A few children in Shillong and at Mawlong, not far from the city, narrate the stories of their life & try to articulate their dreams

This week’s story is not about the extraordinary. There is neither achievement nor failure; there are no controversies or coercions. There is nothing that can complement the sunshine on a Sunday morning.
This week is about a few children and their stories told in muffled words or in a cacophony, which either way will be lost. Theirs are the stories which do not offer variety and hence do not rouse interest. Yet each of them has a unique story to tell and a dream to share.
The High Court of Meghalaya recently asked the state government to look into the plight of street children and take necessary steps to achieve the objectives of a welfare state. Whether or not the government acts, the children whom Sunday Shillong met in the city and on its outskirts will continue their struggle for survival. The muck and the dust, the filth and the lies may wear their childhood off but cannot stop them from dreaming — some are doctors, some teachers, some poets and some brave soldiers.

The childhood that these young survivors have mocks our system, the government and every law that speaks of child rights. A peek at their life and one would well understand how farcical the Right to Education Act is. While the Constitution of the country ensures basic rights to all citizens, these children make their own constitution and swim against the tide to counter society’s rejection. A few good citizens are helping them in their fight and making them stronger by giving them education. As we talk about rights and wrongs over a cup of morning tea and plan for Christmas shopping on Sunday evening with our children, these little angels continue their gruelling work, picking up garbage and growing vegetables. But they are unstoppable, determined and fearless and can take any challenge in their stride. All they need is some support to continue their education so that one day they can leave behind this morbidity and prove themselves as equals.
This week Sunday Shillong brings you the stories of a few children. Though many came forward to speak, we are unable to publish their stories. However, they are very much present in their friends’ narrations and in our thoughts and we wish all of them a better future.

Wordjingshai Mawblei, The Cowboy

The 14-year-old boy rarely takes his eyes off the ground while talking to a stranger, especially someone from the city, probably because he does not want anyone to see the pain in his eyes. One has to strain the ears to listen to his broken English and almost inaudible words. He does not like talking much about his daily life.
The orphan, who is originally from Nongrymmai in West Khasi Hills, has been adopted by a family at Mawlong, a village located a few kilometers from the city. Education is a luxury commodity for him and his family. So he does not go to the regular school. Instead, he attends a school run by SPARK, an organisation that works with poor and street children. He is in Class VII and loves the few hours he spends with friends on the school premises, which consists of a bright yellow one-storeyed building with tin roof and a small space in front.
Wordjingshai wakes up at 6 am everyday and after a cup of tea comes to school. It is during those few hours in school that he gets back his childhood and he lives it to the fullest. After school, he has to go to field with four cows.
When enquired about his bovine friends, the boy smiled for the first time. The child in him suddenly started speaking, “Yes they have names and they know me well. I can handle them fine,” he said and withdrew himself as abruptly as he started speaking.

Elgenia Suting,
The Poetess

The 15-year-old daughter of poor farmer parents is not sure whether she can finish school one day and learn more about her favourite subject English. But she is absolutely certain that the next day will be another struggle. “I wake up at 5am and after finishing my household chores I come to school. I go back and do the remaining work at home,” she said in a timid voice. During holidays, she works in the field with her parents.
Elgenia said she loves poetry and one day she too will write poems. Even after a gruelling day and the drudgery, the teenager dares to dream. She said she wants to get a “good job” after finishing education.

Westar Mawrie,
The Farmer

The shy teenager was sceptical to speak when asked about his dream. The hard work in the field and the poverty have made him aware of the difficult ways of life.
The 15-year-old farmer is adept at growing ginger. He has learned farming from his mother. Besides ginger, he also grows tomatoes, beans, mustard leaves and other vegetables on the small plot of land that they own. April to December is a busy time for him. Yet he wants to study because he has heard from his teachers that education can give a better life. After coming from the field he makes sure that he studies for at least an hour. He loves to read science but mathematics scares him.
Westar is the third of the 11 siblings and he has the responsibility to look after the family. He is not allowed to do what a child of his age would usually do. He does not hope for new clothes on Christmas because he has to think about his younger siblings. But at times when he has money to spare he watches films and prefers Hollywood movies. “Thor is my favourite,” said the teenager with a shy smile.

Jameer Ali,
The Army Chief

Jameer can win anyone’s heart with his mischievous smile and the glitter in his eyes. He can well be the leader of the ‘gang’, or as their teacher calls them, “bachha party”. The 12-year-old is a ragpicker in Shillong and is doing this for the last two years. Even at this age, he is smart enough to count the money and keep a tab on the dues, this is all thanks to the informal education that he gets in a makeshift school run by SPARK in the slum. For him, fun is when “ma’am” takes the gang out on picnic.
A day in Jameer’s life is nothing consequential. Every morning he is up by seven and after a round of tea he rushes to work. He earns around Rs 100-150 a day and the more he works the more money he gets for the family. He never spends more than Rs 10 from the day’s earnings as he has to give the money to his mother. After coming back from work, he has to attend the evening school where they are taught “manners, English and how to greet people”.
Jameer leads the children of the muck-filled slum to the school. The members in his team informed that he is a fine beat-boxer and urged him to perform. After several requests, Jameer gave a short but laudable performance. The obnoxious stench and the daily fights in the slum do not distract him from his studies and he wants to pursue it so that one day he can leave this life behind and make his family happy. Jameer wants to be in the armed force and fight the enemies with a sophisticated weapon, he smiled as he spoke his heart out.

Chand Bano,
The Dreamer

Chand’s unclean face and uncombed hair cannot hide her bright smile and when she smiles, she becomes a beautiful lady of 13 years. The tiredness in her eyes hide the childish effervescence almost all the time. Chand is yet to take up any job but her hands are already full. After getting up early in the morning she has to finish the household chores before she can head to school. Chand, which in English means moon, loves to come to the makeshift school, which was built by the students with rejected wooden planks, because she learns “new things”.
When asked whether she wanted to continue her studies, Chand contemplates whether to share her dreams. After a pause of 10 seconds she nodded. She wants to study and get into a mainstream school though it would mean extra burden on the family. Unlike children of her age, she never bothers her parents with demands and abstains from going out with friends lest she spends more money. But she is really excited about the annual picnic that her teacher arranges before Christmas. That is the only time in the year when she breaks free of the penury and enjoys like a child would do. The conversation was cut short because she had to finish the work at home and look after her siblings when her parents are out on work.

Salamuddin Ali,
The Doctor

Nine-year-old Salamuddin is different from the other children in the slum. He is cleaner and speaks in a low voice. But if instigated he can be as wild as his friends. Salamuddin is yet to take up any job like his ragpicker friends. But he is aware that sooner or later he too has to go out of the alum and hunt for work. The child is not quite oblivious to the cruel ways of world but he still has the heart to dream. He wants to be a doctor and so he is already studying hard. Science is his favourite subject and he focuses on this more, he said.

“We don’t have money so I have to be careful with studies. But I am sure one day I will become a doctor,” he said ignoring the taunts of his older friends.

Abida Khatun, The Fighter

Abida’s mother did not want her to join the mainstream school but the gritty girl did not give up. The 14-year-old is a Class IV student of Islamia Secondary School.
During vacation she takes up odd jobs and with the money she earns she buys books. Now, the girl looks after a shop in Bhutia Market. She will work for two months and will earn enough money to buy books.
The vivacious teenager hides her worries with a smile and rarely complains. She does not have electricity at home but that does not deter her from studying because one day she will be a doctor.
“I don’t want to stop studying no matter what. I have made my mother understand. I know I have to work because we need money,” she said.
It was a little awkward to hear a 14-year-old talk so responsibly but as soon as she jumped at the proposition of a photograph with her beloved teacher, the child in her just gave herself out.
Roshni Khatun, The Angel

The 18-year-old) dropped out of studies long back because the family could no more afford it. For the last two months she has been working in a city hotel as a helper in the kitchen. Before this, she worked in the canteen of Lady Keane College when students of her age were attending classes. Once she was almost trafficked while searching for a job with better pay. The beautiful young woman has an equally beautiful heart that understands the plight of those living in the slum. So she wants her siblings to study. “I am also thinking of joining the early morning school so that I can get a better job,” she said.
(SPARK is in dire need of funds. If any citizen wants to help SPARK and the children, please contact Shima Modak on 8794850631)

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