OSCAR International Young Leader, Ruby Sowerbutts spent an eye opening day with 13 year old Priya in the Ambedkar Nagar community.
On a very hot day in Mumbai, I ventured into the Ambedkar Nagar community, across the uneven ground and down narrow alleyways, to the home of Priya. 13-year-old Priya lives with her parents, Jyoti and Prem, sister, Priti,(16) and brother, Bhavesh (7) in a 5 ft x 6 ft house, with no running water, no toilet, no shower and no beds. To enter the house, I nervously climbed a vertical ladder and clambered across a daunting looking uneven platform. Priya bound up in seconds.
The family relocated from Karnataka to Mumbai to get work at the Sassoon Dock, her mother peeling prawns, her father as a fisherman. An introverted child, Priya lacked social skills, she was rude and aggressive using bad language. Here mother did not know how to handle her outbursts. Life changed when OSCAR staff member, Kumar asked Jyoti if he could enrol her in the OSCAR programme.
Becoming part of the OSCAR family changed Priya, she enjoyed playing football, joined a computer class and made many new friends. She glows with pride as she shows me piles of awards and trophies. Her mother could not be prouder.
The slum community does not approve of girls wearing shorts and playing football. The women constantly make disparaging and negative comments about girls bearing their legs. They don’t believe girls should get an education, play sport and have big dreams, they want girls to learn the necessary skills for an illegally early marriage and inevitable youth pregnancy.
At a Government school Priya did not have access to good teachers and was always in trouble for fighting and biting. She hated school. All she really wanted to do was dance and sing. Priya told me she had no role model, no one to guide her.
After school and at the weekends she worked in the docks. She hated the smell of the fish and the prawns that left her hands bleeding.
On OSCAR days she would leave the dock early to go to football. Everyone tried to stop her, asking her why she thought education and football was for girls. Priya’s response was always “one day, when I do something, I will let you know.”
Sassoon dock women judged Jyoti too for allowing her daughter such freedom but she would tell them she will never stop her playing football.
Later Jyoti got a job as a housekeeper, which enabled Priya to stop working at the dock. Her mother’s employer offered to pay half of the fees for the children to go to a fee-paying school. Priya loves school and walks every day with her brother.
At Dunnie School, she was put down a standard because of her entrance test. Now she is in 5thstandard, she has regular teachers, is working hard and her English has greatly improved. Her favourite subject is Maths and she has lots of opportunities to sing and dance. Priya and Priti now take part in the OSCAR annual culture event every year. They dance and speak about their lives before and after joining OSCAR.
Jyoti is very strict about education making sure her kids go to school and, if they miss a day they are homeschooled. Jyoti never got the opportunity to complete her education and pass 10thstandard however, to this day, she still wants to. Her eldest, Priti, has passed 10thstandard and she says her daughter has fulfilled her own dream.
Priya spoke of her 14-year-old friend named Priyanka whose mother does not support her. She was pulled out of school so she could earn rupees at Sassoon Dock. OSCAR has not given up trying to encourage her mother to enrol her in school and allow her to join OSCAR. Priya feels extremely lucky to have supportive parents and adores her mother.
Now 13, Priya has a lot of household responsibilities. Her mother works from 8am-2:30pm and again from 6-9pm and her father leaves at 4am to work at Sassoon Dock, if there are no fish he will go for labouring work and come back around 7pm. Priya does not go to school until 12:30 so spends the morning doing chores. The sisters divide the house chores; Priya cleans the kitchen, washes the clothes and wipes the floor. Priti washes the utensils and fills the water.
The water is switched on for 90 minutes from 11am allowing limited time for filling. I was lucky enough to be with the sisters when the water was switched on. It took 14 trips from the water pump to the house to fill all the jugs. The girls were carrying the jugs on their heads as they scaled the tall ladder up to their door like monkeys. The speed and efficiency of the girls was extremely impressive, especially considering the length of time it took for me to simply climb the ladder! Priya and Priti alternate looking after their younger brother, getting him ready for school. Priya takes him to school and collects him and showers him ready for bed. Her sister and mother cook the evening meal, rice and dal and sometimes fish or chicken
In the community, parents leave early in the morning for work and the children are left at home unattended, caring for younger siblings. The older children also have to run errands and do chores so babies and toddlers are frequently left alone. Priya decided to do something about this. When she has a holiday she calls all the children in her neighbouring houses to come and sit with her. She asks theirmothers to give them their books so she can teach them. She creates games and activities and sings English poems. The parents of the children are very supportive. She wants to make sure they join OSCAR.
Priya’s dream is to be a professional footballer. When she is, she will buy her own house and take her parents in an aeroplane.
Her first dream is to join the U14 state team however, if she is not on the team by next year, she hopes to become a Young Leader for OSCAR. Priya has such an inspiring story, I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to follow her daily routine.
Priya’s Daily Routine:
7am– Wakes up and boils water for a shower, then eats breakfast
8am – 12pm – Sisters divide the house chores, Priya cleans the kitchen, washes the clothes and wipes the floor. Priti washes the utensils and fills the water.
12:30pm – Priya goes to school
5pm– Priya leaves school and goes to the OSCAR centre for lessons and once a week, to football practice
9pm– Priya has dinner and then empties all of the garbage into the bins outside the community
9:30pm – Homework
10:30pm – Goes to sleep
Weekend– She does the same chores in the morning with additional work of filling water and cleaning the entire home. Her mother comes back at lunch and the girls study for a bit, then she goes to football practice.
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