Slum children get a new life, literally, at 'Navjeevan

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Nagpur, Nov 16 (UNI) Babita (name changed), a class six student, loves to dance, and is adept at Bharatanatyam, never failing to evoke admiration at her school cultural programmes, that go incomplete without her performance. Nothing unusual, really.

Now consider this - two of Babita's three elder sisters are commercial sex workers (CSWs). Her father, an alcoholic, is a rag picker, and has remarried after the death of Babita's mother. The three sisters, her father and her stepmother live in a cramped shanty they call home.

Had it not been for Navjeevan School, Babita could easily have been pushed into the flesh trade by now. ''By the grace of God and thanks to Navjeevan, Babita is now getting a decent education. She is one of our brightest students, and wants to be a teacher. Here, she got a new life, literally, and that is what the name of our school means,'' Aneeta Patel, the Secretary of the school, said.

Navjeevan is a residential school for slum children - probably the only of its kind in the entire country. ''There are schools and literacy programmes for children living in slums, but ours is perhaps the only one in the country with a hostel attached,'' Ms Patel told UNI. At present, the school has 150 students, all from slums. They are studying from nursery to class six, with half of them, including boys and girls, living in the hostel, she said.

The boarders are given breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the ''day scholars'' are given breakfast and lunch, Ms Patel said.

They are given free education, uniforms and study material as well.

The stories of almost all the students in the school are as poignant as that of Babita's. Ritu (name changed) rushed to the school with her two sons after her father-in-law attempted twice to rape her. When she complained to her husband, he admonished her for trying to ''tarnish'' the family's name. Ritu now works in the school, while her sons study there and live in the hostel.

Ranjana's (name changed) father is a cook at a small wayside eatery, and, by her own admission, ''sometimes steals'' to make ends meet. Fed up with the poverty, he once tried to sell off his daughter into the flesh trade, after which her mother sent her to Navjeevan. The school's reputation has travelled, and now it has children from outside Nagpur, including adjoining Wardha and Amravati districts, and even neighbouring Chhattisgarh.

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