Posted by Rhea Datta in Organizations Edit

Mumbai is a vast and vibrant city, whose destitute underbelly was made famous by Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The plight of Mumbai’s slum children is not a celluloid myth. As the need for development in a city of 22 million increases, so does the demand for migrant workers and construction laborers. As people pour into the city for such transient work, makeshift dwellings emerge around construction sites, only to be torn down and rebuilt elsewhere after the work ends. The children of these workers have a fairly rootless existence, using rubble-strewn construction sites as their homes and playgrounds. They are invisible to the local government and have little access to healthcare and education.

In 1969 Meera Mahadevan founded Mobile Crèches in Delhi with the belief that every child has rights to a secure environment, education and health services. Three decades later, the organization has reached out to half a million children on construction sites in Mumbai alone. The NGO has three separate faces: Mobile Crèches (Delhi), Mumbai Mobile Crèches (MMC) and Tara Mobile Crèches (Pune), each of which has multiple centers for early childhood development.

Devika Mahadevan is the current CEO of the organization. She is continuing her grandmother’s efforts in Mumbai, where Mobile Crèches has 22 MMC centers and 120 teachers. It relies on support from builders and developers, and petitions the local government to include the children in their mandate. “While we have grown in strength and numbers, the root problem hasn’t changed. Government policies have not changed. Maharashtra [the state where MMC is based] only ratified the Construction Worker Act of 1996 [providing health insurance to workers] last year- which is yet to be implemented. It is ironic – the people constructing the future of our cities have no future to speak of,” Mahadevan says.

Despite continuous setbacks, MMC has transformed the lives of children of laborers. It educates and provides shelter for the children, and teaches them life skills. Volunteer Ravi Saksena asserts that MMC tries to send most of the children to municipal schools once they are enrolled in education centers. Health initiatives ensure that a doctor visits each center weekly for regular checkups, eye examinations and immunizations. Sometimes these checkups have saved lives. “I saw a child with facial paralysis, and it crossed my mind that he may not have been immunized against mumps. He was immediately enrolled in a government hospital for treatment,” says Saksena. Mothers learn healthcare and breastfeeding habits that they implement in their lives. Nutrition is a key aspect of the organization, and each child in the center receives two protein-rich meals and an afternoon snack daily. They are also given vitamin supplements.

MMC partners with grassroots NGOs to ensure that its message reaches as far as possible. One of its biggest achievements was partnering with the Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) in Maharashtra to include, for the first time, children of migrant laborers in their work.

The accomplishments that stand out to Mahadevan and the rest of the volunteers at MMC are the changes in their students and what they go on to achieve. Former students of MMC include policemen, teachers and computer technicians. Dashrath Rathod was a child laborer at a tea shop earning Rs.5 a day when he started at MMC at age 6. He studied at Mobile Crèches, enrolled in a local school and is now a 25-year-old lawyer. Mahadevan quotes him: “’It was really hard,’ he said, ‘but look where I am now. I am an advocate.’ When he asked other students what they would like to be, 17-year-old Laxmi appeared confused. ‘Should I go into animation or retail management?’ she asked. It was an incredible question from a girl who grew up on a construction site with both parents as unskilled, illiterate laborers.”

Mumbai Mobile Creches

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