It looks like a scene straight out of Mira Niar’s Salaam Bombay; kids running around in dirty clothes, streets swarming with flies and women standing on the doorways looking for work, the only difference is the location. Tandur, a municipal town of Ranga Reddy district in Andhra Pradesh has become a hub of sex-workers functioning out of absolute dirty shanties, walking the streets of which alone could give shivers to anybody. In a country where majority of the festivities are connected to the worship of the female goddess, a chunk of the real women have to resort to ‘other’ means to feed hungry mouths. In play are power politics and gender discrimination slowly eating their ways out on the desperation of the people. Poverty, illiteracy and unemployment lurk in the shadows, often one rising above the other.
Mothers do not want their daughters to fall in this vicious circle but the fires in their bellies often result in the unwanted. The authorities have tried to keep a check but the intensity of the problem has not ceased to be. “From the moment I stand on the balcony to the moment I earn I only think of my child and getting her educated. She is a quick learner, she will do well” says Kamla. Tears of despair well up, melancholy sets in, our conversation ends.
Responding to the need of the hour, Smile Foundation through its Mission Education centre Sampurna has bought about immense changes in the scenario of education and employment in the area. It is quite a sight in the mornings when tiny tots line up with their mothers and wail their hearts out as a very heartily gushing mother leaves them in the custody of the teachers. Morning routines have changed now and so have the days. The children who attend school everyday are the change that their mothers have wanted forever. Evenings are now filled with laughter and the hushed silences when the remedial classes begin. Gender roles cease to exist inside the classrooms making it a progressive space. Standard of education for these children, who once did not care if A for an Apple and E for Education meant a future which could change their lives, has improved. Starting with 30 students the number has reached to 210 students who are slowly taking the road which is leading them towards better employment opportunities and a chance to break away from the chains of oppression.
As Malcom Forbes said, “The purpose of education is to replace an empty mind with an open one”, the centre through its activities is trying to infuse new ideas and open up the children to a world in which they feel confident about their capabilities and aspire to do better every day. The psycho- social support provided to the children is breaking the barriers which arise due to the family profession. The additional computer and remedial classes are opening up new avenues for the grown up children and youth who can now engage in other forms of professions and white collar jobs. The regular sensitization drives have tremendously raised awareness levels.
3 computer instructors, 4 teachers, 2 Ayas, a few volunteers and sensitized mothers have changed the story. The Salam Bombay like script is being re-written, social economic battles are being won and happy endings are near!