About the area
Gobinda Banerjee Lane is in the Tollygunge area of south Kolkata just off a very busy road junction. In the narrow lanes behind the main road are seven small slums with hundreds of homes sandwiched together. The conditions are very overcrowded, with most families living in one room. Many residents suffer poor health due to poor hygiene practices and a lack of awareness about sanitation and health issues.
One of the slums is a red light area which has a spillover effect on the wider community. There is a stigma attached to children of sex workers, in particular. Alcoholism, domestic violence and desertion of families are all prevalent issues.
The population of the area is around 6,000 families, about 90 per cent of whom are Hindu and 10 per cent Muslim. Some of the men find their livelihoods as autorickshaw drivers and foodstall owners, or as day labourers. Some of the women are commercial sex workers; for their children school provides a clean and happy environment for them away from everyday struggles at home.
About the local organisation and history of CRS involvement
CRS began work with the community at G B Lane in 1992, first with health and education programmes then later with a skills training programme for women. The premises of the local partner organisation, the Tollygunge Joy Hind Club, were very crowded so a third floor was constructed in 2002 with the contribution of the Friends of CRS. The Friends also funded the construction of toilets in 2010. Money raised by Derby Diocese in 2012 funded a one year project to provide counselling to the children. Today CRS works with about 300 families in the area.
Current CRS programmes
The education programme is for pre-primary and primary age children (3 to 10 years). 135 children attend the sessions. The curriculum is based on ‘joyful learning’ methods and there is an emphasis on dance, music and drawing. The aim is to ensure that these children get a chance to be enrolled into government primary schools. Various activity clubs encourage children to participate in additional activities which include entering competitions with children from other NGOs and privileged schools. Computers were donated in 2007 and skills are taught to the older children. CRS helps each child to open a bank account and they are encouraged to save money. Children are given a midday meal to supplement their nutrition. An Under 10s football team – the Kolkata Kolts – has also provided the children with a sense of pride and motivation to succeed.
The women’s empowerment programme offers training in tailoring, embroidery and beautician skills and other needs-based training. Once they have completed their courses students are encouraged to form self-help groups, such as the Women’s Empowerment Group (WEG), and establish income generating activities. Some former students have joined CRS’s Nari Dana project.
The health programme offers a school health clinic twice a month and referral to government hospitals when required. Many of the school children receive iron supplements for iron deficiency anaemia. Awareness sessions in the community help to spread messages about good health and hygiene. Health camps are also held in collaboration with other agencies targeting particular health issues, such as dental camps and eye camps offering free testing and treatment.
“I was so excited when I was chosen to captain my team. The first match we played against B D Colony we lost by a big margin so I was afraid when our team was chosen to play against a big school. We went to the school and the whole school was there watching. I told my boys to give their best. I could not believe myself when I started scoring the goals. We won 10-0! I was man of the match for scoring maximum goals. It was a big day for me and G B Lane!”
– Biswajit Biswas, student of G B Lane school
“I hurt my leg in a car accident. My right leg. My father is a priest [Hindu] and does not earn money so he could not afford any treatment for me. But I went to the clinic at G B Lane. They saw my leg and sent me to the SSKM Hospital. I had treatment in the orthopedic section. Now my leg has completely healed.”
– Hengul Satapati, 8 years old, G B Lane school
“I love dancing. One day, someone saw me dancing at a show. I received sponsorship for seven years to practice Bharat Natyam [Indian classical dance]. I go to dance academy but I also go to Tollygunge Girls High School. My little brother is now at G B Lane school where I used to go. Life is difficult for my parents who work hard to care for me and my sister and brother. But maybe with my talent for dancing we can have a better future.”
– Riya Bhadra, former student of G B Lane school
Support is needed to continue the work at G B Lane, particularly to fund the medicines for the iron deficiency anaemia campaign, to provide further counselling for children, to cover the costs of teacher’s honorarium, and to provide materials for an environment awareness project.