The Residential Program’s first year was largely characterized by helping our children adapt to their new surroundings, rules, and academic structure, while simultaneously learning a great deal about ourselves in the process. Santosh, our fifth, came to us in February 2006, and we had a relatively quiet spring, until the arrival of Sonali, Kajal, Tushar, and Jyoti during one week in late April. Before we knew it, we were celebrating the Residential Program’s first birthday and looking ahead toward new ways to give back to the community.
During our first year operating as a non-profit in Pune, our On-Site Directors were continually pondering the question, how can we do more for street children with the resources that we already have? Although it was clear that the Residential Program was having a huge impact on the lives of the children who were living there, there were many other children with families who were lacking in the same basic resources not far from the home. One day, Elizabeth convinced a group of street children with whom she had become quite close to take her back to their slum (in an area known as Kamraj Nagar) so that she could speak with their guardians about letting the children attend school instead of begging on the streets. Although she did not know it at the time, her first visit to the Kamraj Nagar would serve as the catalyst for events to come and would profoundly impact the direction of AIC’s growth and development in the community.
Kamraj Nagar is an area in Yerwada, Pune that is home to the Waghri and Sikligar slums, two Criminal Tribe communities. The Waghris are an itinerant adivasi (indigenous) community from northeast Gujarat and southern Rajasthan. Historically, members of the Waghri caste have been merchants, and Waghri migrants in the urban context often earn a regular living trading in used clothing. Like the Waghri, the Sikligar, originally from Punjab and neighboring states, have been pushed to the fringes of society in the wake of India’s modernization. Once master blacksmiths and armor manufacturers, new technology has rendered their trade obsolete. In the slum areas that fall into AIC’s catchment area, Sikligar fathers and older sons, if not unemployed, sell scrap wood by the roadside. Like most indigenous adivasi communities, the Waghris and Sikligars continue to face social exclusion and prejudice throughout India. Additionally, these two communities are uniquely marginalized because they were classified as Criminal Tribes under the Criminal Tribes Act in 1871, and later under the Habitual Offenders Act of 1952. Thus they have historically been considered “criminal by birth.”The Waghri and Sikligar castes are spoken of with fear and derision, and suffer from an extremely poor reputation within the broader community.
Initially, parents and guardians from this slum were extremely hesitant to allow us to enroll their girls in school.It took weeks of repeated visits before the first few adults agreed to let their children attend school, but in July 2006, the Education Outreach Program was born,beginning with the enrollment of a group of 12 girls from Kamraj Nagar into Marathi-medium government schools. For the first year of the Education Outreach Program’s existence, the girls attended school daily and walked to the AIC Residential Program home three days a week after school for showers, lunch, medical treatment and tutoring. As time passed, however, we realized that running this project out of the Residential Program facilities would not be a sustainable arrangement, particularly as adults in the slum were warming up to the idea of educating their children, and the number of requests by families to enroll their children in the program was growing rapidly.
Around the same time, halfway around the globe, our administrative branch in the UK was being established at the London School of Economics.