December 11th, 2006
UpdatedÂ – scroll down
So last Tuesday we went to see Anita for the last time before she got on the train home. We’ve been visiting her most weekends at APSA, the local charity for street kids where she was moved to. She’s been brilliant to hang out with – although like any nine year old she has her sulky moments, most of the time she’s a wildly hilarious drama queen who is always cracking us up and entertaining the other kids. She’s picked up some of the local language, Kannada, and impressed the staff with how fast she learns.
We also found out a bit more about her background. She comes from a poor family in a tiny village in Assam next to the border with Bhutan. We managed to find it on Google, but only because Assamese liberation fighters hole up there. Her house has no electricity, and her mum cooks on a chular or cow-dung stove. There’s no guarantee that she’ll get an education when she gets home – in fact it’s quite possible that her parents will send her somewhere else in the country to work as a child labourer despite the recently enacted law which makes this illegal.
So it was with a great deal of sadness that we said goodbye to her, all too aware of her uncertain future. She’s a tough, cheery little mite, and a lot wiser now having hung out with other children from all across India who have had similar experiences. She knows the childline number in Assam and the support structure that exists if she is sent away from home again. Thus we have some hope that she’ll be able to cope with whatever life throws at her next. Equally we’re hoping to keep in touch – we know where she lives, and are planning to visit her on our trip to the Himalayas in April.
Au revoir Anita.
UPDATE – Sunday 17 December
We got a call from Anita and her father in Assam this morning, which came as a huge relief. However once her dad had thanked us for our help, Rani immediately started asking if she was going to be attending school. Her father, it seems, is too poor to pay for this – although there is an English medium school nearby. We’re planning to visit her in April, and if it looks like a reasonable course of action we’ll pay for her schooling. Advice from anybody who’s done anything similar would be very welcome.
Although in theory there is universal education for everyone in India up to (I think) 12th standard (16 years of age), the state doesn’t pay for books or clothes. More importantly there is an opportunity cost associated with sending children to school – they are no longer able to work or help with housework. NGOs and state governments have found innovative ways to solve problems like this. For example, a recent report (I’ll find the reference) documented that the provision of water supplies to villages increased attendance at school, because girls no longer had to travel for miles to fetch water from public pumps.