In June, Noorsaba and Dinesh started school for the first time. They are the first of six children in their family to go to school and will soon be able to read to their illiterate, hard-working parents. Samitchka, Sneha and Pritesh who live close to each other along the pipeline are enrolled in the 4th standard at Nandchhaya School along with Pranali and Saroj. Tiny Desi will start his year in the 2nd standard and a very exuberant Ragu is excited to return to Bright High School to study in his native Tamil dialect. Despite crushing poverty, the parents who live along the pipeline are desperate to send their children to school. Living in the shadow of expensive high-rises and working as maids, cleaners and drivers for the middle class and the wealthy give them a peek into a world they can’t imagine for themselves, but if their children can achieve an education despite the hardships of living in abysmal conditions and running into the wall of the caste system that governs their lives, they are willing to believe anything is possible.
The pride in their children’s education starts early in the morning. While the city wakes around them and the first heat of the day gets trapped in the narrow lane ways and the noise and the smell and the muginess of the city descend on the community, the kids start their day with a bucket bath while their mothers heat water for cooking over fires started with scavenged wood and bits of plastic. They brush their teeth with a stick, a toothbrush or their finger, spitting globs of white toothpaste into the black gutters that run the length of the slum. They dress in their school uniform, carefully hung on a nail the day before to avoid creasing. Coconut oil is poured into hands and slathered onto scalps and combed through with vigour until every last strand is bathed in the silky, nutty smelling liquid. The girls grimace while their mothers expertly braid their hair, careful to gather the wisps into tight elastics before they loop it and tie it with ribbons.The schools have stringent rules about uniformity, obedience and appearance and no parent would send their child to school looking disheveled or with their hair untamed. Their book bag holds a few pencils, work books and lunch (usually dal and an expertly folded chapati) tucked into a small container.
The moms and their kids start their journey to school from their tiny one-room homes trudging down the pipeline lane way and up onto the street where they join hundreds of cars, auto rickshaws, buses, trucks and bicycles lurching their way through dusty potholed streets. Holding tight to their small children the moms march in groups along Saki Vihar road, turning down Saki Naka Pipeline road, past shops selling chickens, bananas, coconuts, tailor-made shirts, sari fabric, kitchen ware, curd and chai and past the familiar tinkling click-clack of the hand-turned sugarcane vendor’s machine, finally veering off into smaller, claustrophobic lane ways that lead to the various schools their children are enrolled in. The kids stream into the schools, anxious to start the day and the moms chat for a few minutes, holding the hands of their smaller children while the traffic swirls around them stirring up clouds of brown dust that settle into the folds of their saris. They slowly walk back down Saki Naka Pipeline road, perhaps stopping to buy some rice or small packets of spice or some tomatoes and garlic, heading back to their homes to sweep, wash clothes, and make a pot of dal before they walk back a few hours later to pick their children up.
Thanks to the generous donations from supporters of the Dirty Wall Project, we will again be able to pay for 50 kids to go to school this year. That means that 50 families will be spared the enormous and sometimes impossible burden of paying school fees for their children. With an average monthly wage of $150, paying for anything but food and shelter is almost impossible. Many families use money lenders (who charge exhorbitant interest rates making it impossible to repay the loan), to get them through a difficult situation. When DWP pays school fees for their kids, the excitement and gratitude of the parents is impossible to convey with words. Sometimes my knees get weak when a mother or a father grab my hands and with a megawatt smile, and sometimes tears, never let me forget what this means to them.
I would like to pass on the sincere, heartfelt gratitude from the parents to all the donors the who made this school year possible for all these kids.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!