“Butterflies cooperative approach of collective action for the greater good really does work”- Samiya, a child from Okhla Mandi area
Delhi is India’s capital and a centre for business, education, government and trade. A city of stark contrasts, Delhi boasts skyscrapers alongside makeshift slums called bastis. I live in a basti known as Gandhi Camp situated near the bustling Okhla Mandi or wholesale market for green vegetables and fruits.
My community consists of families who have migrated to Delhi primarily from the Northern Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Parents and sometimes even youth are daily wage earners. When one’s wage is fully dependent on a day’s labour in the Mandi, then a day without work means a day without food.
I have been lucky enough to be connected with Butterflies since 2015. What first attracted me to Butterflies was a colourful yellow bus, which I later learned was a Mobile School Bus. This magical vehicle brought interesting media and other education resources to children gathered at what is called a contact point — an open air space near where migrant families live and work, in my case Okhla Mandi (when Butterflies Child Rights Advocates find that children are not in school, they work with parents to get all of the papers necessary to enroll a child in a state school). Over the next seven years I participated not just in the education or cooperative learning programme but in the other Butterflies’ cooperatives as well. These have introduced me and other enrolled child members to the concepts of democracy, equity, and equality.
Butterflies’ programmes have transformed us. Early on, each cooperative inculcated in each of us child members not only the practice of democratic decision-making, but other good life skills. For example, the Children’s Development Khazana, a financial management training program plus a personal savings account encouraged us to save for important needs such as health insurance and school supplies.
The Child Health and Sports Cooperative encourages the good habits that help build and maintain physical and mental health.
A core principle of children’s cooperatives is that we develop our own voice while listening to the views of others. At regular meetings or councils held at contact points, every child gets to share his or her ideas and opinions. Then all the cooperative members vote and dissenting views are noted in the record. The resulting collective action never benefits just a few of us but instead impacts the wider community. Whatever new information, practice, or skill we learn, we then aim to share it with as many people as possible in our immediate locality.
During the COVID 19 lockdown period we could not gather in person at the contact points but I was able to use the collective action approach. Here’s how. When I heard that the daily wagers in our area lacked money and food, I called up three of my fellow cooperative members because I had their parents’ mobile numbers. We decided that we would launch a small public awareness campaign by each identifying households among our neighbours who did not have a government-issued e-ration card. When the four of us shared the results of our survey we had a list of 22 families who had mobile phones but lacked the digital skills to use the e-portal. I decided that we could help these adults enroll.
Butterflies’ reputation in our migrant communities means that most adults respect children’s cooperative members and are willing to follow our advice. When some people hesitated to share personal information about their family members, we kids were able to enlist the persuasive help of members of the Child Social Protection Committee (CSPC), another Butterflies initiative whose members include teachers, shopkeepers, social workers and representatives from the police.
At last, everyone was on board. I met each family and logged them into the e-portal using my father’s smart phone. Within a week, the newly registered household head received an acknowledgement from the local authority on their mobile phone. By simply showing the message at the distribution centre, they received a 3-month supply of dry rations.
The smiles from these informal workers and their family members was all the acknowledgement that my friends and I needed to know that the Butterflies cooperative approach of collective action for the greater good really does work. It re-enforced my belief that the voices of all children, even a young girl, deserves to be amplified and heard. The well-being of all India’s people, in our case an often isolated and marginalised community, truly does matter.
Read more about the Child Health and Sports Cooperative here- https://butterfliesngo.org/programmes/child-health-sports-cooperative/