Alumni of MV Foundation, who were liberated from the clutches of child labour, recount their stories.

Hyderabad was witness to one of the most spectacular alumni gatherings recently, where around 2000 of the 10 lakh children pulled out of bonded labour met. Today, as adults, they make up an impressive work force of educated, articulate working professionals.

Most of them were from Andhra Pradesh but some from Assam, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar as well. The strong message that they sent out was that with education and commitment it is possible to end the humiliation of child labour.

Many of them are still shy and diffident but most walk tall and earn good money as doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers and businessmen. The residential bridge course camps, where 50 to 100 of them forged new relationships with other young people-- equally deprived and maltreated—are their “temples.”

It was 20 years ago that MV Foundation began its movement for eliminating child labour and getting all children into school -- a movement that earned Dr Shantha Sinha, now Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, the prestigious Magsaysay award. She is the founder of MV Foundation.

Radiating new energy and hope, the alumni broke the popular myth that as long as there is poverty in the country, child labour cannot be eliminated. “It is education that has brought us out of the trap of poverty,” they said in unison. Coming from the poorest of families and put in bonded labour at six to eight years of age, they were able to break free and soar. Each youngster fondly remembered a volunteer who made repeated visits to their homes to convince their beleaguered parents that school was a better option than the doles given by rich farmers and those who employed their children. They recalled teachers, and camp officials who stood by them and nudged them to pursue their dreams. With a sense of pride many of them acknowledge that their villages are today child labour free.

Among the many icons graduating from the Foundation's portals, Malleshwari (22) is very special. With a melodious voice she holds centre stage at all the Foundation's functions and has cut 11 albums with songs on social issues, child labour, the Telangana movement and even devotional music. She hopes to do play back singing for the film industry. It was at the bridge course camp that her talent for music was discovered and nurtured.

Equally eye catching is Malleshwari's media persona. She is Hyderabad's first media camera woman and is currently working with Telangana News Network. Her monthly salary of Rs 16,000 is impressive for a girl who till the age of 12 was herding goats and cows. For many of the wide eyed youngsters entering the portals of education straight from the fields, Malleshwari is the role model.

The story of Narsimha (29) of Elverte village, Shankarpalli, Ranga Reddy district, illustrates graphically the pressures brought by the rich to keep the children illiterate and shackled to menial jobs. Narsimha was barely six years when his parents disappeared. His paternal grandmother then took him to Prabhakar Reddy, a wealthy land owner of Elverte, and virtually sold him for a year for Rs 500. Narsimha lived in a hut. He would be woken up at 6 am to tend to nine cattle till 6 pm. After a year, his grandmother returned, took another Rs 500 from Reddy and left. This continued till he was 8 years old and was rescued by MVF volunteers.

Early one morning Shantha Sinha visited his hut and asked him if he would like to study. She invited him to the three-day camp in his village. When he went back, he was beaten up by Reddy for a whole week “to knock out the lofty ideas of education that may have entered his head”. When Shantha came to visit him again he showed her his scars. For a whole month there was the drama of Narsimha being taken to the camp for education and Reddy browbeating camp managers and dragging him back, till Shantha complained to the police and they intervened. After six months of struggle, he was put in the Mahrajpet camp where he attended the bridge course, joined a government school in Class IV, and later did BSc from Osmania University. Today, while studying for his B.Ed, he teaches at the bridge camps.

In the early Nineties, K Bhagavanthu (27) was a young boy who worked in an Iranian hotel from 5 am to 11 pm to earn Rs 5 a day and food. Today he is a cheerful, large hearted man working with the Army as a civil cook and earning Rs 14,000 a month.

His wife Balamma, B.Ed, is also an MVF product. They have three children and are determined to set up a school of their own in their village.

Each story of struggle and triumph narrated by the alumni proves one thing – education is the vital game changer in every case.

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