An early morning drive from Nagpur to Amravati and as the car passes through some of the villages and towns my memories take me 25 years back when I would take a bus and travel to some of the villages on this road to understand what does “rural development” means. I will interact and in that excitement, most of the days, I will miss my return journey. This “missing the bus back home” became a practice and a good reason to stay the night there! The change is visible and my memories fade to identify these villages with what it used to be ….
My car leaves the highway and takes a left turn to a village called Borda. As I approach this village, I could see farms with white pods, one or may be two harvesting already over and getting ready for the next harvest. Communities say that the total area under cotton is marginally less than the previous years and the reasons are known to all. I could see large tracts of grams, coriander and other crops. My mind wavers…can they not be sparkling and bring joys to families and communities?
Three years and this is what they took to abolish child labour from this village. As the villagers narrate their progress and the road they took to achieve this, a lady sitting beside me says with a beaming smile, “I will work harder if this is what is required but will make sure all my three children complete school and college. My elder daughter is already in college and the other two who are in elementary grades will also follow their sisters’ footsteps’. How did you do this was my spontaneous question to her and to the other members who were around me? “Yes it took some time to understand, to challenge our current poverty levels, and decided to educate our children. One of the members of the School Management Committee proudly reiterated that all children in the village between 6 to 14 years of age are going to school and there are no drop outs. We checked this (the development professionals’ inquisitive mind!) from the school head master and he gave us the details including how the students are performing in different grades. A prominent member from the village assembly said, now that we have reached to this point, there is no looking back and we will always help, motivate, convince and whatever is required to make sure all children in this village complete their school education. There were only three teachers for 125 students and now have six. The district officials gave in to their constant persuasion and most of the teachers are now trained on child friendly tools and techniques. Children enjoy and this was obvious when most of them said they want to become teachers and teach students.
The volunteers, the project staff, the community members didn’t stop here! Borda, Ashok Nagar, Gawanipani, Mokhar, Vayi and many more are now child labour free in this district. A staggering 137 out of 275 villages in the district where cotton is grown is free from children working in cotton farms! Village leaders are called by the district officials to explain how they achieved this; they go to other villages sharing their experiences and as one of the Child Protection Committee member said, no matter what, this momentum will continue.
We moved on and met a group of adolescent boys and girls, who after training are in the hospitality industry. They are nearing completion of their training period and eagerly waiting to be absorbed as full time employees. They narrated their journey and their confidence and humility touched my inner chord. We discussed a range of topics including protection issues, how they group themselves up and the way they interact (and manage!) different visitors. We had a cup of tea together and as I pondered on the incidents that shook and shamed Delhi, realized there are these voices that have crossed their village boundaries, made their parents and community proud and are now eager to conquer the wider environment.
We all know cotton farms especially during harvest employ children. With support from IKEA Foundation, Save the Children in India and their partners have brought this change. For once we can say that these cotton buds are not only white but as well sparkling. I continue to explore these moments and possibly this is the only way we can send strong message, that we can build a better India. So much more to express…