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Coming Aboard Magic Bus
Life Skills: A Key to Women’s Empowerment

On her first visit to a Magic Bus session in Delhi, Bidisha Fouzdar shares her experience with the kids and the team.

Eight-year-old Kunal is the first to yell “Ho!” to Akash Bhaiya’s call “Pillelo?”. It’s hard to believe when you see the child’s excited face, but Kunal’s family are among those the Planning Commission has recently declared to be below the official poverty line. His father, the single earner for the family of five, makes a measly Rs 4000 per month – which roughly translates into Rs 26 to be spent per day per family member. Experts avow it takes double of this to actually live at the official poverty line.

Kunal and his family all go outside for their daily toilet, a practice that makes them all – as well as their neighbours – vulnerable to vector-borne diseases. The neighbourhood they share with 2000 other families like there is called Sanjay Camp. It shares an approach road with an open-wood crematorium – among the worst ways of disposing the dead in today’s air-pollution ridden cities.

But for four hours every week, Kunal forgets the extremely challenging environment he calls home and focuses instead on the possible - along with a motley group of thirty 7 to 15 year olds, he learns the basics of hygiene and its link to living a healthy life.

Kunal is part of Magic Bus’ Dakshinpuri programme. He is one of 63,000 children the programme has in Delhi / NCR alone, and is learning that a change in his own agency and a connect with the opportunities existing in his surroundings, can make a world of difference to his childhood.

"We use more than 200 games – broken into a small activity, a main activity and a review, in which children are encouraged to change attitudes and behavior towards better health", says Yashpal, the Training and Monitoring Officer in charge of the area’s programmes. People like Yashpal deliver the training necessary to focus on development goals.

Kunal’s 12 years old brother, Rahul, is mentally challenged and is not accessing any education at all. In a neighbourhood where everyone forgets the needs of children like Rahul, the Magic Bus curriculum is an avenue that integrates him seamlessly into the growing and learning experience.

This games-based curriculum – carefully researched and developed from popular games such as Football, is at the cutting edge of behavior-change communication targeted at children. Magic Bus' Chief Operating Officer, Pratik Kumar, says, "What we have to offer is a model of empowerment that starts with the self. In that, it among the strongest approaches known towards poverty reduction."

Thus for children like Kunal, the fun and excitement is just part of the means. The endgame is poverty reduction.