” My journey began in 2015 when I moved from India to my fourth home country, Singapore. I experienced its famed safety, healthcare, and education system. All children, regardless of their gender or economic status, are provided access to quality education and healthcare, which positively impacts the economy and ethos of Singaporeans.
I contrasted this to the prevalence of child marriage and child labour in India and the resulting consequences of low literacy, poverty, and crime. This disparity motivated me to do as much as I could to improve the lives of children in India. In school I had learnt about Child Rights and You (CRY), an NGO focused on children in India and it was part of our syllabus in Civics in India. When I wanted to get myself involved in working towards child labour I conducted extensive research. All the websites and people I spoke to referred to CRY being the most reliable and effective NGO working in India. Hence I decided that is where I want to work.
In the summer of 2016, I volunteered with them as an intern. My first work was in Nochinagar, a fisherman slum in Chennai. Until I got there, I had witnessed poverty and violence from afar but had never been in the midst of it. Walking through sweltering hot lanes smelling of decayed fish, hearing cries of unattended babies, and seeing women being physically beaten was an assault on my senses. Instinctively, I closed my eyes and nose to shut out the world. As privileged children, we have had the luxury to look away from blight and hope our cars drive quickly past the squalor to convince us that the problem would go away. But, that day was different. There was no car to whisk me away. I knew I had to do something as I walked towards some children playing during a break from work. I spent hours talking to them, trying to understand their challenges.
These conversations made me realise that “school versus work” was not an easy choice. It was conflated by matters ranging from not having access to transport to a 10-year-old breadwinner’s ability to pick education over his family’s sustenance. “I don’t get paid to go to school, why would I leave my sick mother hungry?” asked a little boy, trying to justify his hours at the firework factory. Hunger, diseases, and malnutrition afflicting their community made it nearly impossible for the child labourers of Chennai to attend school. I was acutely aware of my limitations; there were many socio-economic factors outside my control but I hoped to isolate aspects of the problem that I could help impact. As such, I worked with CRY to organise a health camp in the slum where a medical team checked all the children and their parents for basic health metrics and administered medical advice as needed.
I returned to India in the summer of 2017, to make a more impactful contribution as a volunteer. I ideated and organised a walkathon to benefit the child labourers of India. My social media campaign rallied over 250 people, including representatives of national media, who walked in support of the cause. The 5k walkathon helped raise $6,400, which enabled child labourers to return to school. That day I realised that, while child labour remains a colossal problem, my contribution is a small but meaningful step towards its eradication. While I have grown up in different countries, I was raised with the core Indian value of serving the community in steps big or small.
I always have a feeling of exuberance and satisfaction, especially while working with the kind volunteers and the wonderful children we interacted with. I will always be apart of CRY and will always want to work with them towards improving child outcomes. I want to now dive into research to gain a deeper understanding of the issue so I am able to tackle the issue of child labour & child marriage at its grassroots.
I strongly believe that every child should be able to go to school and receive quality education around the world, especially, in my home country India. This is mainly because in economics we have learnt about the wide and positive impact of education not only on the economy but also on an individual’s growth and development. Apart from bringing down the crime rates and improving overall health and standard of living of people. It ensures that social evils like child labour and child marriage do not happen. ”
– Shambavi Vaidiyanthan, 12th Grade Student in Singapore, under-18 CRY volunteer
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