Sulekha studies in the eighth standard of a school in her village. Maulana Buddhu Chak where she lives with her three siblings – one elder sister and two brothers – and her parents, is a village 2 hours away from the capital city of Patna in Bihar. Pooja Verma, Magic Bus Youth Mentor who has been working in this community, says that most families in the village survive on a meagre income. Some work as agricultural labourers while others are into rag-picking and selling of scraps. Maulana Buddhu Chak is home to the marginalised and landless Musahar community of Bihar, a Scheduled Caste group characterised by extreme poverty and social stigma.
Despite poverty, Pooja who works with 170 children in this village found them to be ‘eager to learn but without a suitable platform that could help them do so.’ She refers to the lack of quality schools in the area that seems to be the one of the major reasons for low learning outcomes among children.
Sulekha’s father does odd jobs while her mother works in the field. After schools closed, while Sulekha and her elder sister stayed at home, managing the household chores and taking care of the younger brother, their parents went out to work and took their brother along. “On a month where both her parents had work, their income would be around Rs. 7000. During the lockdown, it was reduced to a bare minimum,” says Pooja.
COVID-19 pandemic has been the hardest for families like Sulekha’s. It has also been a difficult time for children. With schools closed, they have been confined within homes in inadequate spaces. Since Sulekha is a part of the Magic Bus programme, Pooja ensured she is included in the telephonic interactions she would have with all the children on the programme. “Our sessions were between 12 and 1 in the afternoon. I used call on Sulekha’s father’s phone. He would be at work and would have to immediately rush home to give Sulekha the phone so that she could be a part of the session,” explains Pooja. A Magic Bus Impact Survey on COVID-19 found that only 33% of children in our communities had access to online learning. Sulekha is clearly among the majority of children who don’t.
Explaining why Magic Bus planned for daily calls with children, Pooja says, “The lockdown brought lives to a standstill. None of us had seen something like this. Our children were full of questions: How will we keep safe? When will schools re-open? When can we start going out to play? When can we meet our friends? The calls helped us listen to our children and address their fears. We talked about COVID-19 and the different prevention measures. We talked about life skills that would help us overcome our fears. We also informed children about nutritious food and hygienic practices.”
Sulekha’s father had asked Pooja about Magic Bus and what his daughter would gain from these regular telephonic sessions. Pooja’s explanations had convinced him that his daughter could learn from these sessions. Sulekha referred to Pooja as ‘phone-wali didi’ (a phone friend) and her excitement at being able to speak to Pooja would be evident to her parents. So, he spent a part of his hard-earned money on getting Sulekha a phone!
Sulekha was overjoyed. She rang Pooja up the moment her father surprised her with this gift. “She was so excited and relieved,” says Pooja.
Sulekha is determined to make the most of her gift. While her parents do longer hours of work to keep the family well-fed, Sulekha dreams of a better future for all of them.Back