Monthly Archives: May 2010

From Slums to Malls: Umeed Gives Youth Hope

By Ritambhara Shastri, Chief News Editor, United News of India, Ahmedabad 2010

A Group Discussion underway

Poor school drop-outs are being moulded into salaried employees changing the lives and dreams of thousands of marginalised youngsters across the cities of Gujarat.

These  vagrant boys and girls, languishing because of their poverty and lack of resources and education, are groomed, taught English, trained in career options of their choice for three months and helped to find appropriate placements in companies, hospitals, malls or BPOs.   In this unique initiative, more than 45,000 young boys and girls  have so  far been given placements in the hundreds of organisations  in the past many years by NGOs working in partnership with the government and corporate houses. In the forefront is ‘Saath’, run under the aegis of American India Foundation (AIF), which has launched similar programmes and partnerships  in Chattisgarh, Bihar,  Rajasthan, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Punjab.

The project in Gujarat is the oldest and most successful. It has been successfully running human resource and training centres in several cities of the state, Mr Hanumant Rawat, AIF Programme Director Livelihood said. Tapping the urban poor resource and offering Market Aligned Skill Training (MAST) for a nominal Rs.500 to give them secure footing has been the most challenging task, Mr Rawat told UNI. In Gujarat, the government has been the first to come on board the MAST programme and is now  the co-investor in the programme contributing substantially towards its success.

So far more than 22,000 people have found placements across the various malls, hospitals and call centres in the state under the Employment training programme appropriately titled “Umeed”. Nearly 75 per cent of all those who come for training manage to get jobs, according to Rajendra Joshi, Managing Trustee of Saath. Ninth class pass Rajesh Behra, after a three-month course in Customer Relationship and Sales (CRS), is now working in a Reliance store earning Rs 3,500 a month. Coming from a family of gold carvers, the 19-year-old is determined to complete his tenth, study further and finally secure a government job. “Now I want more for which I am ready to study more,” he said.

Tenth class failed Chirag Wagla works in Big Bazar on a salary of Rs 4,500 but is not content saying he wants more money. Another success story is that of 22-year-old Jayanthi Parmar who, over the past four years after doing the course, has worked in several establishments ranging from Cafe Coffee Day, Pasta Mania and Chocolate Home, with every job change on a raise of salary. Son of a labourer, Parmar says he got the excellent break through the Umeed programme and now to move ahead wants to study further. Fatima Chippa was a kite maker before she came for the programme. Married off at a young age, the 31-year-old is now divorced with a son to bring up. She divorced, had little options in life till she learnt of Umeed. Now she is  employed in Big Bazar at the Himalaya Mall and enjoys her work. Even though the mall is all far from home and she spends more than an hour commuting, she says she would not like to go back to her kite-making profession which she said was very labour intensive and tedious.

The youth in colonies across Ahmedabad are contacted and approached through lively Road Shows. An indefatigable personae of such campaign is 30-year-old Kanji Chauhan. He said in the past  six years, he had contacted more than 20,000 youth and successfully brought more than 8,000 youngsters to the programme who are now employed in various places. His work involves going from house to house distributing pamphlets, cajoling people and writing down numbers for follow-up action. Asked why he did not opt for a more plush job like others, Mr Chauhan said the joy that he got from enrolling people and drawing more needy people towards these programmes was satisfaction enough. Also on constant move is 29-year-old Chaitali Joshi, placement counsellor of the Livelihood  Resource Centre, who goes from office to office finding appropriate openings for these first time salary earners who mostly hail from families of labourers and daily wagers. Asked about how the companies viewed these new recruits, Mr. Chirag Desai, senior Human Resource executive at Tata Croma said his experience with these youngsters has always been good. He was earlier at Big Bazar where he opted for only such youngsters from Umeed, because these boys and girls worked hard and they valued the work unlike those who came from richer households.

Used to coping with difficult situations in their daily life, they never reacted negatively or panicked in crisis situations, he added. Big malls were ideal for them rather than more personalised settings, he felt. However, most recruiters at hospitals, malls and other places did admit to a lack of practical training among these youngsters. A little more emphasis on this aspect would perhaps equip them to fit into their workplaces better, said a senior resource employee of Samved Hospital where girls from Umeed work as bedside patient attendants.

Love and Learning Blossom at Umeed

Bhavesh and Daksha Sagathiya were married in 2009. Four months after their marriage, Bhavesh fell from the fourth floor of a building he was working on. Bhavesh was a painter. The fall led to Bhavesh falling into a coma and the doctors not giving a very positive diagnosis of the situation. The family and Daksha were devastated. “I thought we’d lost him. The doctors told me he would at the most have two days to live, ” shares Daksha with tears in her eyes. The coma lasted 2 months and today Bhavesh is back on the track to recovery, however going back to his previous job was completely out of the question. “I still have trouble with walking and any activity that has too much of a physical strain,” says Bhavesh looking on at Daksha.

“The road show team came by our house and my in-laws told us that we both should sign up. I was not sure, but they were very encouraging and said that it would support Bhavesh. So we both signed up for the course,” says Daksha. “I am in the ITES course and he is in the hardware course. We come and go together. It’s nice.”

Bhavesh (22) has studied in college, but failed in his final year. Daksha (20) has passed the ninth standard. They live in Tulsinagar, Wadaj with Bhavesh’s parents and younger brother, who works in a cloth shop. “We teach each other. Since I learnt in an English medium school and college, I teach her English and she is very good at computers. Sometimes, when I cannot grasp a particular practical or concept, she patiently goes over it with me as many times as I need,” says Bhavesh.

“The centre coordinator Sharmistha has been very supportive and the faculty take out extra time when we need it. I have learned how to spell names and type on the computer. It’s been a month since we joined the course. I enjoy the life skills activities the most,” Daksha says, sharing a private smile with her husband.

For Bhavesh and Daksha it’s a new life, a new beginning, “And this programme has given us new hope,” adds Bhavesh.