Vardhishnu, a social research and development society, reaches out to over 100 children who work as waste-pickers.
On our way to schools, colleges and workplaces, we often see people picking up garbage in really terrible conditions, quite early most mornings. Sometimes, you can find young children too doing the same!
While most of them could be the municipality karmacharis who deal with the garbage collection, a largely disturbing fact is that manyimmigrants, who come to the cities in search of employment, often turn to scavenging in order to stay alive. And this includes children as young as four.
One young man from Jalgaon district in Maharashtra has made it possible for almost 100 children, who collect garbage for survival, to have a new lease of life.
Reaching close to a 100 children who work as waste pickers in the district of Jalgaon in Maharashtra, Vardhishnu is a social research and development society founded by Adwait Dandwate and his wife, Pranali Sisodia, in 2013, following a socio-economic research.
The idea of research came to Adwait around a time when he was already working on various research-based projects in affiliation with institutes like Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Delhi school of Economics and UNICEF.
“Almost back in 2011, one day when I was travelling in the city and noticed a large number of garbage pickers. More than the number, what was disturbing further was the fact that a large percentage of these were children, falling under an age group of 4-15”, he says.
Adwait spent the next three years consolidating data. The findings were even more deplorable than expected. Not only were most of the garbage collectors migrants, they fell under the category of those who can’t avail any benefits from the government. Also, the Kabadiwalahs to whom they sold their day’s findings, would pay them really meagre sums; while reselling to huger corporations making greater profits.
One thing that stood out evidently was that something had to be done. Why Jalgaon? Adwait explains that to have understanding of a particular place, one needs to be a part of it for a long time. “The situation of waste collectors is similar in almost every city. This is the place where I’ve lived for close to 20 years now, having established many contacts that would help me to begin with,” he added.
After this, Vardhishnu began with field work. With a team of five, a database of 400 children within Jalgaon who collected garbage was made in order to understand about their education and health issues and even habits of substance abuse, if any. As the first initiative following the research, an informal learning centre, Anand Ghar, was set up.
Many initiatives over the years have tried to provide education to children from underprivileged communities, with no end to the increasing number of dropouts. Providing a liberal and lighthearted environment, the organisation tries make up for the municipal schools that most of these children go to, where again the dropout rate is as bad as 90%.
“Stigmatisation plays a heavy role here. Forget bullying from children, sometimes even teachers resort to shaming these children for the background they come from. It is very disheartening,” Adwait said.
Another reason why most children choose to drop out of the school is because of school timings, which coincide with time they could collect garbage. “What they think is what good the education is going to do, when I can earn in the meantime by collecting waste,” he adds.
Keeping that in mind, Anand Ghar and its informal learning classes for these children was kept closer towards evening. Also, as the name suggests, the classes taken by a pack of five teachers, are kept lighthearted and focus on providing basic education that involves the alphabet and numbers. Close to 120 children are currently enrolled at the organisation.
Most of the children, who have hardly had any adult supervision, are victims of substance addiction. Many have visibly cut down their daily substance abuse, thanks to the guidance provided at Anand Ghar. “In the harsh reality of life, we are the only friends they have, who actually care for them. And in return, they care too,” Adwait fondly says of “his” children.
With plans of expanding across different sections in Jalgaon and possibly further in the future, Vardhishnu has already collaborated with local schools in the district to help children in language efficiency. Much of the funding for their work is crowdsourced and their work is getting recognized slowly, thanks to social media.
Owing his initial days of research to Dr. Abhay Bang, a social activist responsible for initiatives such as SEARCH (Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health) and NIRMAN, who seems to have inspired him heavily, Adwait feels that much remains to be done and Vardhishnu has a long way to go.
To contact Adwait Dandwate, click here.