Khanaberia is a village of Dhapa, located in the Eastern fringes of Kolkata. Dhapa is mostly popular for being the only dumping ground of the city’s garbage. The communities from Khanaberia are part of the huge group of ragpickers who can be seen collecting plastic materials from several heaps of garbages in and around their locality. Most of them are slum dwellers obscured by the poverty. One third of Kolkata’s population can be found in the slums, whose population is around 1,490,811 people who live without sufficient basic amenities in over-crowded and unsanitary settlements. The dumped garbage outside their houses is a common scenario in Khanaberia village. They reside in the worst forms of health conditions along with environmental pollution caused by the garbage dumps.
The poor hygienic and sanitation leads to malnutrition among the children, increases infant mortality rate and due to lack of education and awareness, their economic condition is also very poor. Majority of these people are landless labourers and very poor. Their life is full of pathetic stories of hard labour, deprivation and severe exploitation. Within dumping ground, they fight with each other even for a mere plastic and get injured often while collecting them. The life of these ragpickers is no better outside the dumping ground. They don’t have access to even basic amenities like sanitation, healthcare and education. The vendors and moneylenders exploit them in the outside world.
We have tried to analyze the socio-economic conditions of the rag-pickers by a thorough survey of the area and discussed with local community as much as possible mainly the ragpickers. We conducted PRA meetings for their need assessment, Apart from this, we also discussed on several points like occurrence of diseases, treatment seeking behavior, seasonal variation of rag picking, income pattern etc. As per our study, there were total 316 ragpickers in Khanaberia village, of which 272 were females and 44 were females and all of them speak in Bengali although there are about 20 families belonging to Scheduled tribe. But, 90% of the community is illiterate.
There is one Primary school in Khanaberia village but most of the children keep themselves busy in rag picking during school hours and their parents also cannot afford to send them school as they are helping in the earning of the family. When it comes to sanitation, more than 95% of the families do not have basic toilet or bathrooms. The community latrines were left in unhygienic condition and most of them defecate in open lands. Most of the problems were due to lack of awareness and education. Hence, we planned to literate the children and the mothers first. Education did not mean only bookish knowledge, we aimed to enlighten them overall by provide knowledge about basic healthcare, hygiene, sanitation, rights and entitlements and a little about alternate livelihoods options that they can opt for. Moreover, ragpicking by children is also a kind of child labour which needs to be eradicated with alternative livelihood for their parents and a better opportunity for them to study in schools.
We started with 30 children and around 25 women belonging to Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribe community of Khanaberia village in Dhapa. These children were all ragpickers who used to collect plastics from garbages during day time were asked to join the classes in the evening time for two hours. The children belonged to the age group of 5 to 12 years both males and females. The children were provided basic primary education along with orientation in health and hygiene, sanitation etc. They were taught in Bengali along with basic knowledge of English like how to write their names, sentences and read any letter. They were taught basic mathematics, general science, Social Studies and painting.
In the adult education classes, the women were enrolled whose age group ranged from 25 to 65 years. They were taught to write their names, construct sentences, basic mathematics and little bit of general knowledge that will help in their daily lives. They were also taught how to prepare low cost nutritious foods, importance of using sanitary or pit type latrine, how to prepare safe drinking water, maintaining personal hygiene, proper disposal of waste products and why it is important to keep space between the births of two children.
Apart from this, both the children and mothers were informed about the importance of biodiversity conservation and how they can contribute towards the conservation. They were asked to plant small trees around their houses and nurture them with water regularly. We encouraged them for kitchen gardening. The tribal women were informed about the benefits of growing fresh and clean vegetables which would add nutritional value to their daily diet. We tried to make them understand how kitchen gardening would contribute to their food security and they can grow it even in old utensils, empty tins and clay flower pots. The whole family could contribute to this environment friendly practice.
Malnutrition is another big challenge among the children of these communities. The reasons are – early marriage leading to early motherhood, lack of knowledge among the parents and low income. The development of children’s full physical and intellectual potential depends on adequate nutrition during infancy and early childhood. We conducted FGDs (Focused Group Discussion) with the mothers having children below 6 years to address the issue of malnutrition. The sessions discussed food, health, and psychosocial care, mother care before and during pregnancy. They were shown pictures of children with normal weight and those suffer from malnutrition so that they can understand the difference clearly. The children and women were kept involved in these sessions through various games, songs and other joyous activities.
We organized health camps for children and mother for basic health check-up by professional doctor who provided them free consultation on various aspects of health and nutrition.