Situated in the outskirts of Ahmedabad city, the ‘Bombay Hotel’ area is fast becoming a ghetto of poor people who are either displaced or move to Ahmedabad in search of livelihood. The Bombay Hotel area is surrounded by small and medium scale industries thus poor people find casual wage labour in the factories and ancillary cottage industries around, or start small businesses like auto repair shops, tea-stalls or pan-shops. Also, following the violence in 2002 a large number of Muslims who were displaced from Ahmedabad city as well as other areas moved into this area to take refuge in a ghetto which is considered safer.
Shirin Shaikh comes from such a family.In happier days, her father was a canteen manager and they could make the two ends meet. But post-2002 he lost his canteen contract and was unable to find any stable job. They had to shift to the Bombay Hotel area, both for security as well as possibilities of livelihood. Shirin’s father would sometimes disappear for days leaving her mother to fend for the family. Shirin, eldest of the 3 children,became highly irregular at school, and was on the verge of discontinuing her studies due to responsibility of household chores and also engage in full-time kite-making and other such seasonal labour work to contribute to the sustenance of the family.When the KEI volunteers met the family they were just eking out an existence.
Shirin came in contact with Kadam Education Initiative volunteers in 2014 while she was still studying in an Urdu medium school. After being part of many sessions organized by Kadam Education Initiative, shenot only understood the importance of education but also shifted to Gujarati medium school and started working hard for her Higher Secondary Board Exams due in 2016.
This became a turning point for Shirin’s mother and her siblings. Shirin’s mother Najmaben also started mobilizing women in Bombay Hotel area, and motivated them to form Self Help Groups. Together, the women in the area were able to advocate for basic amenities such as drinking water and sewage facilities. They also formed an advocacy committee in the area for this purpose, and their achievements have been manifold in terms of civic amenities such as drinking water, drainage, sewage and sanitation. The greatest impact being that all these women have pledged to educate their girl children at any cost.
All these have had a profound impact on Shirin’s life. Shirin, an otherwise shy and timid person, became a leader of the adolescent girls’ group, engaging 30 girls. She says: “I have learned so much after joining the KEI; I was so frightened to step out of my house; so diffident to speak to anyone except family. The greatest change that has happened in my life is that I have gained confidence to do the things I do today. I do not fear anymore. I am able to lead over 30 girls, speak to them about their reproductive and emotional health issues. I enjoy teaching young children and motivating them in their studies”.
Shirinaspires to become a journalist, “My life has been so tough. I would like to work towards changing the life conditions of children so that they would not have to go through such ordeal. I would like to be in a position where I can work with Kadam to change the lives of children”.
In the year 2016, Shirin passed the Higher Secondary Certificate exams. She performed particularly well in English and Psychology. Shirin is determined to complete her University Education at all costs and even dream of doing post-graduation from a good University in India or abroad. Currently, Shirin is pursuing her Final year of BA Psychologyin St. Xavier’s College, Ahmedabad. It is really noteworthy that in the very first semester she passed with distinction! She is already working part-time with a developmental NGO on campus and she not only support her own education but also contribute to the family income. She is a role model and an inspiration to all around her.