Mobile Creches (Delhi, Day Five)

Mobile Creches is a non-government organization that provides services to children of construction workers in India. My group visited one of the sites outside of Delhi to get a firsthand look at the wonderful things this organization is doing to make life a little bit easier for hardworking men and women while providing an educational and social framework for their children.

We started at the NGO’s headquarters in Delhi where Ms. Mridula Bajaj explained the practices behind her organization. In case you didn’t know, a creche is a nursery where babies and young children are cared for during the working day. The term originates from the French and has a primarily British usage among English speakers, which is why I wasn’t immediately familiar with it.

The Delhi-based mobile creche system caters to children, from newborn babies to the age of fourteen, with critical emphasis on children under six years old. Approximately 50 children benefit from the services of each center. The need for such a service is great, as more than 150 million Indian women work in the “informal” sector doing backbreaking work while still living in poverty, leaving their children in dire need of care. Without the creches many of these children simply loiter in the streets with their siblings, malnourished and lacking educational instruction. According to the information I received during my visit, it is estimated that among the children of construction workersin India about one quarter of them, girls in particular, are still not enrolled in any kind of educational system, which is what makes Mobile Creches’ work so vital.

The first creche in India was established in 1969 at the Rajghat district of Delhi. It was inspired by the sight of children of construction workers, who were playing in the rubble of building materials for a memorial to Gandhi. That picture seemed entirely contradictory to Gandhi’s vision of altruism. Today the organization oversees 23 daycare centers which provide intervention in 9 different slum settlements in and around Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi, who became India’s sixth prime minister after his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination, played a pivotal role in developing the mobile creche system. The Rajiv Gandhi creche scheme established the practice of a 50/50 split in the provision of funding between the government and the NGO, with the NGO footing the groundwork.

After a brief lecture, we boarded a bus to visit one of the mobile creche units in Gargaon. Before I continue my narrative about the creches, let me first explain the theater of insanity that unfolded on the highway as we crossed from Delhi to neighboring Gargaon.

A shot of the gate leading to Gargaon taken from my seat on the bus.

Immediately after going through the gate, our bus was pulled over by officials dressed in their saintly white, neatly pressed uniforms. The bus driver, along with our program director Aditi went out to speak with them.

Aditi speaks to an official as I surreptitiously steal a shot through the hazy bus window.

What was the problem, you ask? Well, apparently, unless I completely misunderstood this, the bus driver was told that horns are illegal in the Gargaon province. I know you can re-read that, but let me say it one more time with capitals for added emphasis: The bus driver was ISSUED A TICKET FOR HAVING A HORN. That’s 2000 rupees to courts. God love them.

Several members of my group as well as the bus driver’s assistant went out to try to help the situation. See below the photos of the the bus driver’s assistant as he is first talking on the phone, and then walking to pick up his phone off the ground after the indignant official wrenched it from him and threw it to the ground. No joke! I watched the whole thing in amazement.

"Hey, are you talking on the phone while I'm writing you a ticket?"

"Not anymore you're not!"

Amy, Jennifer and Gary tried to insert some logic into the situation, but to no avail.

Sorry for the diversion, but it just goes to show that you never quite know what to expect in India. In the end, the horn was confiscated. The official had asked for a bribe but Aditi refused. And I think the assistant’s phone got scuffed up pretty good, poor guy. Now, back to the creches…

Workers and children in the foreground of a new luxury apartment building in construction.

We continued hornlessly and noiselessly on to our creche visit. After a short while we came to the site of a massive construction project, a colossal residential building, which we were told would offer luxury apartments upon completion. The irony of high-end living quarters built on the sweat of people who can barely afford to clothe themselves was not lost on me. Obviously there is a huge disparity between the worker’s income and the income of those who will occupy the completed building.

Young children sitting in rubble while their parents, unable to supervise them, toil in the background.

Each creche depends on the contractor’s permission. As centers rely on space provided by the contractor, there is a strident effort to collaborate with contractors to make the creche a standard practice, since construction sites are “mobile” and therefore constantly changing.

Education is the key component of the creche system, a concept keenly understood by the 17 educators that made up my Fulbright group. Learning opens doors that offer an escape from poverty. The creches employ the “play way” approach. Since the majority of the children are quite young, playtime is an integral part of keeping them engaged. While having fun, they are taught readiness skills for living in the real world that will also help to mainstream them for student life.

The children of the creche play a game as part of their learning activity.

These girls study at the creche school, which is integrated with the actual building site.

We entered the partially constructed building to view the makeshift classrooms established by Mobile Creches. Red woven blankets were spread over the bare floors to offer some slight comfort to the students and teachers who take their positions in a circle as they engage in a lesson. Only the barest resources are visible–no doors, no cabinetry, just some basic learning supplies and the humanitarian effort and dedication of the creche teachers. The children’s colorful pictures are strung across bare-brick construction, juxtaposing symbols of education and labor, two worlds conflated into one.

One of the creche teachers begins story time with her pupils.

A shrine situated high up on a telephone pole just outside the creche classrooms.

The bare bones of a high-end residential complex.

As our bus pulled away, my friend Robert Barrie who sat in the seat in front of me narrated his impressions of the experience into a handheld recording device he’d brought along. I can’t quote verbatim what he said, but I remember thinking his descriptions were so accurate, so perfect, that I didn’t feel I would have much more to add to the group’s narrative of this trip, because he seemed to cover it all in succinct poetic language. I’ve been too enwrapped in my own literary exercises to pay much heed to other people’s blogs, so I’m not sure whether Rob posted his narration or not, but I certainly hope he kept that recording.

We were all touched by the good work we witnessed at the mobile creches, and I pray for their continued progress. If you want to learn more about how you can help, please visit http://www.mobilecreches.org/

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