Narsamma belongs to a fishing community in Pedduru village, Vizianagaram District, Andhra Pradesh. High industrial pollution has drastically reduced fish catch in the recent years, driving migration in search of livelihoods for most villagers. About 200 families regularly migrate to Gujarat for fishing. While men migrate, women sell fish in the local area and also work as casual labourers. Narsamma’s father goes into the sea for fishing. Her mother sells fish in the neighbouring villages and towns and is away at least for two weeks every month.
Narsamma is the youngest of the six daughters in the family, and none of her sisters ever enrolled in to school. Fortunately, Narsamma was able to go to school. Her family’s financial condition forced her siblings into marriage – three of them as child brides – pushing the family into further debt. Narsamma moved around in the district, living among relatives, to complete Class VIII, as the nearest high school was 7 km. away from home.
Sadly the worsening financial condition pushed her out of school, and she was sent to Visakhapatnam to work as a child domestic help. She had to take care of the children at home, wash clothes and utensils, clean the house, etc. Ill-treated by her employers and limited access to her family had an adverse effect on Narsamma, mentally and physically.
On hearing about her illness, her parents took her back to the village. Meanwhile CRY project partner Sneha noticed that the child had been removed from school, and counselled the parents about the negative effects of child labour and to bring Narsamma back home. She was treated in the local hospital, and it took some months for her to get back to normalcy.
The Sneha team persuaded Narsamma’s parents to re-enroll her in school. But her parents expressed their inability, saying that they found it difficult to repay the debts which they had borrowed for the marriages of their daughters. Moreover, to attend high school at Govindapuram, they had to spend on local auto-rickshaws and other school stationery which they could not afford.
Narsamma had a burning desire to study, and keeping in view the family’s situation, the Sneha team proposed admitting her in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), a residential school facility for mainstreaming child labour and dropout children. They also told her parents that they would not have to spend anything from their pocket as KGBV takes care of everything. The team also counselled the parents, saying that since Narsamma was the only child in the family to have studied up to Class VIII, giving her an opportunity to study further would boost her future. Her parents agreed to admit Narsamma in KGBV.
Talking about the potential they saw in Narsamma, one of the community organizers shares,
Narsamma had definite determination to continue her studies, despite the several hardships she had at work in Visakhapatnam and being ill for several months after that. She never lost hope and rose above all her disappointments, and looked forward to a bright future. The disappointing comments by community people as she decided to continue her education made her more determined, and she set definite goals for herself about her future. There was nothing that could stop Narsamma from achieving her aspirations.
Narsamma expressed her interest in joining Class X directly as she had already lost one academic year. The Principal conducted an assessment test and found that she was fit to join straight into Class X. The teachers too encouraged her, and took extra classes for her to ensure she coped well with her studies. They also counselled her to mentally cope with the new situation. The Sneha team also regularly visited her and spoke to the teachers about her performance.
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Narsamma recalls her entire episode of the past two years,
I used to feel very bad while working at Visakhapatnam, as the work was very hard and that made me fall ill for many days. But, I was happy to come back to my village, and even happier to join KGBV after I recovered from my illness. As I was preparing to join KGBV, many people in the village discouraged me, saying, ‘You did not go to school for several days, you will not be able to cope up now.’
But, I took it as a challenge and decided that I would study hard and get good marks, and in fact, better marks than others in the exams. I am happy that my teachers in the school supported me by helping me understand the lessons properly. Even the Sneha project staff regularly visited me at KGBV and discussed how I was coping with my teachers.
Narsamma appeared for a public examination in March 2017 and passed with 6.5 Grade Point Average (GPA).
Her supporters’ encouraging words motivated her to keep going, and now she is determined to move ahead and join Class XI.
She has set her sights on becoming a teacher and helping other children engulfed in similar situations like her.
Sneha has successfully been able to mainstream 14 out-of-school children in the last five years. Various reasons have still kept 46 children out-of-school in Pedduru village. These include lack of access to school, reduced livelihood, marriage driven by poverty, and government schemes not reaching deserving families. But successful monitoring and motivation by Sneha have allowed for inspirations like Narsamma to emerge. They show that things can change for the better with sustained efforts!
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