Giving children on construction sites a childhood to remember

Mumbai is the perennial city of dreams, the city of Bollywood, a city where one and all enter with a glimmer of hope in their eyes, almost as if this is the lottery ticket that will transform their life and elevate them to the life they have always dreamt of. And while we come across several rags-to-riches stories of several of these aspirants, these represent only a handful of the total swathe of migrants entering Mumbai every day. A large percentage of these migrants are constantly struggling, coming to terms with the ever-so-demanding life of Mumbai and spend a lifetime doing so.

The construction industry is one such industry with one of the largest number of migrant laborers in India. Estimated to be over 30 million in number, these men and women move to cities with their children and live directly on construction sites. Mumbai, with its evergreen real estate industry, constitutes a significant percentage of this number. While these laborers are toiling hard to build the Antilias of Mumbai, for the luxury of a single family, their own family and children are left to fend for themselves, and frequently suffer from malnutrition, injury and illness. The NGO Mumbai Mobile Creches is trying to change this scenario.

Since 1969, Mobile Creches has been one of the NGOs supporting the health, education and safety of children of construction laborers and has crossed 650,000 children across Delhi, Mumbai and Pune. After taking roots in Delhi, Mobile Creches was set up in Mumbai in 1972. In 2006, Mumbai Mobile Creches set up as an independent entity. For the last 42 years, Mumbai Mobile Creches has reached over 100,000 children, and has run over 270 centres in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.

MMC has 23 day-care centers based across Colaba, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, and Thane.Their vision is for all children to have a nurturing and happy childhood and mission is to promote ‘child-friendly sites’; where every child living on a construction site is safe, healthy and educated, and able to enjoy their childhood.

MMC has setup centers in rooms on the construction site itself. They have a creche for the below threes, a preschool for the three to six year olds (Balwadi: preparing them for school), and an after-school programme to assist children between six and fourteen with their homework and studies. Run by specially trained staff, the centers are cheerful, lively places, filled with song and laughter. A nutritious lunch and snacks are served every day. Through weekly visits, doctors monitor the children´s health and growth.The permanent staffs at these centers include program coordinators, assistant program coordinators, program officers, and teachers. All centers are open from 8:45 am – 4:30 pm from Monday through Saturday. The Andheri center I visited looks after 25 children currently.

These centers support the intellectual, emotional and physical development of young children and create the foundations required for school entry. They free older children from the burden of child care and child labor and help them enter and perform well in school. They also support the working mother who is reassured in the knowledge that her children are safe and looked after; and provide guidance and support to parents on child rights, health and care, especially educating parents on the importance of crèches and balwadis on construction sites.

The health program involves preventative, curative and rehabilitative care and includes:

A daily breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack, as well as daily multivitamins and supplements. Children suffering from under nourishment are immediately identified, put on special diets and monitored closely.

i. Linking with the local health posts to organize monthly immunizations as well as access to health services to children, pregnant women and the community on the site

ii. Monitoring children´s weight, growth and overall health through weekly doctor´s visits.

iii. Organizing special health camps to check eyes, dental care and other ailments

iv. Financial support for hospitalizations and surgeries.

During my visit, I interacted with twenty-one year old Naina,* who was just a toddler when she first came to Mumbai Mobile Creches’ day care center in Powai. Her father had passed away when she was eight years old, leaving her mother to take care of her and her two siblings. Her mother’s meager salary was stretched thin to cover her children’s basic needs. Her mother worked extremely hard so that her children would not have to work and could instead attend the center. At Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC), Naina received extensive academic, emotional and financial support. Even when she was enrolled in a municipal school, MMC covered her school fees and all other incidental expenses. With the encouragement from both her family and MMC, Naina aspired to become a lawyer. We were thrilled when she got her admission into a law school! In her own words:

“Both my parents worked in construction site. There was no one at home to look after me and my siblings. That is when our parents enrolled us in the day care center run by Mumbai Mobile Creches (MMC) on site. When I was 6 (six) years old, MMC teachers enrolled us into the nearby Municipal school. After that I attended private school and continued college education too. Currently I am studying law and will complete my course in the next two years. MMC has always supported me at different stages in my life. Even today I am very closely associated with MMC through various activities. I have spent my childhood with the teachers of MMC and hope to get their support in future as well.”

While she is making big strides in her career path, Naina comes back to MMC centers and helps the childcare givers whenever she has free time after her demanding classes.  We hope MMC’s relationship with Naina will continue even when her goal of becoming lawyer becomes a reality.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the person

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