Working in partnership with communities that surround transport hubs is one of the pillars that supports Railway Children India’s (RCI’s) vision of “Leaving No Child Behind”. In RCI’s pursuit of strengthening communities, the emergence of community champions/volunteers plays a critical role. Playing their part in protecting vulnerable children are community volunteers Priti and Amna. From conducting learning-based activities in Community Activity Centres (CACs) to reaching out to residents of the community, this pair of bright, driven girls, along with many volunteers like them not only fuel RCI’s vision but also serve as an inspiring example for young adults.

Twenty-year-old Priti is a resident of Daya Basti while 22-year-old Amna is a resident of Tulsi Nagar. Living in vulnerable communities adjoining Delhi’s railway stations, this duo is among many who have volunteered to support community members across spheres.

Humble Origins Mighty Efforts

Priti’s mother is the only earning member in a family of five, while Amna is the youngest member of a large 7-sibling family. Hailing from underprivileged families where resources are few and mouths to feed many, Priti and Amna pursued formal education with immense challenges. “9th standard se hi maine apni education khud fund ki, pamphlets daal ke, surveys karke” (right from the 9th standard, I began funding my education by distributing pamphlets and conducting surveys for organizations.) says a proud and determined Priti. Amna also shared with age-defying maturity “tuition leke maine school ki fees jama ki.” (I gave tuitions and saved my school fees.)

The First Interaction with RCI

Presently, Priti and Amna volunteer their time at RCI’s Child Activity Centres (CACs). Their first interaction with RCI, however, took place in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

“My younger brother was an infant then” shares Priti. “We live adjoining the railway tracks. One day, my brother crawled upto the station and got lost in the crowd. RCI’s outreach members at the station helped us find my brother and reunited us with him. This was my first interaction with RCI. Thereafter when the team members visited our home for a follow-up, they spoke with me.

At that time, I was sitting at home after passing my 12th grade. Sunil Dutt ji, a Community Outreach Worker, motivated me to join the team as a volunteer and contribute to the community and my own growth.”

For Amna, the first interaction with RCI was during our ration distribution initiative at the peak of the pandemic. After a primary conversation, here too, Sunil ji drove Amna into contributing to the community by volunteering her time and grabbing an opportunity of boundless learning.

Thereon it was no looking back for both the girls as they ventured in to the CAC.

The Everyday Goings-On at the Child Activity Centre

At the CAC, they spend an eventful day with the children of the community. While some children visit the centre willingly, others are urged to visit the centre by this sprightly duo. Followed by the children filling in the centre, the girls begin with activities planned for the day.

Bacchon ke saath newspaper padhna, ye ek nayi activity humne start ki hai. Isse na sirf unki Hindi better ho rahi hai, balki unki general knowledge bhi badhti hai. (We began a new daily activity with children, reading out the newspaper to them. This activity has not only improved their Hindi language skill, but has also contributed to their general knowledge.) Followed by language skills, the girls also conduct activities to improve their basic arithmetic skills. No matter, the favourite part of their day remains the dance and song routine that has become a ritual at every CAC.

A Day Spent Reaching Out to the Community

Once done with their work at the CAC, the girls venture into the community to resolve impeding issues that families and children may be facing. These include the likes of following-up on Aadhar card procedures/requirements, linking children/families with available government schemes, securing birth certificates and/or admission in schools. Beginning with a door-to-door outreach, the girls enquire about impending issues in every household of the community.

Unforgettable Experiences Galore

When asked about an unforgettable experience derived from their volunteering at RCI, both Priti and Amna have inspiring stories to tell.

For Priti, it was securing school admission for 6-year-old Kashi. Kashi’s mother was extremely worried about not being able to enrol Kashi in a school since his birth certificate did not feature his name, which meant that he could not be issued an Aadhar Card. Priti accompanied his mother to the concerned centre in Karol Bagh, where after multiple visits she successfully got the birth certificate printed. Thereafter, Preeti even assisted the family in getting an Aadhar Card issued for Kashi, which eventually led to Kashi getting successfully enrolled in the nearby public school.

“Kashi ki mummy ko bilkul bhi umeed nahi thi ki Kashi kabhi school ja payega. Unhone mujhe bohot saara thank you bola, aur ab vo apne liye bank account bhi khulwana bhi chahti hai.” (Kashi’s mother had lost hopes of securing an admission for Kashi. Having achieved that, his mother expressed gratitude and a desire to open a bank account too.) Kashi’s mother offered a small token of appreciation to Priti in exchange for all the help, but Priti refused and suggested buying stationery for Kashi instead.

Amna too has supported numerous families in the community, but the most memorable experience for her was that of helping Gulafsha. Amna insisted Gulafsha’s father to enrol her in a public school, but he kept delaying it. In the interim, Gulafsha’s age passed and the school now refused to enrol her as she had surpassed the minimum age required for enrolment. Taking stock of the situation, Amna helped connect Gulafsha to a government scheme that aids students like her re-join school. Having figured a solution and implemented it for a seemingly impossible solution gave Amna immense satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment.

A Promising Future Awaits

Apart from connecting children to welfare schemes, Priti and Amna have helped connect numerous adults to various organisations offering vocational training. Both plan to pursue higher education with Bachelor of Social Work.