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Pocket 11, Smriti Van

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About Delhi

Pocket 11, Smriti Van in Narela is 2 kms away from the Raja Harishchandra Hospital, a free healthcare facility that works under the aegis of the Delhi Government. The area has been an authorised colony for almost a decade and has about 5000-6000 households cramped on the 18 square metre resettlement plots. Making a colony ‘authorised’ is a very important thing: it allows residents living in these colonies to be able to register their property, get approvals for their building plans and sell or purchase property. It also means that the Municipal Corporation will cover the area for basic facilities including water and sanitation.

Such facilities are, however, some way off for Smriti Van. About half the homes don’t have toilets and are forced to use the MCD (public) toilets. The rents here are an indication of how ill-served the area is: you could get a room here for as low as Rs.1200 to Rs.1500.

The drainage system is extremely poor and unhygienic. Open sewers are right outside the doors of the homes. Choked with garbage, these drains are a perpetual public health problem. All the houses are provided with electricity by the NDPL but power fluctuations are common, especially in the Capital’s harsh summer. Many homes have installed water pumps, but without electricity, they don’t really serve any purpose.

Most of the families residing in this area are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, escaping an even worse kind of poverty in their home states. Illiteracy rates are high; most people work as casual labourers. Others run small roadside stalls, work in the nearby factories and sell home-made goods in the weekly bazaar.

There is an alarming increase in the rate of substance abuse among the youth of this community. Boys as young as 15 are found to be serious drug addicts. Residents report an increase in the number of thefts in the neighbourhood, many of them by young boys looking for ways to get money to buy drugs such as marijuana. “Nothing is being done to reprimand or rehabilitate the youth. The Police in this area are either indifferent or ignorant of the situation”, laments Shanu, the Training and Monitoring Officer for Magic Bus in Narela.

Magic Bus started its operation in this locality in January 2012. About 300 children attend the sessions every morning and evening, on Thursdays and Sundays. Of the 300 children, around 120 are girls. 30-32 kids are incorporated into one session under the leadership of Lokesh Kumar, the 22 year old Youth Mentor and 7 Community Youth Leaders. The Community Youth Leaders are volunteers from the same area (Narela) who are given 120 hours of training in becoming mentors and in using the sport for development curricula.

A nearby park was personally cleaned and evened out by the community before work started here. To encourage parents to send their daughters to the sessions, we took the help of teachers from two NGOs who had been working in the area. The teachers of Chetanalaya and Child Survival India convinced the parents about the credibility of Magic Bus and the benefits that girls can derive from attending the sessions.

Besides the Magic Bus sessions, off-the-field activities include a street play on health and hygiene and a rally on the importance of education. Sports tournaments have also been organised in football, handball and cricket in the past year. “Our experience shows that community sporting events are an excellent way to break barriers and expand the community’s trust and ownership in their children’s development,” says Shanu.

The Community Youth Leaders were taken on an exposure trip to the India Gate, Raj Ghat, Children’s Park and the National Science Centre, a first for all of them. Exposure visits like these help the mentors to expand their understanding about the world they call home. Every month a Parents’ Meeting is also held, with a view to encourage parents to take an active interest in their children’s learning and growth.

Programme Inputs

14 years old Ravi comes from a family of 7 people. His father is casual labourer, while his mother is a homemaker.

Ravi was what his parents called a ‘problem child’. Magic Bus staff member Lokesh heard Ravi’s elder brother complaining about Ravi’s extreme bad behavior and abusiveness.

Although a regular at the Magic Bus sessions, Ravi would, many a times, not allow others to play. Lokesh worked with Ravi in a non-threatening manner, without any reprimand or judgement on his behavior. He was gradually given small, key responsibilities such as gathering the group together.

“If you ask me exactly when things started taking a turn for the better, I won’t be able to say,” says Lokesh. “but after so many months, we can clearly see that ravi’s destructive behavior patterns are a thing of the past. He even motivated a small group of children to clean the playground on their own. He is going to school regularly and shows every intention of growing out of the poverty he was born into.”

Vikas is a 15 year old boy who had got into drugs at the age of 14 because of peer pressure. Akash, his brother, who is a Community Youth Leader with Magic Bus, approached his own Magic Bus leader, Shanu, for help. Vikas was counselled and slowly encouraged to participate in the sessions. He was given gradually expanding responsibility such as gathering children together for the sessions to begin with, and constantly engaged in work to keep his mind away from drugs.

Today, Vikas is making a real effort to drop his Marijuana habit. With his brother’s help and that of his peers, he hopes to be addiction-free very soon.

Faces of change

About 300 children attend the sessions every morning and evening, on Thursdays and Sundays.

Magic Bus sessions here are divided into three parts:

Warm up: The development goal is introduced using interactive activities
Main activity: The development goal is reinforced using sports and activities
Review: A discussion is facilitated to draw parallels to real-life situations and sum up the learning objectives