Welcome to Praajak

Achieving Dreams

Bijoy first came in contact with Praajak in 2006. The then 12-year-old boy had become a permanent fixture at Malda railway station. Influenced by peers, he started to sniff glue.

Bijoy’s life had never been easy. His father was an alcoholic. His mother had moved to Delhi with her younger son. Bijoy was left on his own with his maternal grandparents. When he was in class VI, he was asked to quit his studies to contribute financially at home. Since then he started frequenting Malda station collecting used water bottles.
However, he was keen to continue his studies and started attending the non-formal classes at the Muktangan centre at the Malda railway station. Meanwhile, he started his business of selling packaged drinking water. His earnings enabled him to contribute in his family even while he studied and slept at the Muktangan night shelter and accessed the community kitchen.

He later shared with Muktangan staff that he wanted to learn driving. He was subsequently referred to Sumangalam, a government run child care institution in Bishnupur, where he completed his driving course. He secured a job as a driver. However, he wished to complete his studies and enrolled himself under an Open School Programme. Since regular work as a driver was preventing him from concentrating on his studies, Bijoy took up an opportunity to work with Praajak as an outreach worker for the Muktangan programme. He cleared his Madhyamik examination and also learnt computers. Currently he works in Mumbai in a restaurant and likes to be virtually connected with all of us through Facebook.

Growing as an Inspiration for Many

Seventeen years old Sourav Middye lives with his parents and a younger sister in Mograhat, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal. He participated in the 15-week training on issues of gender equity and sexuality under the Antariksha programme. The training left a deep impact on him

“I think work has no gender. Girls and boys should be respected equally. What a boy can do, a girl can do as well. There should not be any bias on the basis of gender”, felt Sourav. He further added women washed clothes, cooked and served food in his house. No one ever questioned that. However, Sourav felt that such gendered conceptions and biases needed to be challenged. He shared that he had explained this to his family members logically – “Do I wash my mother’s and sister’s clothes? Then, why should they wash mine? Is it our job to just sit and eat and go away leaving the plates behind? It is also our responsibility to help and clean the dishes after meals”.
Sourav was disturbed when his mother stopped his younger sister from going to the temple while she was menstruating. He knew it was a sensitive topic. But it did not deter him from reasoning it out with his mother. “I feel we are trapped in superstitions. Menstruation is not a disease, it is a natural process,” he had pointed out.
Sourav’s mother, Shibani, had found it difficult to accept these changes in her son’s views and behaviours. She recalled, “I used to pray that Sourav should not open his mouth in front of his father. However, my worst fears came true when I saw that he looked forward for opportunities to talk about all this in his father’s presence. We reacted violently towards him. We thought he is coming to know things which he should not, at this age. I wanted him to be out of this programme immediately.”

Sourav, however, did not react. He waited for his parents to become calm and then talked with them again. His patience and persistent efforts bore fruit. “After Sourav made repeated attempts to explain to us through logical arguments, we were touched and convinced. And now, we are thankful he was part of this programme. Now, I feel it is important that this programme should be done with the girls and parents as well”, shared Shibani with a smile. She added that Sourav helps out in the household chores whenever he gets time. She feels more attached to him now.

Big things come in small packages!

Twelve-year-old Bholu hails from Dhanbad, Jharkhand. When he was six years old, he travelled to Asansol in search of work and ended up picking coal from goods trains. In 2010, we met him at the station and befriended him. We gradually convinced him to attend the Muktangan programme. He was particularly touched when the staff swung into action to help him when he had fractured his elbow and provide him emergency medical care. He started taking interest in the education initiatives at the Drop in Centre. Initially, it was very difficult for him to understand and learn new concepts. However, Bholu impressed the staff with his persistence. He attended a ten day educational camp held in Malda and showed remarkable improvement in his behaviour and his willingness to learn and work hard.
In January 2014, he was admitted in class I at the Jhaljhalia Hindi Primary School in Malda with the help of District Project Officer (DPO) of Sarva Siksha Mission (SSM), Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and District Child Protection Officer (DCPO). Bholu’s excitement knew no bounds. However, he was also nervous. He began to attend school regularly and showed steady progress in academics. He impressed the teachers with his performance. He is now 19 years and has chosen to go back home to his family in Dhanbad.

For Shephali Di, family goes beyond blood ties

Shephali Khatoon is a resident of Bhatra village in Old Malda block. The residents of the village survive on farming for three months and then migrate for work during the rest of the year. Women, typically, take care of the cattle. They also earn by making bidis. Educational attainment, particularly for girls, is rarely prioritised. Early marriage remains a common phenomenon.

Shephali’s life however followed a different trajectory. After her father passed away, she had to take on the responsibility of running the household and take care of her ailing mother.
She also had to visit government offices regarding her mother’s widow pension and other official work. Drawing from what she had learnt, she voluntarily started helping other villagers in such matters as well. This earned her considerable goodwill and she was soon seen as one of the key figures in her community.
Praajak approached her for support in enhancing enrolment of children in schools, for promoting coverage of health services (particularly vaccinations),as well as aid families in applying for ration cards. Shephali agreed immediately.

She also started working very closely with the other women in her community. With her friendly demeanour and leadership skills, she formed a group of women and started assigning them small tasks, like accompanying her to add children’s names in ration cards and talking to Panchayat regarding things that affect the community. The group, comprising 15-20 women, started to meet regularly. Friendships developed. More importantly, the group became a space to discuss various issues like importance of vaccination, right to education, relevant government schemes that could be accessed and business ideas. She also encouraged the women to consider appropriate family planning methods. She was not deterred by resistance and threats from local Maulvis.

In the past seven years, that nucleus of 15-20 women grew into a 350 women strong self-help group movement. Many of them have now started their own businesses. They now act as a pressure group with regard to children’s and women’s rights in their own communities. They raise issues before duty bearers including the proper functioning of the health sub centres and schools. They step in to prevent child marriages. Women have called the police whenever needed. They helped enrol 90 children into primary schools using the provisions of the Right To Education Act. The women have helped 600 families get their ration cards without having to grease palms.

Shephali was selected as Gram Panchayat Resource Person (GPRP) from the old Malda Block Office for creating women Self Help Group (SHG) and supervising the 100 days of work to grow banana plantations under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. She was selected from Malda district for a Bengali program called Aparijita (The Undefeated) and in 2017, she was awarded by the Shahapur panchayat for her work under the Nirmal Bangla Mission.

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