught alphabets and numbers in Oriya and Hindi six days a week.”
On Saturday, the bus headed to Loyola College where migrants have been employed in the construction of an engineering college. A bunch of four-year-olds and 11-year-olds gathered inside the bus for their first class. Most of them had never gone to school while some, like Purnachandra, had been forced to quit when their families moved out of their hometowns.
Each day's class begins with a chapter on sanitation. Teachers wash their faces, hands and feet, clip their nails and oil and comb their hair before beginning lessons. Shalini, a volunteer with Udavum Karangal, says, “The children come running towards us to get dressed as their parents don't pay attention to it.”
She and another volunteer, Neelam, are school dropouts while Madhusudhan Dangri, who was brought from Odisha for this project, could not go to college after completing schooling. But they have been engaged to help the children as they are proficient in Oriya and Hindi, the languages spoken by a majority of the migrant labourer force in the city.
Saura Nahak, a migrant labour and parent says, “Right now, I can't afford to send my son to school. I'm glad he learns something in the mobile school rather than wasting his time playing all day.”
To break the monotony of the two-and-half-hour-long classes, teachers incorporate creative games into their lessons. At the end of every class, they also play music or screen cartoons.
In a welcome move, some building promoters have been very receptive to this idea, says Vidyaakar.fun Kennedi, a site engineer for the construction project at Loyola College, said, “We felt children should not be deprived of education because of the circumstances of their parents who work here. So we didn't object when Udavum Karangal came forward with this idea.”