Last week Steven and I visited the No Child Left Behind project in Budhpura with the intention of boosting interaction between Manjari and the business community.
We had mapped more clearly the yards where our suppliers are sourcing the cobbles from and hope to improve the working conditions at these yards over time.
While I was there I had a shocking reality check: I saw three teenagers working on cobbles in a yard adjacent to the main road…out in the open. The yard had a sign in front of it declaring it as a Child Labour Free Zone. It was obviously not! I went closer and when they noticed me the boys ran away. So I talked to the adults asking why the children were there. They replied that schools were closed because of holidays and kids were “simply” surpassing time. They claimed that they were not working regularly…I explained that any form of labour at their age is unacceptable and that children should be playing, not working, when schools are closed.
I’ve travelled to India on numerous occasions over the last 10 years and it’s fair to say that on each visit, I gain further insight into the supply chain. Since leaving the ETI and joining the CLFZ (Child Labour Free Zones) project London Stone’s visits to India have been solely focussed on working with the local community to make child labour a thing of the past in Budhpura.
Whilst being extremely rewarding the project has also been a huge challenge for everyone involved. Now 3 years in we are starting to see real, on the ground progress, none more so than after a recent visit which has left me feeling inspired and given me a deeper understanding of the community, its social structures, the problems it faces and of course, the solutions.
How did I get this deeper understanding? By walking. Walking the supply continuously until all the questions in my mind were answered. Such a valuable exercise, I had spent time walking the supply chain on my previous visit but this time, I delved a lot deeper. It was while walking and mentally mapping out the supply chain that I realised of the tiers within a tier. Let me explain!
Rajender is a school teacher at the primary school in one of the hamlets surrounding Budhpura. Almost 30 children in class are paying great attention to what he writes on the school board. “So much has happened here over the past few years”, he says, “around four years ago almost no child came to school”. The most important reasons? Parent’s lack of awareness about the importance of education and the lack of good quality schools.
Local ngo Manjari went into the hamlets to reach out to parents and to improve the access to education and its quality. With success: nowadays 90% of children from this hamlet goes to school and the schools have improved facilities. “A good education means a chance of getting a better job and consequently a better future for these children”, says Rajender, “that’s well worth committing myself to”.
Manjari have just organised 5 days stitching training for a group of 20 local young women and girls. The stitching training was carried out at the Manjari headquarters in Budhpura .
The feedback for the participants was that they enjoyed the training and are very keen to learn more. The participants have been asked to practice the skills that they have learnt in preparation for some advanced stitching training which is again to be organised by the Manajri team.
There’s nothing better than an unexpected windfall, an added bonus, a surprise victory. This is exactly what we’ve seen in Budhpura, the village at the centre of our project to create Child Labour Free zones. A deep rooted cultural issue and one that we didn’t expect to see changing for a long time is all of a sudden getting tackled.
Gender equality, or more accurately, the complete lack of it is a real issue in semi-rural Indian villages like Budhpura. Let’s face it, gender equality is an issue in all societies. Huge progress has been made in “western societies”, and while we still have a long way to go, in places like rural India, the process has barely begun.