On The Garbage Dump In Bhowapur

In the middle of a garbage dump in Bhowapur, on the outskirts of Delhi, down the muddy roads among houses as ramshackle as they come, you will find a beacon of hope.

Phia is supporting an education project which provides basic schooling to 150 children from the desperately poor ragpicker community that calls this place home.

Jugnu – which means firefly – was set up six years ago by teacher Biba Singh and her husband Manoj Kumar. Phia Foundation has been backing the project since 2014.

‘I am employed in this slum. I would see children playing around. At last we decided to do something and provide basic education for the children,’ says Manoj.

‘We want to help them grow and move away from this slum eventually. We expect the kids to do well in their life and we hope when they are successful they will remember we played a part in taking them forward.’

Jugnu has two very small classrooms, yet one is packed with about 60 or 70 children, the other with about 40. ‘It’s difficult to teach all the kids at once,’ admits Biba. ‘We need three schools not just one.’

She explains that Jugnu has been asked by the community to set up schools in other locations in around the Bhowapur slums. Phia Foundation is also looking for other similar projects to support, so it could be possible to help Jugnu grow.

‘Delhi has a large number of slum populations,’ says Phia Foundations’s Eyingbeni Ngullie. ‘There are a huge number of ragpicker communities – I definitely see this as a replicable and scaleable model in urban areas.

The ragpicker community has been growing up around the garbage dump for around 25 years and is home to about 25,000 people, mostly dalits who have migrated from other parts of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar.

Eyingbeni Ngullie adds: ‘They are the most excluded and the poorest of the poor. We will have to wait for several years to see the impact, but we have already started to see a lot of changes. We can see changes in the health of children.

Jugnu is a ‘bridge school’, providing a basic education for children and hopefully preparing them for enrollment in government schools nearby. Twenty children have moved on to other schools so far, some returning to Jugnu for extra tuition in the evenings to help them get up to speed.

‘After two years, children started going to government schools,’ says Biba. ‘Many of them are still studying there.

‘When they leave, the kids start crying – they don’t want to leave. I tell them it’s for their future -they have to go. It gives them opportunities in life.’

Uday, 7, (pictured above) has been coming to Jugnu since April 2014. ‘I like coming here. Right now I’m studying mathematics – addition,’ he says.

Poonam, 15, fits in school and homework in between cooking and cleaning at home. Like many children who live here, she also has to help her parents to find and separate recyclable rubbish.

Jugnu teacher Nisha Pal says: ‘They are really good students – they always do their homework. Except the kids that help their parents, they are not able to do so much.’

Living such a hand to mouth existence, a daily struggle for survival, school is unsurprisingly not a high priority. Parents have little motivation to keep children in school when instead they could be helping to boost the family’s meagre income.

‘We are talking very softly with the parents about the importance of education,’ says Eyingbeni Ngullie from Phia Foundation. ‘We have been able to instill the importance of education into the parents.’

It seems to be working. Rajkumari Devi (pictured below) has three children at Jugnu – Sharwan, 8, Nandini, 6, and Shubham, 3. ‘I would really like to see my children get out of this slum, maybe not as a teacher or as a doctor, but out of this place. We are very happy that the kids are getting to be educated.’

You can support projects like the Jugnu project in Bhowapur.

Giving to Phia will help us provide essential services to poor and marginalised communities, making a real difference to people’s lives in India.

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