It has been a long journey for Durga Mallu Gudilu — from selling clips and needles on Mumbai’s local trains, to representing the country at the World Social Forum in Brazil.
And the lanky 22- year- old has had to overcome the stiffest of odds in her quest for this remarkable turnaround.
An 8x10- foot cubbyhole of a room in the Sanjay Nagar slums, located in Jogeshwari ( East), serves as a home for Durga, her parents and sister Govindi. They belong to the “ nomadic” Vaidu community that has been living in the area for the past 30 years.
The community, now a denotified tribe, still holds panchayats headed by elderly males to decide on law and order. “ Vaidus are relegated to one of the most neglected parts of the expansive slum.
The nearest toilet is 200 metres away; girls stand in serpentine queues at 5 am daily to fill up unhygienic and contaminated water from the nearest tap and most members of the community suffer from tuberculosis,” primary health centre nurse Neelima said.
That’s not all. The men eke out their living by recycling and repairing old steel dabbas . “ More than half of the meagre Rs 30 that they earn are spent on drinking. And wife beating inevitably follows the boozing,” Durga’s 63- year- old mother Anku Bai says.
The family used to struggle to get, even two square meals a day. “ As a child, I had never seen home- cooked food since we used to beg for food in trains and homes,” Durga recalls.
But things underwent a dramatic change ever since Durga became one of the first girls to be educated in the community. Today, she has completed Class XII, imparts basic computer training and runs a coaching centre for 40- odd schoolchildren from her cramped kholi. She also uses the computer to stay in touch with her friends from Peru and USA whom she met during the forum.
Durga remembers how the NGO Yuva had managed to convince her parents to send her to the local municipal school. “ Initially, my sister and I were made to sit separately as we used to be stink,” she says, adding that it was the progress they made in studies and sports that helped them gain acceptance among classmates.
Being lettered had other spin- offs as well. “ Since the girls started going to school, we gained respectability and stopped begging. Their father stopped drinking, too,” Anku Bai says.
“ The journey from those days to the smart and confident woman that Durga has become, is no mean achievement,” Raju Bhise of Yuva points out. “ We gave her the support and guidance; but it was she who has stood out with her leadership skills,” he adds.
Govindi, the older of the two girls, is pursuing a software course from GNIIT. Durga will pursue her graduation only after Govindi finishes her course because one of them has to look after the household.
Forthright and outspoken, Durga has her own viewpoint.
“ The Rs 16 crore announced by the Maharashtra government to create awareness about child labour will not achieve much until parents are helped to get sustainable livelihoods,” she observes. Having performed street plays and participated in poster campaigns as well as in door- to- door mobilisation drives to raise awareness about child labour and other issues, she definitely knows what she is talking about.
This truly a hear touching story of how NGOs are make a difference to people. Our salute Yuva team for helping Durga
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