Salaam Bombay Foundation: Poverty Alleviation Through Skilling

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Aditi Parikh

The pandemic and a national lockdown since March have unleashed an unprecedented medical, social and economic catastrophe in India. In the backdrop of COVID-19, a World Bank report – India Development Update (IDU) – published in June 2020 has said that India is at a “risk of losing its hard-won gains against poverty”. It reported that “several households are likely to slip back into poverty due to income and job losses triggered by COVID-19″.

There are a few reasons why poverty in India is still not showing signs of reduction. Firstly, our poverty reduction rate is inadequate and India has 220 million poor . Secondly, as the population increases, there are more being added to the existing list of poor. Thirdly, we may be temporarily raising people above poverty levels but are not able to keep them there.

As the pandemic raged, the entire nation was forced into a state of inactivity. A humanitarian crisis in the form of tens of millions undertaking reverse migration ensued. This crisis further exacerbated the already weak and falling economic growth over the last several quarters. Loss of income for the principal earner of the family meant that his dependents are left without financial support. It is estimated that the pandemic will push at least 71 million people globally into poverty and the number can go up to 100 million in a worst-case scenario.

There are a few reasons why poverty in India is still not showing signs of reduction. Firstly, our poverty reduction rate is inadequate and India has 220 million poor according to the last poverty count published by the World Economic Forum in a report titled – “Global Social Mobility Report 2020: Equality, Opportunity and a New Economic Imperative”. Secondly, as the population increases, there are more being added to the existing list of poor. Thirdly, we may be temporarily raising people above poverty levels but are not able to keep them there. In our country, where nearly 200 million people live below the poverty line, quality education and subsequent employment opportunities are not accessible to all. Mumbai alone is home to over 14.3 million people, 56 per cent of whom live with large families in slums and survive on an average monthly income of INR 8000.

Vocational skill initiatives empower them with relevant vocational skills that make them more employable, leading them towards sustainable career options and breaking their cycle of poverty. This training has led to internships and part-time jobs while still in school. The income they generate finances higher education that parents cannot afford as well as contribute to family income, thus keeping youth in school and avoiding parental pressure to drop out

At Salaam Bombay Foundation, we believe that keeping children in school is the only way to break the cycle of poverty many youths find themselves in. Research shows that out of 100 students, only 45 per cent complete Class VII; 36 per cent do not complete Class VIII and 20 per cent appear for Class X exams. Our programmes are uniquely created to address the challenging environment low-income adolescents face and intervene on all the triggers that compel neglected students to drop out of school so they are not denied the chance of a better future. So while 36.37 per cent of students drop out of school by Class VIII; 97 per cent of Salaam Bombay’s students go on to complete higher education.

We keep adolescents in school by empowering them to make the right choices about their health, education and livelihood, thereby, ensuring that they can thrive with a bright future. We o­ffer leadership programmes that empower teenagers to engage with policymakers and bring about change. In Salaam Bombay, the Academies of Arts, Sports and Media provide students with a platform to express themselves, and through this, build confidence and self-esteem. They help hone communication skills and inspire life skills such as leadership, discipline and teamwork; necessary to lead better lives. Vocational skill initiatives empower them with relevant vocational skills that make them more employable, leading them towards sustainable career options and breaking their cycle of poverty. This training has led to internships and part-time jobs while still in school. The income they generate finances higher education that parents cannot afford as well as contribute to family income, thus keeping youth in school and avoiding parental pressure to drop out.

We have undertaken various initiatives to this end:

Project Résumé: It aims to supplement classroom education with vocational training to equip underprivileged adolescents to earn part-time without dropping out of secondary school. The programme also increases their choices of securing a sustainable job after graduation. It includes coaching in the field of arts, sports, media and vocational skills, some of which are:

Salaam Bombay skills@school:

While the government off­ers skill training to adults, we realised that we could motivate adolescents to continue their education and aspire for better careers by o­ffering it while they are still in secondary school. Our courses include:

— Technology: Robotics, Computer Hardware Repair, Mobile Repair, and Home Appliances Repair
— 21st-Century Skills: Web Design, Graphic Design, Software Development
— Design: Fashion Design and Jewellery Design
— Beauty and Wellness
— Baking and Confectionery

Salaam Bombay Sports Academy:

  The Academy uses sports as a medium for change, imparting life skills such as leadership, discipline, teamwork and goal setting. The Academy has given secondary school students access to international tournaments, higher education through sports scholarships, internships at multinational companies, and the ability to pay their way through school and college through part-time jobs as coaches, scorekeepers, umpires and more.

The Salaam Bombay Academy of the Arts:

At Salaam Bombay, we focus on schools that lack the resources to off­er extra-curricular activities to engage students. Our Arts Academy helps fill that gap. It focuses on building the confidence of adolescents, igniting their ambition, helping them develop their natural creative talents, and motivating them to stay in school. For many, we offer an opportunity to collaborate with luminaries and earn part-time through performances, or by becoming assistant trainers. Most importantly, this programme gives adolescents from the slums something they rarely have: a chance to explore the arts and express themselves – often, for the first time.

Adolescents in slums often grow up thinking that their voice does not matter. This Academy shows them it does, by developing their communication skills and giving them platforms to express themselves

Salaam Bombay Media Academy:

Adolescents in slums often grow up thinking that their voice does not matter. This Academy shows them it does, by developing their communication skills and giving them platforms to express themselves. Our courses include Photography, Creative Writing, Electronic Media, Social Media, Training for Radio Jockeying and Voice Modulation, Film Editing and Videography

In-School Preventive Health Programme:

It educates adolescents about the harmful effects of tobacco and its long-term impact on their lives. In-school councils like the Balpanchayat and the Balparishad empower them to collaborate with policymakers, media and other communities to advocate effective tobacco-control policies and bring about change. To improve the nutritional status of children from municipal schools, we have also introduced Project ‘KHANA’ – Knowledge on Health and Nutrition for Adolescents. The initiative LifeFirst is a school-based tobacco cessation programme offering counselling to adolescents trying to quit tobacco and cope with peer pressure.

DreamLab Initiative:

The initiative was started in 2018 with the intent to help underprivileged youth in the age group of 14 to 18 years find real-world internships. It empowers them to successfully transition into the labour market and make informed career decisions. DreamLab’s ‘Learn, Earn and Grow’ model focuses on offering solutions to the issues of unemployment and the lack of skill-based learning. The programme equips students with soft skills training in several areas, including business etiquette, personal grooming, and trade-specific terminology so they are ready for their real-world internships.

Empowering the Youth and Making Them Self-Sustaining

Rohan Rakesh Parsad

Fifteen-year-old Rohan stays with his mother and two siblings in a rented house in Mumbai. Rohan’s father was the sole breadwinner of the family working in a glass polishing factory. An accident robbed him of his job and the family of their only source of income. Rohan’s mother’s work as a domestic help barely made ends meet and even that has disappeared during the pandemic. Rohan had begun his mobile repair course with the Salaam Bombay skills@school programme and kept up with it online during the lockdown. A repair kit from his uncle was all the impetus he needed. An advertisement in the community led to service calls and Rohan was soon earning small amounts to support his family.

Priyanka Kotwal

Priyanka joined the Salaam Bombay Foundation’s Academy of the Arts as a shy young 7th grader and has since come out of her shell and embraced her incredible talent as a theatre performer and puppeteer. Now in her mid-20s, she works with students to teach them theatre and puppetry digitally. She has her own production house and is grateful to Salaam Bombay for helping her discover her passion and honing the skills that she never knew she had. Today, these very skills provide a steady income for her and her family. Priyanka has not let the pandemic stop her; instead, she continues to teach online and is currently participating in an international puppet festival in Peru as well as a national level festival in Kolkata. Priyanka is engaged and empowered!

Vikas Kivadnor

Life skill training in Salaam Bombay Foundation helps our students be future-ready and prepared to face any challenge that comes their way. Vikas Kivadnor’s training in the Salaam Bombay Sports Academy fanned his love for cricket and innumerable tournaments later, his fitness levels, his discipline, his focus, led to a job as a certified trainer in Golds Gym. Today, with gyms yet to re-open, Vikas has not let the pandemic stand in his way. His training has taught him to approach every challenge positively. Till he can go back to his regular job, Vikas is a part-time delivery executive at Pizza Hut, grateful for the opportunity to continue supporting his family while continuing his online education.

Varsha Suryavanshi

Vocational skills are taught in Salaam Bombay to enable youth to gain part-time employment, avail of internship opportunities and to expand their career horizons, all while still being in school. For 14-year-old Varsha Suryavanshi, a frail financial situation was made worse during the pandemic. Luckily, her training in Salaam Bombay’s Beauty and Wellness course came to good use. She built a steady clientele for her waxing and threading services. When this did not prove to be enough, she channelled the entrepreneur in her and used her creative skills and online resources to create beautiful cloth flowers, cloth decorations, torans and other decorative items for sale. Her training helps her to continue to earn and save up for a career in medicine. She believes her struggles have taught her to become a stronger and better person.

Tabrez Khan

While the school in the traditional sense is closed for the moment, our students continue to find ways to stay in touch with what they have learnt and continue to attend online classes to expand their knowledge and skillsets. 16-year-old Tabrez Khan was introduced to the role of nutrition in development through our KHANA programme. The programme’s bearing on academic outcomes encouraged him to put into practice all he had learnt – avoid junk food, no substitute for home-cooked meals, breakfast is the most important of them all. His mother acknowledges Tabrez’s inputs in the meals she cooks for her family, especially during the pandemic. “Bahar nahi ja sakte. Badan ko Vitamin D ki zaroorat hai. Isiliye dudh, dahi, anda khana chahiye,” says an enlightened Tabrez.

Testimonials

“Exposing young people to the rigour, discipline, and joy of the arts at an early age is of huge value to whatever they may choose as a career path in the future. At the very least, it equips them with tremendous self-confidence, good articulation, language skills, presence, and an ability to deal with different ways of looking at life. I am gratified that Salaam Bombay has enabled this journey and we at Tamaasha Theatre are proud to be associated with this initiative.”
– Sunil Shanbag – Artistic Director, Tamaasha Theatre, Mumbai

“Thanks to our partnership with Salaam Bombay Foundation, we can offer industry-ready courses,
state-of-the-art labs, and trained faculty to the students of government schools.”
– 
Sameer Joshi, CEO and Director,
Kohinoor Technical Institute Pvt. Ltd.
Training Partner, Salaam Bombay Foundation

At Salaam Bombay Foundation, we always stand by our core values which empower us to fulfil our vision to change the future of millions of disadvantaged young adolescents. We have expanded our horizons and started activities in cities like Pune, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Thane and Jaipur. We continue to remain committed to developing solutions to keep adolescents from dropping out of school. Poverty cannot be eradicated overnight, but by taking measures like skilling youth in the early stages of their life, while still in school, we envisage a positive change in the coming decades.

Aditi Parikh is Vice President, Communications, Salaam Bombay Foundation.