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Twenty-year-old Arman’s story is of grit and resilience. His childhood was cut short due to his family’s dire financial condition. He tackled problems that were too big for his age. He knew education was the only way out of this dark tunnel, and he was determined not to compromise.

Arman stays in an overcrowded slum in Kolkata. His father, Sk. Guddu (52), is a driver, and his mother, Hasina Begum (51), is a homemaker. Arman currently studies in Class XI at Adi Ballygunge School. He has three younger siblings – Afreen, 17, had to drop out of secondary school and started tailoring work to support her family, Soni is in Class 7, and Zainab is in Class 3.

There was a time when Arman was asked to drop out of school since his family had money only for food. But he didn’t lose heart. He sought his uncle’s help, who agreed to pay for his education. When he turned 18, he started working as an electrician and earned Rs. 300-Rs. 400 per week, which paid for his education. There were times when he had to borrow money from his friends to pay for his tuition, but he always made it a point to return the money. That’s how he completed his secondary education. When his higher-secondary education began, he worked as a part-time salesman. That source of income stopped during the pandemic. He then got hold of a bicycle and started working as a part-time food delivery agent. He ensured his family didn’t go hungry and he had enough money to continue his education.

No matter how overwhelming it got, his personal struggles never stopped Arman from thinking about his community and contributing to its welfare. Every monsoon, the slum where he stays, gets waterlogged. The drains accumulate dirty water, contaminating the tap water and depriving the residents of clean water. The slum has also faced persistent issues of open garbage and a lack of clean community washrooms. This makes the residents, especially women and girls, prone to infections.

Arman came in contact with Bal Raksha Bharat in 2015 during a community group meeting. He liked the friendly demeanour of the facilitators and said they were paying attention to everyone’s concerns. After that, whenever Bal Raksha Bharat held meetings, his family would encourage him to participate. He also participated in mock drills conducted in the slum. Arman became a child champion when the Disaster Risk Reduction programme was implemented in his ward in Kolkata.

Initially, he would only participate in the meetings of the children’s group but wouldn’t speak much. Gradually, he started leading his friends and took the initiative. He came to the aid of an accident victim and rushed him to the hospital. He said his training in first aid and disaster response helped him. Along with the community, he wrote letters to their ward councillor and spoke to him, which led to the installation of community toilets and dustbins.

Arman said that Bal Raksha Bharat has transformed him from a shy person to a confident youth champion. He is confident now being the voice of his community. “It is more important for me to help others rather than earn money. If I earn a lot of money, I will help the poor so that no child becomes child labour,” he said.

He led a survey to determine the number of child labours in his neighbourhood. He was instrumental in supporting his peers in identifying 51 children in labour situations after the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, he is involved in facilitating the inclusion of children in mainstream schools. He volunteered for the distribution of family kits in Ward 65 in Kolkata. Arman believes that knowledge is power, and he applies that in his life. He motivated a friend who had been a victim of domestic violence to raise her voice.

Arman likes to sing; he says it makes him forget all his worries. He wants to do hotel management, become a chef and travel the world.

About the Project

The Urban Resilience programme aims at increasing preparedness and resilience in informal urban settlements of Kolkata. This initiative focuses on empowering schools, children and communities in informal urban settlements to become disaster and risk resilient through child-friendly, gender-sensitive and inclusive urban risk reduction and resilience programming and ensure improved service delivery and entitlements.

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