Woes of slum dwellers: No clean environment for those who clean the city
Deep inside the small town of Rawalpindi, Pir Wadhai where the roads are rough and surrounded with heaps of garbage, there is a place for the working children where they can relax, learn and play. Among them is an 8- year-old girl, Kiran, a regular garbage-picker but she dreams of having a big beautiful house of her own. Her dream to bring a visible change in her family’s lifestyle seems a little closer to reality after attending last six weeks in a rare classroom where she is learning Urdu, English and also sewing. “I have a dream of living in a beautiful house with my family” said Kiran in a softened voice.
Kiran is one of the many kids who come to attend 3-hour schooling daily at Children Drop-in Centre managed by Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) and financed by a German NGO, Kindernothilfe (KNH) in Fauji colony at Pir Wadhai where the marginalised children of society are offered an opportunity to dream of a better future.
“This place was chosen as SPARC’s only ‘drop-in centre’ in the city because a large number of children work here as garbage-pickers, sellers, domestic workers and child labour” explained Sohail Akhter, Manager of the Drop-in-Center.
“Currently 98 kids (5-17 years of age) are enrolled in different programs where they benefit from various services as psycho-social support, non-formal education, medical support, vocational skill training and recreational activities” said Akhter. Since January 2011, SPARC’s lone drop-in-centre has served more than 1700 children in Rawalpindi. “The non-formal course has been designed to prepare them to get admission at primary school level.” Children of age 12-17 also receive arts and crafts training comprising of sewing, dough making, and mehndi art along with basic education.
Apart from the colourful classroom, the nutritious lunch is what drives many to the centre. When asked how she came into the centre, little Meena, 6, said her mother’s aunt told them that: “you don’t have to pay fees and buy uniforms and books in this school.” This highly-populated suburb of Rawalpindi has more Pushtuns than Punjabis, and Kashmiris. “The community usually opposes sending children to school as their first priority is to send children to work to earn money. So we initially we had to persuade the parents to send their young ones to school while continue working,” told Mahnaz Qayyum, the psychologist at the centre.
Vocational training besides basic education is a great incentive to encourage parents to send their children to the centre. “If their parents lived a painful life, it does not mean the children have to face the same,” added Mahnaz. One of the prime tasks is the psycho-social treatment of the newly- admitted children, she said.
Although there is little hope that these downtrodden children will able to join the race with privileged segment of society, however, the three hours-a- day regular classes for three months at the drop-in-centre does offer an opportunity to the less-privileged children of society with a golden chance to learn, and to play. This social program may not entirely change their lives but it offers a ray of hope of a better future.