Monday, April 8, 2019

Our recent experience working with the sugarcane factory workers’ children.

The temporary settlement of 'Tolis'
Every year during mid October, many migrant families travel to sugarcane factories to work during the harvesting season. These seasonal migrants return to their villages by December-January when the work gets over. 

It is common for the workers to bring their entire family, including young children, thus disrupting their education. While the parents toil the entire day in the factory, children are left behind at home to help their parents with the household chores and to look after their younger siblings. 

There are two types of workers: the ones who work at one sugar factory throughout the season and the other which are called ‘टोळी’ (toli which means group) and work in different factories during the season and are always on a move.

We came across one such ‘toli’ near Talegaon in December we decided to bring our School on Wheels (SoW) bus to this location. (School on Wheels is a signature programme of Door Step School where we use buses remodelled as classrooms to conduct classes for children in locations where there is a lack of space.) This settlement in Kanhewadi constituted of around 10-12 families of sugarcane crushers hailing from Chalisgaon with 12 children, 8 of which were between ages 6 to 14 and 4 were between ages 3-6. 

Visits to the farm to meet the workers who could not attend our meetings
The parents were a little sceptical in the beginning since the classes were to be conducted in the bus, but our staff could speak their native language (Ahirani). Hence we explained to them how DSS works in their own language and also spoke to their Contractor who, along with a few parents, checked out our website to know more about DSS. This eased them into sending their children regularly to the classes. During this time, we not only conducted parents’ meetings in the settlement but also went to the sugarcane farms to meet a few parents who could not attend the meetings due to work. 

The 8 children between 6-14 years of age were enrolled to schools in their native village but when we checked their learning levels, we found that only 1 child knew almost all the मुळाक्षर (Mulakshar – Marathi Alphabets), 1 child was learning बाराखडी (Matras) while the other 6 hardly knew any alphabets. We prepared plans for each of these children. We conducted the SoW class near their settlement for 2 hours daily. Our staff noticed that the children were eager to learn. Our focus was primarily on the older children while for the Balwadi (3-6 yrs age group) children we told stories, taught songs and conducted different activities according to our monthly project topics. Since we came to know about the location only in first week of December, we could conduct only 16 classes till December end when all the families of the toli returned to their village Chalisgaon. By the time they left, almost all children had completed their Mulakshars. We followed up with the parents (Door Step School takes down parents’ contact details while enrolling children to our classes. This enables DSS to track them once they migrate), who informed us that the children have started going to the school again after returning to the village. 

This was our first experience working with the toli. We have taken the contact details of the contractor as well, and plan to target this community as soon as they arrive in October next year. 

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