About the area
Kolabagan is a neighbourhood located alongside Prince Anwar Shah Road, one of the major roads in south Kolkata. Until fairly recently this was the southern fringe of the city bordered by agricultural land.
It was here that amenities were laid out in colonial times – the Tollygunge Club, an exclusive country club set in vast grounds, and the Royal Calcutta Golf Club, the oldest golf club outside the British Isles.
The last decade has seen rapid development and the fields have been swallowed up. For example, a short distance along Prince Anwar Shah Road is a vast shopping mall, South City, and an exclusive development of high rise apartment blocks.
Although this area is associated with exclusivity and affluence, there are also communities which have witnessed little improvement to their lives. In densely-packed slums poverty is rife, families live in single rooms, and hygiene practices are poor.
About the local organisation and history of CRS involvement
A CRS representative first visited the community at Kolabagan in 1972 and met with members of the slum community. They began an education programme on the verandah of the house of a local resident but there was a rapid increase in the number of children and the space was inadequate. Local man and building contractor, Mr Ayub Ali, secured a vacant plot for a school and constructed a building.
The school continued for two years until the building was destroyed by a storm. Mr Ali appealed to CRS as well as local donors and raised the funds to construct a concrete school building, now known as Kolbagan Hoglapara Vidyapith. CRS has since been actively involved with education and health programmes supporting about 400 families.
About the beneficiaries
There are approximately 2,000 families in the Kolabagan area, about 90 per cent of whom are Muslim and the remainder Hindu.
Many of the men work as daily wage labourers or autorickshaw drivers while some women are able to secure work as domestic helps. Children are often obliged to work in order to supplement the family income, while many girls are forced into early marriages. Many children are subject to violence and abuse. Levels of literacy are low.
Current CRS programmes
The education programme supports pre-primary and primary age children (3 to 10 years). 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. 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.
The health programme seeks to improve the health of the entire community. School health clinics are held regularly for the children and those suffering from iron deficiency anaemia are given iron supplements. General health check-ups are held for the whole community with basic treatments administered and referrals made to government hospitals as required. Health camps are periodically held in collaboration with other agencies to raise awareness of different health issues or to screen for particular health problems.
“I was first diagnosed with uterine prolapse two years ago at a cancer screening camp organised by CRS. However, I neglected the situation as I knew that my husband did not earn enough to pay for my treatment. Recently, Sir [CRS health coordinator] visited our house and asked about my condition. When my daughters told him, he assured my family of all help. He talked to the local councilor and took me to the Government hospital for a checkup. He arranged for all tests to be done at negligible cost at the hospital so that I could have the surgery.”
– Sumitra Bibi, resident of Kolabagan
Support is needed to continue the work at Kolabagan including funding for the children’s midday meal and iron deficiency anaemia treatments, the teacher’s honorarium and education materials.
The plan is to re-start a women’s empowerment project in the community offering training in tailoring, and equipment is required for this.
Another hope is to start an environment project to raise awareness and hold workshops to improve knowledge about caring for the environment and living sustainably.