Churia Mohalla (literally a neighbourhood of knives) gets its name from being somewhat infamous for the number of knifing incidents it has seen over the last few decades. The word is derived from the Hindi word chhurior meaning knife. Local Police say most of the residents here are pickpockets, murderers, thieves and other criminals, a point of view that criminalises all residents and also stigmatises children. Not surprisingly, most residents make a living form daily wage work as bottom feeders of the local economy.
Living conditions in Churia Mohalla compare with the worst of the Capital's housing, with temporary shacks serving as home. Without basics such as brick structures, drinking water supply and electricity, the levels of poverty here are very stark.
(In the pic, above, Sanjay from Churia Mohalla shows off his new shoes, sourced through a TOMS Shoes grant)
Magic Bus started work in Churia Mohalla in June 2011, when employees Neeraj and Yashpal first went there and started talking to the community about the possibility that the children can be nurtured in a way that enables them to break the poverty cycle when they grow up. “It wasn’t easy to convince parents to send their children over. Since the area is notorious for criminal activities, parents told us they were afraid to send their children regularly to any group activity. We had to demonstrate our credibility to convince parents that we could take responsibility for their children during the sessions,” recalls Neeraj.
There are 9 members in Sanjay’s family. His father, Ram Singh, is the sole earning member. His mother, Leela Devi, works hard to make sure her family gets the basic care it needs.
“One of the major problems in this community is the low-level of health awareness. peoples are not aware with the importance of health & hygiene. Why it is so importance for us. Why we all have to keep our body parts and our community neat and clean. The rate of drop out is very high and families have little resources for girl’s higher education.”
“Another issue that was affecting our work here, was that boys and girls were not allowed to play together.”
Sanjay was one of the foremost examples. His parents would not allow him to take part in the Magic Bus.
Whenever he did manage to come to the Magic Bus sessions, Sanjay looked bedraggled. His awareness about personal hygiene was poor, nor did he know that a disregard for cleanliness could become an invitation for common ailments.
“Sanjay was one of the children who used to hover at the edges of the play spaces we use in Churia Mohalla. When probed, he sad his parents would never approve of boys and girls playing together. Sanjay genuinely believed it was in bad form for him to play with girls,” says Niraj.
Sanjay’s family allowed him to join on one condition: he would not play with girls. As an interim measure, Magic Bus held separate sessions for girls and boys. In 2 months, Sanjay’s own gender perspective had shifted so much that he started trying to convince everyone that girls can easily compete with boys.
“What he did was removed the stereotypes his elders had. We organized the first-ever mixed-religion and mixed-gender sports tournament in the area, an event that broke so many gender barriers people had.”
Sanjay did not stop there. He took part in meetings with his elders where he confronted the mindsets that pull girls back. He formed a girl’s football team as well.
Today, Sanjay is a regular visitor at the Magic Bus Connect center, where he is working on his English language speaking skills.
“Salim is this young boy who refrained from playing with other children in the beginning, given the difference in religious persuasion. The religious divide is something many children get socialized into in Churia Mohalla: it has the unfortunate fallout of entrenching a divisive mindset when the child grows up. I had to go speak to his mother about the possible negative impact of not playing with other children. She then took it upon herself to guide Salim on the benefits of playing together as a team. Today, he does not have any inhibitions against anyone, especially not on religious grounds. His friends are also learning from his behaviour change and experiencing the power of peer-to-peer learning,” says Rajmandal, the volunteer mentor who takes care of the work in Churia Mohalla.
Besides the importance of teamwork, other key messages Salim, Sanjay and their friends are picking up are:
Sessions are conducted twice a week on Sundays and Mondays, each lasting for two hours and are divided into three parts: