Not far from the historic city of the erstwhile Mughal rulers, Delhi, is the large settlement colony of Bhalswa. In stark contrast to the grandeur of the capital city, Bhalswa can best be described as Delhi’s largest dumping ground. It is difficult to conceive that the shantytown is home to thousands of families who were evicted from the slums in Delhi and resettled near a landfill site. It is even harder to believe that a young girl could rise like a phoenix from under the pervasive haze of the putrid and toxic methane gas.
Gulafsha Khan was a young girl when her family was forced to move to Bhalswa. ‘We lived in a slum in Nizammudin in South Delhi with access to clean water and electricity. We were horrified when we got to Bhalswa. The area was a desolate jungle swarming with snakes. People were so despondent that they wanted to run away. When the settlers began digging the earth to stand their shelters, they found countless bones. It was a creepy place,’ recalls Gulafsha. Her five siblings and parents struggled to make ends meet then and it is now very different. Most of the community’s population is well below the poverty line. Men and women work as daily wage workers at construction sites while some women find employment as maids in more affluent areas nearby.
Over time, the settlement degenerated into a slum while the peripheral area developed with the setting up of two primary schools and one secondary school. Gulafsha and her five siblings found their way to school while living in a one-room slum with their parents. In 2011, Gulafsha heard about the NGO Magic Bus from her friends. She went to meet its volunteers, Santosh and Mahadev, and learned that Magic Bus worked to drive change in the areas of education, health and hygiene and reproductive health.
Gulafsha says, ‘I signed for the Community Youth Leader (CYL) programme. After my six-day training, I had to make a group of 25 kids and teach through play. I approached several parents to permit their children to join our activities in the nearby park. Many declined for safety reasons. I had to build their trust in me over time to prove to them that I was a responsible girl.’ The volunteer youth mentor at Magic Bus recognized Gulafsha’s enthusiasm and extraordinary mentoring skills and awarded her CYL of the Month. They consistently encouraged her to pursue her education while gently cajoling her parents to agree.
Subsequently, Gulafsha joined the Connect programme, a special programme which trained the Magic Bus Community Youth Leaders in Functional English, Computer Literacy, and Interview Readiness skills. ‘The Connect Programme has helped me a lot. After completing the course, I feel confident. There’s also a remarkable improvement in my verbal English,’ said Gulafsha.
‘It has not been easy for me to step out to work. My community has constantly taunted my parents for letting me work and in turn my parents have often pressurized me to abandon social work. When I am with my group of children I feel like a child again. In the time that I spend with them, I forget my worries about the present and the future entirely.’
Gulafsha realized that her parents could not afford her college education so she began giving home tuitions to middle-school children. ‘I now pay my college fees from my earnings,’ says Gulafsha. ‘I want to study further to qualify for a teacher’s job.’
Gulafsha, 19 wants to live life on her own terms and she does today.
Article source: 'Women of Pure Wonder', Struggle. Survival. Success', Published by Roli Books. An initiative by the Vodafone India Foundation