What’s it like to be the child of construction workers? Moving from town to town, spending years away from home? Get to know Biswa, Rabia and Jhimli’s world better through Mumbai Mobile Creches’ new book ‘Home Away from Home’.
Over 11 million Indians work in the construction sector. With both parents and other caregivers at work all day, there’s often no-one to take care of the children. They’re left to their own devices, spending their days in the heat and dust of a construction site. For more than 44 years, Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) has been running Day Care Centers at these very construction sites. MMC has developed and pioneered a model that supports the development of the very young child, frees young children from the burden of child care and helps children to enter and stay in school.
Home Away from Home gives you a peek into the lives of these very unique children. HelpYourNGO spoke with Asmita Africawala, Research and Documentation Co-ordinator at Mumbai Mobile Creches to hear more about the thoughts behind the book.
- What led to the writing of this book?
MMC’s programme uses education as a tool to break the cycle of poverty and allow children the chance to grow up and find success in their lives. As many of the children we cater to are first-generation learners, they are limited in their access to quality reading materials. We regularly purchase books for them, so one day when we were going through the book selection process we realised how rarely we had come across any story of a migrant child. That was where the idea was born of having a book which will tell the story of the migrant children and what their lives are about.
Our own children will be able to relate to the story, finding themselves in the characters. The story will unravel to the readers the lives of these children hidden behind the walls of the construction sites.
- What inspired the title of the book?
The title ‘Home Away from Home’ reflects the daily reality of our children. Every new site is a home away from home for them wherein they make new friends, new contacts and just experience a new set up where they have to live.
- Tell us a little more about the children you work with
Children on the construction site make up one of the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations among the urban poor. Because of the extreme poverty of their families and also since their parents are constantly working these children are left to fend for themselves. They suffer from malnutrition, undernourishment, accidents, and innumerable health problems and are marginalized from formal schooling, day-care centres or any sort of support system. The dangerous construction site is their only playground.
Migration poses unique challenges in extending any support to these children, mainly because they are constantly on the move – from one construction site to another, and from one city to another.
- Tell us more about the experience of the children at MMC centres
Since 1972, MMC has set up 275 day care centres and has touched the lives of more than 100,000 children of migrant construction workers. Our children come from over 18 states of India so there is tremendous cultural diversity at our Centers. Children of different languages, abilities & skill sets come together at MMC Centers.
Children experience a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment to grow and learn at MMC. Our Centers are very vibrant, in stark contrast with predominant grey shades of the construction site. They are full of activities and colours which the children really enjoy.
Children also get comprehensive care – our programmes take care of their educational, health and nutritional needs which leads to their all-round development. Financial assistance is provided to children who are enrolled in school but require support.
All children attending the centres enjoy wholesome meals including breakfast, lunch, snacks, fruits and eggs. Children receive curative, preventative and rehabilitative care, monitored by regular doctor’s visits. Financial assistance is also provided for serious illnesses or ailments, and health and hygiene awareness workshops are taken with the children in the Center and in their communities too.
- Why were the teachers chosen to write the book?
Our teachers are the primary persons at MMC who come in direct contact with the children. They are the ones who know the children closely, know their day to day lives and their stories, so we thought if anybody has to narrate the story of a migrant child then who would be better equipped than our teachers.
- What is the students’ reaction to this book?
Children loved the book! They immediately related to the characters of Biswa, Jhimli and Rabia. They identified with the pictures that detailed out scenes at the construction site. We had a book release session at the Kitab Khana, Fort wherein our children were engrossed in listening to the story. Children thoroughly enjoyed uncovering of the Biswa’s mystery.
- Do you notice any change in the behaviour of the children after being with MMC?
MMC caters to a highly mobile population of children; over 80 percent of the children we serve stay with us for less than six months. So, when a child is enrolled at a MMC day-care, no one, including the child’s family, knows how long the child will attend the day care centre making it very hard to measure impact of MMC’s programmes. In addition, 60 percent children we serve are below six years of making it difficult to demonstrate change. However, MMC uses several methods to capture change it brings into the lives of these children.
Last year we used an unconventional way to measure our impact. We asked children to imagine their lives without MMC. It was not a very hard exercise for these children since most of them had already experienced the same. Through paintings and stories children depicted how their lives were affected by MMC and how it is a sanctuary for them from harsh weather and from imminent accidents which are common on construction sites. Some paintings depicted how MMC provided them with the opportunity to study and go to school. Others depicted how MMC provided them with the opportunity to study and go to school instead of spending their days doing household work like washing clothes and filling water buckets or would have worked outside the home to help support the family. MMC’s greatest impact can be seen in how these children enjoy their childhood the way it is meant to be. The paintings along with the case studies of children who created the paintings are compiled in a diary, you can write to us avail your own copy
We have also helped children tackle malnutrition through our health and nutrition programmes we have helped children tackle malnutrition. We observed an 11 – 20 percentage point reduction in the malnutrition of children in the year 2015-16. You can access our annual reports which are listed on our website to know more about our impact
- What makes the book so special?
This is a cause which is very rare. There is not much known about migrant children per se. What will intrigue the readers is this unique theme of children who are hard- to-reach or children they have never thought about. It’s a life unimagined so we think that is what will appeal to people about this particular book. For children, the vibrant colourful pictures (which are also my favourite parts of the book!) would be really appealing. There’s also a mystery element! The pictures and the element of mystery make the story lively and fun to read for children and we are sure they will enjoy it.
- Where can you find the book?