Ashraf Chauhan is 31 years old and works as a Project Officer for Saath’s Child Rights for Change rural initiative. Ashraf was born Bhavnagar, a coastal town in Gujarat. At a young age he felt compelled to do something for his community. He witnessed that his community had to deal with various social issues and that there was a lack of proper education. He obtained a masters degree in Social Work (MSw) with a specialization in Rural Development at the university of Bhavnagar in 2002.
After his studies he started working for ‘Kutch Naw Mirman Abhiyan’, an organization that worked in the areas of Kutch that were affected by the devastating earthquake of 2001. It was during this time that he got introduced to Saath. Saath’s first rural project was relief work in the villages of Rapar and Khadir in Kutch. The programme ran from 2001 to 2004.
In 2009 Saath started up the Child Rights for Change programme funded by Save the Children and Ashraf was hired as the project officer for this programme. The Swedish Company Ikea realized that most of the cotton they purchase from India comes from cotton-farms that employ small children. They tied up with Save the Children and started a programme to eradicate child-labour. Saath runs this programme in 120 villages in Viramgam and Dholka, two districts in rural Ahmedabad.
Ashraf says that it’s really fun to work with kids. He thinks it’s very important to create awareness about child-rights, because children are the thriving force for future development of the country. They (the child-rights for change team) have achieved one significant milestone so far and one milestone in-the-making. A certificate of appreciation has been signed by 1,500 farmers in the area. The certificate states that the farmers won’t hire children to work at their farms. The second achievement is in process. It is a resolution that will be signed by the panchayat of all the participating 120 villages. It states that no child in their village will work.
Ashraf sees the change happening. You can see the effect of the programme in the numbers of children going to school. Before the programme started, all children were working at farms. Nowadays, from the 10,000 children, 6,000 are out of child-labour. The remaining 4,000 children combine working with attending school. Ashraf hopes that those kids will also find their way out of child labour.
The thing he likes most about his job is giving awareness trainers to farmers and parents. It’s very awarding to see the change happen in the parents. Convincing parents is almost the most difficult part of his job. It’s very tough to persuade them to bring their children to school. Many villagers don’t see the benefits of education. Their children will have to learn how to work anyway and they don’t learn that through school. Besides, they need the extra income. Firstly he tries to persuade them by pointing out short-term benefits. He explains to them that their children will be provided with a nutritious lunch at school every day and that they are in a save, protected environment while the parents are at work. Ashraf also tries to change their mind-set to a long-term perspective. At school children will learn important things that they won’t learn on the cotton-fields. Children that receive proper education on a regular basis will be able to find better jobs at the right age. The cycle of poverty can be broken by education. The farms will also benefit from educated employees. Better educated staff will be able to manage the farms better and bring new solutions and fresh ideas to their businesses.
Next to trainings he also likes to participate in developing new strategies with the eight partners that are involved with the Child Rights for Change Programme. Through working for Saath Ashraf has been able to profile himself as a good trainer. He has built a valuable network with the local government and NGOs. In the future he would like to continue the work he is doing now: helping more children out of child labour.