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Where India needs help? Stories of the underprivileged.

Here I am concerned with the way NGOs are telling stories on behalf of the underprivileged.We cringe when we hear development buzz words like “sustainability”, “community-focussed” and “livelihoods”, also get frustrated when we see photos of crying kids and underprivileged women posed next to their sewing machines for a livelihood. When we see stories and pictures like these we wonder if anyone is coming forward to explain the complexities of development and poverty. Can anybody think of interacting with people we see just in photographs?

We believe as a communicator in the form of NGOs, our role is to help those underprivileged people should have a voice, to give them a chance to portray themselves in a way they feel comfortable and allow them to tell their stories to us so that we can help them better. 

We struggle to see how we, or others like us, can understand or articulate the lives of the poor. We have no idea what it’s like to no longer dream, However, to accept life as it is. We wonder if there is the scope of bringing change or not. Imagine leaving an exhausted child on the side of the road to die, it's painful and every day many die.

We don’t want them to be viewed as helpless and weak.We also know the supporters and donors don’t like to read stories without happy endings, they like stories with smiling faces, children with clothes on, newly built schools. However, let us also not forget the thank you cards scribbled on paper with crayons and quotes with lines like, “because of you I am…” or “Thank you X NGO”. 

We sometimes wonder what could be the main cause for them being underprivileged, some reasons that we came across are child labour, discrimination, social exclusion as well as the lack of quality education or existing parents’ attitudes and perceptions about child labour. If we consider the report of Annual Status of Education, 2012, 67% of 5th standard do not know to read 1 to 100, 52% student leave school before the 5th standard, 55% of 8th standard students do not know how to read English properly. 

We know urban India is shining and also the world has recognized India as the economic superpower, However, the millions of people still living in the slum areas are struggling for the two ends to meet. And it’s visible that they have been deprived of eating the fruits of India's progress. This is what we call “Bharat”. There is a difference between "Urban India" and "Underprivileged Bharat". The two different worlds, where one is getting richer each day, while the other is getting poorer.

While continuing to work on this a question that aroused in our mind was “Why are children not going to school?” Some of the reasons are poverty, ignorance of the parents, less understanding of the importance of education among poor communities etc., but one of the major reason why students are not going to school is that there is no joy of learning, education is not interesting and useful. When I interact with students of our NGO Smiles.Care, they tell us nothing attracts them in their elementary school and there is no play way method of teaching and how they miss the politeness in the tone of their teachers.

To bridge the gap between Urban India and Underprivileged Bharat, In our village, we started with “Smiles.Care” with the idea of teaching kids with play way methods and with extreme politeness.  We believe, to eliminate poverty, to improve on health, education is the only tool by which people can have better future. With time, education can definitely raise the standard of living of the rural.

With innovative educational programs, we are trying to enrol more and more children to the evening school. Our foremost concern is to teach them how to live a better life, inculcate ethics and values in their life and thus helping them to become a better citizen of our country.  The latest UNESCO report on education entitled “Learning to be” says, the physical, intellectual, emotional and ethnic integration of the individual into complete man is a broad definition of the fundamental aim of education.” We try to impart this kind of education through our team of “Smiles.Care”. 

All of us know that child labour is a complicated issue in the present world especially in rural India, and if we look at the statistics given by International Labour Organization (ILO) and other government agencies, more than 73 million children between the age of 10 to 14 years are considered as child labour. The matter of concern for us is that Asian countries occupy a distinctive place with 44.6 million child labour with India accounting to about 17 million. 

We also came across the fact that child labour appears to be more in villages than in urban areas. Nine out of ten village children are employed in agriculture, small businesses or household works. Even though we are working upon this since a long time, and working on understanding why these children are more inclined towards work rather than education. 

Our purpose is not just to make a child literate, but also to uplift the oppressed human spirit through compassion and understanding by providing the economic, moral and social support at all levels. The reason why we work deliberately towards the idea of spreading education and not encouraging child labour is because it adds rationality to child's thinking, makes one knowledgeable and self-sufficient. If education fails to inculcate self-discipline and commitment to achieve in the minds of children, it is not their fault. The school, the teachers, parents and the NGOs like ours are responsible for not guiding right and providing quality education to the children in rural.

Many kids loose their parents at a younger age in villages, the major reason is drugs. Where every now and then one or the other child is losing his father or brother. We need to make people aware of, how important life is. The early marriages is another reason. I have come across many such incidents where the ID proofs are made fake and people marry their daughters even before 18 years of age. This leads to weak mother and weaker kid further and of course an unhealthy nation.

People have no work to do in villages except agriculture. Agriculture also depends on the weather. Sometimes makes people happy, while many times creates depressing suicidal situations in the family. Life in rural is tough. We need to bring innovative ideas to establish manufacturing units, skill development centres in rural to keep people busy and help them to earn a better livelihood.

When fewer people from a village get educated, they opt to choose cities and move to metros and many moves to abroad. Here we are wrong in a bigger way. If you are an IITian, an IIM or you have the potential to turn stones, you have the spark in you. Choose the tougher path, choose your village. What cannot be done without Politics, Religion or Money? I believe all can be done. If you have a gifted mind and body, you have the potential to make things happen and definitely, you can. Don't underestimate yourself. Start small and bit by bit we can work on bringing transformation in the lives of underprivileged. I am trying to achieve this through Smiles.Care in my village Tangra.

We need to take initiatives for product donations (Clothes, shoes, stationary) & Free food and clean water banks by tying up with college hostels and marriage halls and hotels in nearest cities. As an educated individual, we should volunteer fundraising events too.

The stories are painful when I see kids coming from villages 4-5kms from our NGO, by foot. Love, Politeness, and Care attract them. Before you do anything, India needs Love, Politeness, Ethics, Values and Care. With love, you can win over many things. When there were initial days of our NGO, A group of boys in a team won a sports activity. I asked them to do something for others and entertain as you are the winner. They said, "Should they do sit-ups?" It was a sad incident, Schools treat such a way that punishment has become a pleasure for kids. Rather than singing a song or dance they prefer sit ups by holding ears. I was moved by that incident and fell in more love with my kids. They handshake and hug each day when they meet me. I wonder more than this what love could be? I really doubt I believe it's the height of compassion. One should be thankful if gets the chance to serve the humanity at any point in time. Do not miss the opportunity, experience the real peace and joy.

My honest writings

Mandeep Kaur Sidhu



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