Monday, November 30

Mentor. Guide. Leader - Gulafsha Khan's story

Gulafsha Khan - Teacher, Magic Bus

Not far from the historic city of the erstwhile Mughal Rulers, Delhi, is the large settlement colony of Bhalswa. In stark contrast to the grandeur of the capital city, Bhalswa can best be described as Delhi’s largest dumping ground. It is difficult to conceive that the shantytown is home to thousands of families who were evicted from slums in Delhi and resettled near a landfill site. It is even harder to believe that a young girl could rise like a phoenix from under the pervasive haze of the putrid and toxic methane gas.

Gulafsha Khan was a young girl when her family was forced to move to Bhalswa. “We lived in a slum in Nizammudin in South Delhi with access to clean water and electricity. We were horrified when we got to Bhalswa. The area was a desolate jungle swarming with snakes. People were so despondent that they wanted to run away. When the settlers began digging the earth to stand their shelters, they found countless bones. It was a creepy place”, recalls Gulafsha. Her five siblings and parents struggled to make ends meet then and it is not very different now. Most of the community’s population is well below the poverty line. Men and women work as daily wage workers at construction sites while some women find employment as maids in more affluent areas nearby.

Over time, the settlement degenerated into a slum while the peripheral area developed with the setting up of two primary schools and one secondary school. Gulafsha and her five siblings found their way to school while living in a one-room slum with their parents.

In 2011, Gulafsha heard about the NGO Magic Bus from her friends. She went to meet its volunteers, Santosh and Mahadev, and learned that Magic Bus worked to drive change in the areas of education, health and hygiene and reproductive health. 

Gulafsha says, “I signed up for the Community Youth Leader (CYL) Programme. After my six day training, I had to make a group of 25 kids and teach through play. I approached several parents to permit their children to join the activities in a nearby park. Many declined for safety reasons. I had to build their trust in me over time to prove to them that I was a responsible girl.” The volunteers at Magic Bus recognized Gulafsha’s enthusiasm and extraordinary mentoring skills and awarded her CYL of the month. They consistently encouraged her to pursue her education while gently cajoling her parents to agree.

Subsequently, Gulafsha also received other essential training such as computer literacy skills and functional English, as part of the Magic Bus Livelihoods Programme.

“It has not been easy for me to step out to work. My community has constantly taunted my parents for letting me work and in turn my parents have often pressured me to abandon social work.

When I am with my group of children I feel like a child again. In the time I spend with them, I forget my worries about the present and the future entirely.”

Gulafsha with the children of Magic Bus 

Gulafsha realized that her parents could not afford her college education so she began giving home tuitions to middle-school children. “I now pay my college fee from my earnings”, says Gulafsha. “I want to study further to qualify for a teacher’s job.”

Guafsha, 19, wants to live life on her own terms and she does today.

(Source: Women of Pure Wonder, published by Roli Books.)

Monday, November 9

Finding a way out of poverty: Keerthi's story

"It is the happiest moment of my life", says 21-year-old Keerthi on getting a job as a Customer Sales Specialist with Eureka Forbes.

“I don’t know if I could be happier. I believe this is the best thing that has happened to me in the last 21 years”, says Keerthi, his excitement seeping through his otherwise calm voice.

In June this year, Keerthi was hired as Customer Sales Specialist in Eureka Forbes at Mysore city, Karnataka. He gets a salary of 4000 per month and incentives for every sale that he makes. 

For Keerthi's family, his job is their only hope to break out of poverty.  
On asking if he is satisfied with the remuneration, Keerthi explains “Our family has seen some tough days since my father passed away 15 years ago. My mother toiled day and night to make ends meet. She works as a coolie in a local sabzi mandi earning just 3000 per month. I would have dropped out long ago had not a government scholarship funded my education from tenth onwards. I was in desperate need for a job. I had to earn and help share the burden in the family. This job engages me for just three hours leaving the rest of the day to help in household chores and improving my own skills. And, the salary is a huge help for my family. Last month, I took home 15,800 for selling 6 vacuum cleaners. For the first time in years, my family could at least afford the basic necessities. It is definitely a beginning”.

After his father's death, Keerthi's mother took up a labourer's job in the local vegetable market. She had a monthly income of Rs. 3000.

“Such opportunities are hard to come by especially for people as poor as us”, says Keerthi.
The Magic Bus Livelihoods Programme provides suitable employment opportunities to underprivileged youth like Keerthi to help them break out of poverty.
Keerthi was a part of the third batch of young people in Magic Bus’ Livelihood Programme in Mysore city. The programme helps in building the capacities of underprivileged youth so that they set realistic aspirations for themselves, inculcate employable skills, and get access to gainful employment.

When Magic Bus Youth Mentor Deepu came to our house and informed us of the Livelihoods Programme, I was drawn towards it. I had graduated last year and was desperately looking for a job. I asked around in my community and heard favourable responses about the programme. A friend of mine in the community had got a job within months of joining the Livelihood Programme”, Keerthi explains.

Keerthi with his trainer at the Magic Bus Livelihoods Centre
After joining the programme, he was taken through a Comprehensive Need Assessment followed by a Personal Development Plan. It was a blueprint of his strength, weaknesses, aptitude and attitude. He also went through a process of training on using computers, managing his finances, spoken English language, and business entrepreneurship. The last is a compulsory skill set giving young minds a direction to become entrepreneurs themselves.

Keerthi’s strength and interest was towards managing interactions with customers. He was advised to focus on marketing and sales oriented job. When the Eureka Forbes opportunity came along, we asked Keerthi to go for the interviews. “It was my first interview. Naturally, I was nervous. But, months of grooming and practice at the Livelihoods Centre had its benefits”, he says.

Keerthi is considered a conscientious and hardworking employee at Eureka Forbes. 
Keerth’s performance at Eureka Forbes is being lauded by his team manager there. He is seen as a valuable member, capable of taking up new challenges, and comfortable with the customers.

For Keerthi, this is a step forward in the right direction. “Some more years down the line, I want to start my own agency”, he signs off.

Keerthi aspires to start his own agency 
Want to help more Keerthi's find their calling and way out of poverty? Donate.

Friday, October 16

A story of exemplary courage: Meet D. Prakash Rao from Cuttack, Odisha

Prakash Rao in his roadside tea stall
A year ago, when the TV show Satyamev Jayate showcased Magic Bus’ work in moving children from poverty, 57-year-old D.Prakash Rao was one of the millions of viewers.

“This was just the organisation I was looking for,” he said, inspired by our experiential learning approach “I wanted children from my school to have the best education possible."

D. Prakash Rao lives in a slum cluster near Buxibazaar in Cuttack, Odisha. He runs a roadside tea stall here – the only source of income for his family of four.

In spite of his overwhelming responsibilities at home and the tea stall, Prakash finds time for the young school-going children in his locality. Between 9.30 and 10am in the morning, he distributes 50 litres of milk to all the school-going children in his locality. “How can a child learn in empty stomach?”.

Having lived through poverty, Prakash understands the struggle of not having enough to eat, let alone go to school. His father’s untimely death caused him to drop out and take up a job and shoulder the responsibilities of the family. It was this experience that led him to set up a school in his slum 15 years ago.“I want to make sure no child misses out on school just because of poverty,” he says. “In my slum, for instance, I decided that if children can’t make it to school, school must come to them," Prakash has opened a small school in his slum and hired a teacher, the entire cost of which comes out of the earnings from his tea stall. The school holds classes for children from the first till the fifth standard. “Primary education is crucial. It is the foundation for further studies”, says Prakash.
Prakash in his school.

Today, 86 children study in this school.
Their parents are rickshaw pullers and domestic workers, the bottom rung of India’s employment pyramid. “It doesn’t matter where you belong in the economic strata, it is important that a every child gets educated”, he explains.

Every day, during the lunch break, Prakash visits the children in his school. Apart from the school, Prakash is equally involved with the local hospital – he visits the patients every day – sometimes bringing in hot water and milk. He even got a water heater installed in the hospital to help patients have access to hot water within the hospital premises.

Having discovered happiness in helping the poorest of the poor, he started influencing the youth to do the same. Through his constant encouragement, a network of youth is now supporting Prakash’s attempt to bring about quality education and healthcare services in the slum.

Prakash contacted our zonal office in Hyderabad soon after seeing the Satyamev Jayate episode. He was intrigued with the approach and wanted us to help enhance the learning experience in his school as well. Our visit to Prakash Rao’s school left us inspired – his grit had brought about a change in the lives of those children who could have either become a child labourer or a child bride. Our activity-based learning sessions were a huge hit with the children.

Prakash Rao’s is a standing example of what we can achieve through sheer determination. We are proud to be a partner of his initiative, and more so for being able to share his story and message to all our readers.

Thank you, Prakash.

Thursday, July 9

5 things you should know about Magic Bus’ young friend, Ishaan Jaffer

1. Ishaan is a 16-year-old national-level swimmer who was adjudged the Best Swimmer in the under-17 boys’ category.

2. He is the youngest swimmer to win a gold medal in the 35th National Games held in Kerela this year.

Ishaan participating in a competition.
3.  Ishaan was the fastest 14-year-old swimmer in India in 2013.

4. He started swimming at the age of 6 and follows a strict practice schedule. He strikes the perfect balance between studies and swimming – this helped him score 96% in the ICSE examinations this year.

5. He wishes to fundraise for 66 underprivileged children so that they can join the Magic Bus.

Support Ishaan's endeavour | Donate

Friday, June 26

When giving up was a better option than giving in: Naseem speaks about overcoming addiction

Disclaimer: The following story is about one of our Community Youth Leaders who overcame alcoholism. His name is changed to protect his identity.

Before it turns your health upside down, addiction plays havoc with a person’s will power.

Nasha was my life. I would begin and end my day with it. I had lost count of days, months, and years that had flown past me while I was in nasha”, recounts 25-years-old Naseem (name changed)

Naseem was an alcoholic for four years, from 2007-2011.

When Naseem graduated from school in 2007, his parents haboured hopes of seeing their youngest child in a white-collared job, unlike their three elder children – two sons and a daughter - all three married and working in the unorganised sector as labourers. 

That’s how most people in his community, Bhalaswa in north Delhi subsist: as daily-wage laourers. Incidents of crime, drug abuse or nasha as people fondly call it, are widely prevalent here. Naseem unwittingly took to alcohol at quite an early age.

A sneak-peak into Naseem's session.
“As a 17-year-old, I was running on a very thin rope; there were enough reasons for me to not indulge in bad company, but at such a tender age, only bad felt good”, he grimaces.
Naseem began consuming alcohol in remarkable proportions since then. His tryst with intoxication continued for 4 years till Magic Bus intervened in the community. Nirmal, Magic Bus Youth Mentor marked the community as “high-risk” as it was known in the neighourhood for indulging in substance abuse. 

Despite caution, Nirmal ventured into the community and began mobilising people. In the second month of meetings, Nirmal met Naseem. Naseem had potential but he was gradually throwing away all his talents through excessive drinking. It was Nirmal who introduced Naseem to Santosh, Training and Monitoring Officer, for rehabilitation and counseling.

“Santosh bhaiya was calm yet firm with me. In my first few sessions, I watched atleast five documentaries that showed me the fatal effects of alcohol. I began to analyse my activities objectively”, he explains.

The incident that shook him the most was when one of his dear friends collapsed in front of him due to excessive consumption of alcohol. He realised that it could have been him. All that Santosh bhaiya had been telling him about abandoning his habit came back to him. He took his friend to the hospital and vowed never to touch alcohol again.

Naseem was dejected. He experienced withdrawal symptoms after he gave up alcohol but he was ready to try and turn around his life towards a better future. That’s when something remarkable happened. Santosh bhaiya appointed him the Community Youth Leader. In one go, Naseem found himself being looked upon as a role model. 

“ I will always credit Magic Bus for believing that I could be a better person, that not all was over. When one is fighting addiction, the belief and faith of the ones closest to you does a great deal of good. The first few months were unbearable without alcohol, but Magic Bus’ constant support and the company of children helped me forego my habit”, he smiles.

Today, Naseem works as a government contractor and continues to be Magic Bus Community Youth Leader. In his free time, he counsels children and youth who indulge in nasha. He gives his own example every time he faces a stubborn addict.

In fact when he shared his story, he believed that it would motivate anyone indulging in substance abuse to give up on their habit.

On International Day against Drug Abuse and Trafficking, sponsor a child and help them stay addiction-free.

Thursday, June 18

Small town, big dreams – Kowsalya’s story

A year ago, it was rare for girls of V.R.P. Chatram community to step out and participate in outdoor activities. V.R.P. Chatram is a semi-rural suburb near Chennai. Its residents are mostly factory or agricultural labourers who travel to Sriperumbudur everyday for work. Girls of this community would often engage with elders to understand the root cause of gender-inequity in their community, and try to subvert it; however, their efforts went in vain.

“There were guidelines set for girls at every age, and we were supposed to adhere to those. I was not ready, but I was unsupported in my quest”, reminisces 19-year-old Kowsalya. 

Kowsalya delivering a session
Kowsalya joined Magic Bus a year ago as a Community Youth Leader. She was spotted by Magic Bus Youth Mentor, Kiruba.  “Kowsalya came across as an independent, righteous girl who wanted to empower herself and women within her community. However, she had limited support from her community”, says Kiruba.

Magic Bus entered her life at a critical juncture: it gave her the platform that she was looking for years. 

“Before I joined Magic Bus, I would give out leaflets to children in my community on gender-equity, healthy practices, and education. They would enjoy reading it but would forget about it in a few days. I soon realised that there was need to reiterate the message and find innovative ways of putting it across as well. Magic Bus’ Sport-for-Development approach was the perfect combination of both”, she explains.

Sports has an easy connect with children. But, to get girls to play alongside boys is always a stiff challenge in communities where the norm is to keep girls indoors. Initial resistance to change, suspicion about Magic Bus’ activities in the community and its underlying purpose always poses a challenge. But, our Community Youth Leaders (CYLs) and Youth Mentors (YMs) are adequately motivated and convinced to take on those challenges and slowly open up the community to support girls participation in sports and activities.

Children participating in a sport-for-development session
Kowsalya overcame the resistance of her home and community. Not only did she step out of her home, but also motivated and encouraged other girls in her community to do the same. She realised that simply stepping out of homes is not enough – girls had to be made aware of the importance of hygiene, healthcare and education.

Kowsalya is studying Bachelors in Computer Science and working as an agent of change in her community.

There are many more Kowsalya’s whose story you will read about in this blog. But, we must not forget the incredible support of Asian Paints in scripting change in this particular community. Thanks to Asian Paints’ support we’re now able to work with 2400 children in this community – many of whom have unrealized leadership potential lying dormant in them.

Similarly, your donation might help more Kowsalya’s to lead change in her community. 
It simply takes Rs.1500 ($25, £15) to help more children like Kowsalya to step out of their homes and become leaders. Support them.

Wednesday, April 22

A little piece of clean, green earth

Imagine a childhood without play! A struggle, right? Such was the case at Appur, a community comprising of 350 households in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

"There was only one open area but it was littered with stones and thorns. Kids would play but they would get hurt too. No one cared", says Barathi, our Magic Bus Community Youth Leader (CYL). "We are a deprived community. We do not have access to primary health care centres,  electricity, or proper government schools. Lack of a space to play was one among the many deprivations we faced. The only problem was, no one recognised it as a problem ", recalls Barathi.

Children participating in a Magic Bus session.
Seven months ago when Magic Bus came to their community, the lack of play spaces made it extremely difficult for them to conduct sessions. 

It was then that the community, led by Barathi and a few other Youth Mentors and Community Youth Leaders, took up the initiative to clean up the only space they had access to. "At present, regular sessions are held here. Children come and play. It's like a new lease of life for them". The cleaning initiative also helped Barathi realise a hidden leadership potential. "He is now a role model for the other CYLs and children", says Yesudass, Training and Monitoring Officer (TMO) with Magic Bus' Tamil Nadu programme.

Children enjoying their clean and green space
Every child has a right to a little piece of clean, green earth.
We, at Magic Bus, firmly believe in this and strive to build clean, safe, and free spaces for underprivileged children. We have ensured that 2546 playgrounds across the country are clean and accessible for all.

Call 1800-200-6858 to support.