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Street children top of the class in India

Foundations for a brighter future: from street to school

Today, one in five of the world’s children are born in India. In Delhi alone, there are over 50,000 children living and working on the city’s streets. Many have never been able to go to school, either because they do not have the correct legal documentation to enrol, or because they have to work to support their families.

“I remained hungry so that people would give money to me”

Seven year old Raghu* was one of those children. When his mother was taken seriously ill and unable to work for a year, Raghu was left with no choice but to work as a rag picker to support his family financially. To earn some additional money, he would also beg at the traffic lights. “Someone had to support the family. I travelled 20km every day and remained hungry so that people would give money to me.” As a result, Raghu was unable to go to school.

“We didn’t understand the importance of education”

In June 2015, Toybox began working in Delhi, supporting a local partner, CHETNA, with an education project. The project is focused on helping street and working children in Delhi to access formal education. Enrolling a child in school is a crucial way to keep them off the streets and give them the foundations for a brighter future. Raghu was one of the children who was identified by CHETNA as a prospective candidate for the school programme, so the local project workers initially met with his parents. His mother recalls: “We didn’t understand the importance of education. Raghu used to earn 200 rupees (around £2.30) every day- we thought it was good enough. They explained to us how education could change Raghu’s life.”

In its first year, the project supported the enrolment of 250 children, including Raghu, at schools in West Delhi. This is no mean feat – street children are often discouraged from going to school by their parents and told to stick to domestic work to help support their families. To give the project the greatest chance of success, it was crucial for the project workers to talk to the local community and the families of working children to help them understand why it is so important to send their children to school.

Training teachers

Of the 250 children who were enrolled at school as part of the project, only 31 dropped out during the first year. We know that street and working children often find it very hard to adjust to the school environment and struggle with low self- esteem, so this is a fantastic result and one that truly exceeded expectation.

Once enrolled street children continue to face many challenges and are still at risk of isolation and exclusion and they can feel stigmatised by their life on the street. To combat this, the project trained teachers to help them understand the issues and find ways to approach the children with understanding and sensitivity. Encouragingly, after just one year, only 10% of the children said that they still felt stigmatised at school. This is a huge difference – before the project began, many of the children told us that older children at school would often beat the younger street children and would refer to them as ‘slum child’.

Determination and commitment

The project’s low drop- out rate is in part due to the sheer determination and commitment of the project workers, or ‘street educators’ who supported children with their enrolment at school. They often found that schools would look to make excuses as to why they did not want to admit a street child.

The street educators also worked closely alongside children throughout the year, running after-school clubs offering informal learning and homework support, helping to build self-esteem and communication skills.

“All children need a confidant”

In some cases, the street educators will literally act as a mentor to the child. They will regularly drop into the child’s home to encourage them to go to school. This was certainly the case for Raghu. His street educator said; “Raghu shares everything with me, including things about his family. I think all children need a confidant and I am happy to be one for him. Children need to share their feelings with others in order to perform better. We can see very good improvements in Raghu.”

Top of their class

In just a year this project has already achieved great things – six of the original street children involved in the project came top of their class and another five got either second or third place. This is an incredible result, given that most of them had only been attending school for a year.

This targeted approach to working with street children in West Delhi has proved successful. Toybox’s Programme Officer, Emily Malcom commented; “It’s fantastic to see that so many of the children we’ve helped through the project have exceeded all expectations. The last year has shown us that these children all have so much potential. They just need to be given the opportunity to go to school and extra support to help them catch up.”

The project is now in its second year and has expanded into three new communities with double the number of street educators, enabling over 500 children to benefit from this exciting programme.