Three boys were among those who were recently rescued and rehabilitated by the NCLP team as part of their efforts to provide education and eliminate child labour
“I’m telling the truth, believe me. There is a pooja happening in January. The money we collect is for that,” says 13-year-old Dheena. He glances at his friend Vignesh and grins. Vignesh tries hard not to laugh. “Yes akka. The money is for the pooja. He got Rs.200 one day and I got Rs.90.” Twelve-year-old Pugazhendhi, who has been watching us silently, declares: “I buy mittai and other things to eat with the money I collect. I give the remaining to my parents.”
Dheena, Vignesh and Pugazhendhi belong to a group of migrants from Mettupalayam.
New comers at a special school run by the government-funded National Child Labour Project (NCLP), they were found seeking alms in the guise of Ayyappa devotees in the city. Some NSS volunteers spotted the kids at Kamaraj Nagar near Sundarapuram and alerted those at NCLP. Soon, Biju Alex, a field officer, arrived on the spot and rescued the kids.
He says, “We received an order from the District Collector to look into children begging in the streets pretending to be Ayyappa swamis”.
Making a difference
It has been just over a week since these children have been admitted into the special school. Their parents, leave home early in the morning to sell plastic ware in exchange for old saris. Today, the kids study along with other child workers who dropped out of school. If all goes well, they could be mainstreamed into a regular school. Dheena, Vignesh and Pugazhendhi have never been to school all their lives. Before they were rescued by the NCLP, they wasted away their days thinking of ways to make money. With the little they made, they ate, watched movies and sometimes supported their parents.
A willingness to learn
Seated on the dusty steps in front of the school, the three of them gradually open up about why they took to a dishonest means of earning. “I felt bad,” says Pugazhendhi. “To lie for money. But what can I do? Everyone else was doing it.” The kid wants to “join the military and shoot all the terrorists.” With unkempt hair and a permanent grin on his face, Vignesh is full of questions. “How does water come out of a pipe?” He wants to know how a seed has the strength to push itself against the soil to come out. “How does a bike run?” he asks. Dheena wants to build a house for his parents.
With school, the kids are changing the way they think. D.V. Vijaya Kumaar, project director, NCLP Coimbatore and Tirupur, comments: “This is the result of just five days of effort. We warned their parents not to send them for begging. Social Work students counselled them. We told them that care and support was very important for the children.” But what happens to the students if the group of migrants move next?
It all comes down to the parents, says Vijaya Kumaar. If they are supportive enough, the kids can continue education in another taluk or block. “We will issue a transfer certificate which can be used to enrol the kid in another school,” he says.