As the sun sets on a hot day in Chennai, India we made our way to a notoriously poor part of the city. We were led up a dark alley to a stairwell between a mobile phone repair shop and a fruit stall. On the third floor, we entered a bright room full of children between the ages of six and 13.
The children were in groups, some studying maths or English, most giggling and curious about the visitors.
After-school program keeping kids off the street
The children are all gathered here for an after-school tutoring and care program which is funded by Asian Aid child sponsorships and delivered by our partner Oasis India.
Many of the children would otherwise be left to fend for themselves late into the evening while they wait for a parent to return from work. These families, having left rural areas in search of work, find that the high cost of living in the city requires 12-18 hr working days just to pay rent and get by.
Our after school centre provides a safe space for children to do homework, study with friends and learn about health, safety, protection, child rights and avoiding traps laid by human traffickers.
The centre is staffed by qualified teachers and social workers who follow up issues with parents and teachers at the children’s schools. The dedicated staff get to know each child by name and, over time, understand their circumstances and challenges they face.
Fuelling children’s dreams
We spent some time with the kids and got to ask them what their aspirations were for the future. Their responses ranged from doctor, engineer, pilot to an accountant. Every child aspired to provide a secure future for their families.
They saw how hard it was for their parents – many of whom are day labourers, public toilet cleaners, rickshaw drivers and factory workers.
That’s when I realised how much of an impact this program was making – not just in giving the kids a safe place to meet after school but in fuelling their dreams.
Their hope was being fed by the supportive people around them. The staff were encouraging them to stay in school, helping with homework and exam preparation as well as keeping them focused on positive life goals.
As it became dark outside traffic began to die down, men roamed the street catching up on the day’s gossip, dogs skulked in the shadows and a random cow held up a delivery truck.
It seemed peaceful enough but I was glad for each one of those children who had somewhere else to be.
As we said our farewells and made our way back down the dark stairwell, I was thankful that these children were able to escape their vulnerable situations for a few hours each day.
And that in that space and time, they were able to be filled with hope for their future.
Author: Quentin Campbell
I have been working for Asian Aid for the last 8 years helping to shape the projects we support. What satisfies me most is seeing communities come together with a little support to overcome poverty or disempowerment and thrive without us.
As a father of three and husband to one amazing wife outside of family time, I enjoy cycling and surfing in beautiful Port Macquarie.