At the very heart of Global Care’s work is our mission to support the most vulnerable children in some of the world’s poorest communities. Despite widespread local opposition, for the last six years our partners in Patripul, India have sought to educate Dalit children, who not only live in abject poverty but are despised and considered ‘untouchable’ by the wider community.
”I go to study at the government school. The teachers practice discrimination and make us sit in the back row in the classroom, They aren’t interested in teaching us. Our names aren’t included in anything that happens in school. I feel I will fail and so I may as well stop going to school.”
*Swati knows the odds are stacked against her. Not only is she growing up in Patripul, a large slum area on the edge of Mumbai, she is also a Dalit, a member of the lowest caste in Indian society.
Although the caste system no longer legally exists, that doesn’t mean much to thousands of children like Swati, who face exclusion, discrimination and exploitation on a daily basis from those who live and work around them.
Shunned by society, Dalit people continue to be regarded by many of their compatriots as ‘untouchables’.
Swati now attends one of two centres run by the GCare Foundation, Global Care’s partners in Patripul. The centres offer not only basic lessons, homework support and healthy snacks to Dalit children, but kindness, respect and acceptance too. “Now I am going to the GCare centre, I am getting love and care.”
Swati is one of the fortunate ones. Life is unbearably tough for every child growing up in Patripul. Almost half do not attend school, and more than 50 per cent of those who do attend will drop out of the education system before the age of 14.
Dalit children experience even more barriers to education than other poor children. Although schools are legally obliged to accept children from all castes, Dalit students are often forbidden to sit or eat with the other children, touch the other students or teachers, or join in many school activities. Stories of verbal and physical abuse against Dalit students, from both teachers and classmates, are commonplace.
Nine-year-old Dalit student, *Dilip, says he isn’t allowed to touch his classmate in school, even though they are best friends, because he is from a different caste. He says: “I cannot touch the water bucket at school so my classmates or teachers pour water into my palm with a mug. In the classrooms too, we have a separate seating arrangement.”
As a result, those Dalit children who do start school often drop out at an early age. The dropout rate for girls is particularly high, placing already vulnerable children in even greater danger, and perpetuating a cycle of poverty which has been grinding on for generations.
These heart-breaking words came to us recently from a Dalit parent whose children attend Global Care’s centre: “I learn to walk but my future has already been decided. My chance of education is taken away, because of being Dalit, my dream job will only ever be a dream.
“Life expectancy is just 55 years. And those years I have, are to be spent scavenging through rubbish, every day, just to buy enough food to provide for me and my family. This is how half a million Dalit people live their lives. Every. Single. Day. Hopefully Global Care will bring changes in the life of our children.”
The GCare centres offer additional support in Maths, Hindi, English and Marathi to around 150 Dalit children, and advocacy in schools.
Our partners explain: “We believe that a major factor in breaking the cycle of discrimination is education. Our centres are child friendly environments providing education to a high standard, and our teachers also work with local schools to encourage integration for the children into the mainstream education system, to give them a better chance of employment in the future.
“An important part of this education is helping children understand their rights, in the hope that they will be able to break out of the vicious cycle of discrimination and extreme poverty.”
The centres are also active in trying to drive change in the wider community, where an estimated three million Dalits are struggling to survive, around two thirds of them in conditions of extreme poverty. There have been significant challenges from other caste groups who do not believe Dalit children deserve to be educated. These have included attempts to bribe the staff, vandalism of the centres we use, and fraudulent attempts by local officials to have us evicted.
Despite everything, staff at the GCare centres are determined to support Dalit families. As well as educational support, they work with families, offering advocacy and welfare advice, and specific groups are run for girls to educate them about their right to a life free from abuse and exploitation.
“The time is right for investing in work which informs Dalit communities about their rights and gives them the tools they need to practice self-determination and to develop their ability to create better lives for themselves.
“The GCare Foundation is committed to providing a platform from which to inspire the change that is so desperately needed.”