Shanno was forced to work in hazardous factories at the tender age of ten. Forced into child labour due to a drunkard father and an ill mother, she had to earn to feed her family which included her two siblings. The early death of her father made life tougher but allowed her to meet people who taught her good lessons in life. One being, to gain strength and help oneself.
“When my father died, I had no money to do the final rites. We were on the streets. Some good people helped us with that and eventually I was introduced to simple reading and writing. Then I was supported by few to study,” says Shanno who was the editor of Balaknama, probably the world’s only experiment of a newspaper published by street children in Delhi.
Balaknama was supported by Chetna NGO and we had cub reporters in the slums who wrote their stories and the world took note of it. We reported on issues of the slums, wrote against alcoholism and gambling and also worked with police to create awareness in communities of civic behaviour, she adds.
The publishing of the newspaper was a life-changing experience for Shanno who worked with the traffic light vendor children to form its core editorial team. She left the newspapers for other kids to take it forward and completed her school education at National Open School and then she strived hard and finished her Bachelor in Social Work.
Shanno today heads an NGO called ‘Beginning of Slum Kids’. The organization founded by her and other senior street children aims to create avenues for a child to study even if they cannot attend a regular school. The centre run by her in the slums of Delhi also ensures that dropouts get an opportunity to continue their education.
“Around 60 children are regularly coming to our centres and we are hopeful that once they finish basic education, they will be admitted into regular schools,” says Shanno.
We require a lot of well-wishers to join hands to ensure the dreams of these children are not wasted on the streets. Believe me, they are brilliant at grasping things. It’s all about giving them an opportunity, she adds.
Talking about her initial struggles to establish a structure to impart informal education to kids, Shanno says most of those who came forward were the professionals who were young couples and some people volunteered to teach the kids. She is pursuing her Masters in Social Work now and wants to grow her organization to all corners of Delhi to ensure the rehabilitation and education of kids on the street.
“Every day is a struggle for our team. We just don’t need to struggle for resources to carry on with our work, but we also need to convince the parents of these kids to not waste their childhood in begging and other activities. Sometimes, we also have problems with the administration who at times are not supportive of our makeshift classrooms and other activities. But I have found that even within the police and government there are silent supporters who help us in more than one way when we face trouble,” says Shanno.