A trio of girls from the Rag Picking community fight against the odds to continue their education
The name Anand Parbat probably wouldn’t ring a bell with most people residing in the nation’s capital, Delhi. It is only one of the domains that exist, invisible and unrecognized. However, in the middle of this indescribable colony is the story of three girls and their indomitable will to study against all odds.
Many people living in the area’s transit camp witnessed the fiery and undying spirit of three girls who became “the first” in their scavenger community to pass the class ten exam through the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). For these three young girls, their journey has not deterred them from dreaming big and their success has served as an example to other girls in the community.
Juggling various tasks over the course of a day, from picking up rags in the early morning to going to school and taking care of household chores, these three girls have come a long way. They are convinced that education will transform their lives. They will come out of picking rags and they will live a dignified life and be able to lift their families out of poverty.
True to their region’s name Anand Parbat, which means ‘Happy Mountain’, Pooja, Poonam and Tulsi today rise as high as a mountain and start working to ring a happy future for themselves.
Pooja – The bold and creative
Her interest in education began when she first attended a school remedial center run by World Vision India, an NGO working in their community for over a decade now. Pooja, now 19, remembers how it all started for her.
“I first came across books when I attended a learning center run by World Vision India, which was exciting and new. At first, it was very difficult to go to school because my parents did not support me and we were all engaged in picking rags for a living“, she said, adding that the constant support and advice from the NGO has started to change things.
Pooja’s family is among 3,000 families relocated to Anand Parbat transit camp after the state government demolished the slums.
She is now the only one of her eight siblings to study. Her parents have agreed not to send her to the ragpicker again as long as she continues her studies. She was the first to enroll in a public school near her home in the Shadipur region. However, after the demolition, her family had to move to the transit camp, which posed a challenge for her to continue going to school due to the distance.
However, Pooja was determined to continue and managed to finish the eighth standard. When she was in the ninth standard, she could not attend regularly due to illness and the challenge of long journeys. Eventually, she had to drop out of school.
In 2020, she enrolled in 10th standard with the help of World Vision India volunteer through the National Institute of Open Schooling. However, due to the COVID pandemic and impending closures, she was unable to continue her studies and in 2021 she was readmitted to the tenth standard. This time, with the constant support of the NGO, she continued to come regularly to the teaching centre.
Gopi, an NGO volunteer shared, “We encouraged them to continue their education and did our best to support them in every way possible, from filling out exam forms, paying fees, providing them with books and even paying for their trip to the test centers Sometimes you give up when you don’t you have no support system around you.”
“I used to fetch rags almost every day and even beg on the street. Now I am happy to have the chance to study and later try to get a decent job“, she exclaimed.
Tulsi – aspires to be a policeman
Since childhood, Tulsi’s dream has been to become a police officer. “However, to achieve this, I need to earn money to support myself and my family. We live hand to mouth through picking rags, begging and selling nimbu mirchi (cold lemon),” she says.
From an early age, Tulsi saw how difficult life can be on the streets and how unsafe children, especially girls, are. “We always leave in a group of five or six for the picking of rags at 3 a.m. and return at 10 a.m. It is not safe to go alone and there have been many instances of harassment and even sexual abuse,” she says.
“I want to earn enough to be able to stop my mother from picking up rags for her safety.“, Tulsi said with a big sigh.
Tulsi was also enrolled in the same school in the same year as Pooja with the support of World Vision India. The trust in a group as they go out together to fetch rags to protect each other and fight any threat together has stayed with them.
Poonam – The obedient and faithful friend
Poonam has known Pooja and Tulsi since childhood and went to school with them. After the demolition of the slum, she remained very close to them and continued her studies. It was always a great time for her to come to the teaching center and learn with her friends as they prepared for their 10th exam.
Whenever the family needs her, Poonam fetches rags two or three times a week with her siblings. Other times, she mainly helps with household chores and enjoys her time at the tuition center which she says is like a resting place for many children. The children even sleep under the fan when it’s hot and enjoy snacks that they receive at the centre. Like most families in the transit camp, Poonam stays in a 12 x 8 foot room with around 8-10 family members.
“At night, the girls sleep in the bedroom and the boys sleep outside. We use the public toilets built in the transit camp, which are always crowded. Our community has come a long way and thanks to the continuous outreach of World Vision India, we are now doing much better,” she says.
The daily activities of these young girls are not unknown to the millions of children who work as scavengers in India. Among the country’s street children, picking rags leads.
The rag pickers on the rise
According to UNICEF, about 12% of Indian children between the ages of 5 and 14 are engaged in hazardous child labor activities, including picking rags. India reports about 17 million working children, a very high incidence in the world.
World Vision India started working among street children and their families residing on the streets and under bridges in Moti Khan and Shadipur in 2009. Most of the children were collecting rags, begging and selling nimbu mirchi (cold lemon). In 8 years, the organization has helped about 900 children enroll in school.
The project is currently focusing on getting children back to school after the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, about 170 children attend the Anand Parbat education center.
Also Read: 16-Year-Old Praggnanandhaa from India Wins Norwegian Chess Open to Go Undefeated in 9 Rounds