It has been four weeks since I arrived in Kolkata, the city that is the main focus of our case study and the city where we will are staying during the internship. I remember being anxious to see this city that I had heard much about; the city of Mother Teresa, the city of the urban poor, but also a city with a big colonial heritage and of course, people had warned for me the heat and the humidity. Kolkata has been all this and more.
Our case study is on the deprived urban children of Kolkata, children living in the slums, on the streets, on railway platforms, those that are working, but also those who are the children of commercial sex workers. In 1999 a survey was held to identify all these out-of-school children living in Kolkata. The result was an impressive 44,646 children who were not attending any form of education. In order to tackle this problem multiple stakeholders (governmental and non-governmental) devised a programme, the so-called Shikshalaya Prakalpa, to get urban deprived children into non-formal primary education and in this way mainstream them into formal education or at the least have them attend the first four years of primary education. We have been visiting a number of these Shikshalaya Prakalpas to see how this scheme is helping the urban deprived children in regard to education.
Yesterday we formally started our fieldwork with a visit to an Urdu medium Shikhalaya Prakalpa centre. At first the children looked at us with suspicion in their eyes; whom are these strange people coming to ask us all these questions. In the end they couldn’t stop saying ‘bye, bye, bye…’. It was great to see how much pride the teachers take in their work and how enthusiastic the children seemed to be. Especially regarding the circumstances (i.e. poor lighting, students sitting on the floor). However, I wonder if these are just my Western eyes registering and making judgements and that the school circumstances are even better than their homes, still I feel that they deserve more. Due to the monsoon weather, we have not been able to venture out for the second day of our fieldwork and I wonder how the children we have been seeing are doing. I remember a comment of one of the teachers, saying that during the rainy season the students often have to follow classes standing because the floor has become to muddy to sit on due to a leaking roof.
The most confusing and striking part of our internship is the huge differences between the poor and the well off in this huge, congested city. One moment we are travelling to a far off slum area to visit a one-room school, the other we can be having coffee in a clean and proper a/c cafe. This is an aspect of daily city life it seems; child labour is such a common aspect of city life that when you don’t actively look for it, you won’t recognize it, even if it’s there right in front of you. The next two weeks will be a venture in a parallel world, one we will also be capturing on film, as one of my team members will be making a documentary.