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Malcolm Harper reports
Philippa Baylis from Perth in Scotland was at PUSS for several weeks, helping with teaching and in innumerable other ways. She is a qualified and experienced ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teacher, and is a wonderful asset for the school. This was her third visit, and her husband William joined her for a few days. He is a computer expert, so they are both a great help to Kuku and her colleagues. Her report begins on the next page.
Philippa Baylis writes about her visit to PUSS
There are many good things to report from PUSS. The Day Boarder Project has 78 children and is doing well. The field coordinator Ganesh Dixit goes into local slums to meet families and offer day education to girl children. The parents are often reluctant to let their little daughters go to school because they need them to look after babies when both parents try to find work. I went with Ganesh on the early morning bus that goes to three local slums in Bhubaneswar to pick up girls and bring them to school. It was very humbling to see what desperate conditions these children live in. Their houses are built of sticks and polythene and some had been flooded after the monsoon rains. It is hard to comprehend how people can live in such conditions. The children were a delight and full of enthusiasm for coming to school. I had a very jolly trip on a packed bus back to PUSS. The children get a pre-school session from 8–9 am and have a good breakfast before regular school starts at 10.20 am, and they are taken back home after an evening meal.
PUSS has recently started to provide counselling for the children who stay at the school; this is required by the Government, and the counsellors are able to offer a friendly ear and good advice; this also relieves Kuku of some of her ‘pastoral’ work; she is brilliant at it, but the increasing requirements of government and all the other day to day issues need her attention too.
Samapika Rautroy is a newly appointed one-to-one counsellor for the girls; she has to send regular written reports in English to the Government Child Welfare Committee. She is very popular with the children and has a lovely, friendly manner, and really understands the children and their individual needs. The counsellors’ reports sometimes make sad reading, but they show how PUSS has made a happy home for so many children from such sad circumstances.
The new English teacher Subalaxmi is doing well; she teaches classes 1–5, and I sat in on some of her classes with the younger children. She is a conscientious and thorough teacher with a good command of spoken English, and is a real asset to the school.
We received great news from three of the ‘college girls’ who live at PUSS and attend local colleges. Puspita Paricha, Parlay Kumar and Priyanka Adbaria, who are just finishing a two year degree course in motor mechanics at Gram Tarang at Centurion Unversity, have been offered permanent jobs by Hyundai in Bhubaneswar. Two are to be mechanics and one a customer service agent. It is a great achievement for them and a huge accolade for PUSS which has given them such a great start in life. It is also a great leap forward for women from any background in Odisha.
How I spent my time at PUSS
I am lucky to have been able to return so soon after my three month visit last year. This time I was there for 6 weeks in total and was joined by my husband William for the last two weeks. I continued my English language lessons with several classes and with the teachers, focussing on developing spoken English. The Skye Boat Song and background history went down well with the older children, while the clapping song A Sailor went to Sea, Sea, Sea was very popular with the younger ones. Kuku also asked me to give English lessons to her and the two counsellors three times a week.
William helped Dipali Tripathy with the computer lessons. She does a very good job with limited resources and William helped to network the computers together. He also donated a new monitor to hang on the wall so that Dipali can demonstrate things on a large screen for the whole class to see; he also tried his hand at teaching!
Out of school we took groups of children down to the river which runs beside Naharkanta. The girls don’t get out much apart from on official trips and it was great to see them having fun on the sand. I brought some Scottish Country Dance music with me and we showed them how to do one of the dances. The children are very good dancers, and some of them laughed so much at the Scottish steps that they could hardly make it round the recreation hall.
News from SOCH
Manoj Kumar has been very busy with his three teams of child rescue workers at Bhubaneswar, Puri and Berhampur stations. Since SOCH started they have rescued 3606 children, and in July alone they rescued 121 children.
In most cases the children are reunited with their families; if they have no families, or if it is clear that the family is severely dysfunctional, SOCH works with the Government child care department to place them in a suitable home. SOCH also follow up every child by phone or if necessary in person to ensure that they have not run away again.
The following stories (with disguised names) describe three typical recent cases.
Sanjukta is 16 years old, and since childhood she has travelled around Odisha with her family to find whatever labouring jobs are available. They were working in a small town called Himiliklatu between Bhubaneswar and Berhampur when she fell in love with a boy from Balangir, a very poor inland area of Odisha. Both families strongly disapproved of their relationship, and the boy returned home with his family. Sanjukta missed him desperately, in part because she was convinced that she was pregnant. She decided to run away from her parents and to follow the boy to Balangir. The railway police staff saw her sitting alone at Berhampur station, and she seemed confused and lost, so they informed the SOCH team.
The team engaged Sanjukta in conversation and after a while she poured out her whole story. She was terrified at the prospect of meeting her boyfriend’s family, she did not dare to go back to her own family, and she was obviously relieved to meet someone who could understand and sympathise with her problems.
The team offered to help her talk to her family, and she had remembered her parents’ phone number (even the poorest families in Odisha carry mobiles nowadays, and they are often vital for following up job opportunities). Her parents had been desperately searching for her and were overjoyed to hear her voice; when Sanjukta spoke to them she realized that what she really wanted to do was to rejoin her family.
The SOCH team gently warned her about the dangers of travelling alone and she understood how much her parents loved her. The team arranged for her to travel back to them, and she was happily reunited with them. After a month SOCH followed up the contact, and they found that all was well. Sanjukta had realized that she was not pregnant after all, and she was happy to be back with her family.
Ranjit is thirteen years old and the SOCH team saw him wandering about alone on Puri railway station early one morning. They kept an eye on him for fifteen minutes and it was clear that he was lost, so they approached him and asked if he needed any help. He rather reluctantly agreed to go with the SOCH staff to the railway police, and then he went with them to the nearby SOCH shelter.
At first he was reluctant to talk, but after he had had a wash and a meal he told his story. He was from Samastipur in Bihar, nearly a thousand kilometers from Puri. His mother had died when he was very young, and his father used to get drunk and beat him and force him to go out to earn money so that he could buy more liquor for himself. He hardly ever went to school, and he eventually took refuge in his uncle’s house to escape from his father.
He was also ill-treated there and made to work and to hand over his earnings, so he eventually ran away and took a train to Calcutta where he found odd labouring jobs and slept on the Howrah station platform (which appears in the 2017 Oscar nominated film Lion) for about a month. Then he jumped on a train and got to Puri, where he was living on the station and doing odd jobs to survive. He clearly disliked roaming around and living on the railway, and he was unwilling or unable to remember his uncle’s or his father’s addresses or mobile numbers.
This was obviously one of the cases where it was not possible or desirable to reunite the child with his family, so the SOCH staff collaborated with the Government child protection officials and helped to find him a place in the ‘Utkal Balashram’ orphanage. They have followed up the case and he is apparently happily settled there.
Bhavana is eight years old. She was spotted by the Berhampur team on the station platform, sitting alone and looking nervous and confused with a bag in her hand. The team engaged her in conversation and she was happy to go with them; the team informed the station police and the railway staff and she walked along with them to the nearby SOCH centre. She took some food and played one or two games, and soon revealed her sad story to the team.
Her mother had been abandoned by her father, and she and Bhavana were living with another man who did nothing and relied on Bhavana’s mother to earn enough to support the whole household. All went well until Bhavana’s mother gave birth to the man’s son.
All good things came to an end for Bhavana; her schooling, her games and most importantly her happiness. The man started to ill-treat Bhavana and her mother, and he made Bhavana stay in the house to take care of his son. One day he had a big argument with Bhavana’s mother and accused Bhavana of neglecting his son.
Her mother decided that Bhavana’s presence was the main source of her disagreements with the man, and she told her to leave home for good. She put her on a train at Jatni station near Bhubaneswar and told her that she would find a better life if she took care of herself. The SOCH team asked the little girl what she thought when her mother put her on a train and told her to leave, but she had nothing to say.
SOCH took Bhavana to the local government child protection committee the next day and they placed her in the care of Utkal Balashram, a local child care shelter. A few days later her mother realized what a dreadful thing she had done and started to search for Bhavana everywhere. Luckily she met the SOCH team who told her where Bhavana was. She went to the shelter and recovered her child, and when the SOCH team followed up the case they found that the shock had helped the family to settle their differences and all was well.
I shall be going to Odisha/Orissa at the end of August; in the meantime greetings from the staff of the PUSS school and the SOCH railway rescue operation, and mainly, of course, from all the children whom you so generously support.
Malcolm Harper, Chairman, Friends of the Children of Orissa.
Filgrave, August 2017
c/o Ursula Kraus-Harper (Hon. Secretary)
The Old Farmhouse, Filgrave, Bucks, MK 16 9ET, UK
Telephone: +44(0)1234 711764
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