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Schooling programs in India aim to break cycle of poverty

Along with local partners, Caritas is counseling the poor to encourage them to embrace education opportunities

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Published: February 06, 2017 03:57 AM GMT

Updated: February 06, 2017 04:00 AM GMT

Schooling programs in India aim to break cycle of poverty

A migrant worker in Delhi sits down to eat on Jan. 30. India has some 400 million internal migrants, most of them did not finish school. Caritas is running a program to put children back in school to help them break the cycle of poverty. (ucanews.com photo)

Birendra Adhikari dropped out of school aged 14 to support his family. He took a train to New Delhi with others from his tribal village in eastern India, seeking a job.

After two years working in a textile factory, Adhikari returned to his village in 2014 as he was unable to financially help his family as much as he wanted to.

"Life was tough," Adhikari said, speaking about his life in Delhi, where he earned just 4,000 rupees (US$58) a month. As most of it went on food and accommodation, "I decided to move back to the village," said the 18-year-old.

But life in Tala Damadua village in Odisha's Gajapati district was not easy either. "People are so poor in the village. It is hard for people to make ends meet. So young children have to join their parents to earn a living," he said.

Adhikari belongs to a Dalit community and has six siblings. His father works as a coolie at the village railway station.

His friend, Jalendra Paricch, from the same village, migrated to Behrampur town in Odisha district and worked at a hotel. He too returned in 2014 finding it difficult to survive in the city.

"I did not like it in the city. Life was hard there. The hotel owners were not paying me much, just 2,500 rupees (US$36)," Parichha said.

With few job opportunities and no means of survival in rural and tribal areas, many people leave their home villages but few find success in the cities.

For example, some 50 of the 75 families in Tala Damadua village have either all moved to the cities or have at least one member there looking for work. Many children and young people have dropped out of school to support their families. 

The 2011 India Census said that the country has over 400 million internal migrants, almost a 100 million more than in 2001.

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"Most internal migrations are from eastern states like Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal because there is a lack of good opportunities in these states," said Father Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India, which runs programs to help migrants.

Children migrate when they are under pressure to contribute to the family, forcing them to drop out of schools. Lack of education stunts the growth of the individual, leading families further into poverty, he said.

Some 47 million children drop out before or by tenth grade in India, according to a 2016 report by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Global Education Monitoring.

Caritas India now runs a community-based child care program in 60 villages in Odisha to stop children from dropping out of school.

Along with three local partners, the church agency helps to counsel children and their families to encourage further study, re-enrolment in school and to provide them with basic tuition.

"We have over 3,000 Dalit and tribal children in the program," said Alin Nalik, program coordinator of Caritas India.

Most people in these villagers are daily-wage farm hands in far away locations because their hilly home does not have enough water for farming. Poverty forces them to drop out of school, Nalik said.

He said that the program aims to bring the Dalits and people from the Kandha and Saura tribes, who dominate the area, into the social mainstream.

Adhikari and Parichha are now among the privileged ones who were enrolled in school with the help of the Caritas program.

"I had lost all hope to study. After getting admitted again, I am making the most of this opportunity and want to become a teacher one day," Parichha said.

Dalits and tribal people make up 70 percent of India's 27 million Christians.

The Dalits have long been the target of disempowerment, oppression and persecution even though the Indian Constitution abolished caste discrimination and made "untouchability" because of religious sanction a punishable offence.

Indian society comprises the high castes — Brahmins (priests, teachers), Kshatriyas (kings, warriors) and Vaishyas (merchants, artisans). The Sudras (laborers, peasants) make up the lowest caste.

Those not born into these four castes were the outcasts, formerly called untouchables, who are now called Dalits, a Sanskrit term meaning "trampled upon."

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