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India: day one of my visit with Reckitt Benckiser

On day one of my trip, the first thing on the agenda was a visit the Save the Children office in Kolkata where the three leaders of the programme presented to us the issues with Child Domestic Work and what Save the Children do to help overcome it. As the presentation started, our group was instantly struck by the sadness of what was happening on our doorstep in Kolkata. It was hard not to get emotional and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. The reality of the facts is shocking …

  • In Kolkata 50,000 vulnerable and poor families have given up their young daughters to traffickers in return for money… only a small number of girls will ever see their families again
  • Young girls are targeted as they are more vulnerable, cannot fight back or escape
  • When trafficked, the girls are segmented according to their beauty. The lighter the girls’ skin, the prettier she’s perceived to be so she’s trafficked into prostitution. The girls with darker skin are sent to work as live-in maids to the middle classes in the city and made to work 15-hour days, seven days a week, often locked inside the home, abused and not known to the outside world
  • Four out of ten middle class homes have a child working for them as a maid

It struck me, just because this is happening in a different continent, it doesn’t make it any more acceptable or less sad. I imagined what would happen if we heard on the news that every young girl in London and Birmingham is being forced to quit school and work as live-in, abused maids. What would the reaction be and why is this any less of a travesty abroad?

The leaders then presented to us the details of the programme. I never imagined just how long-term, strategic and thought-out their work is. Coming from a corporate background I wasn’t expecting a charity to work in this way. This really reassured me that the funding received is very well spent and each penny accounted for.

We were taken through the process of how the girls are found by Save the Children and the different approaches taken to end the domestic work cycle. Sadly, even when a girl is saved from abusive work and returned to her family, often they don’t want their daughters back as they still can’t feed them. The process is therefore often painfully slow.

The most important and costly element of this Save the Children work is education. Save the Children deliver a three-pronged approach to educate, making sure:

  • the girls receive either vocational training or basic literacy and numeric skills so they can earn a living for themselves
  • the abusive employer allows the girls time off to attend classes
  • the girls’ parents are supported to take them back and gain employment for themselves

For the second part of the day we were taken on a visit to show the success stories of this education work and what our Reckitt Benckiser fundraising is delivering. The mood of the group went from sad to uplifting and inspiring.

Today, 50 domestic worker teenage girls were ‘graduating’ from the Save the Children literacy/numeracy course and we were asked to host the event in a large city book shop. We turned up to see all the girls eagerly awaiting us with big beaming smiles waving to us. It instantly shocked me just how positive these girls looked on the outside and you’d never know the hidden sadness underneath their smiles. I was very touched and inspired to see these girls making a better life for themselves.

We later went to visit another education stream which was based around teaching the girls beautician skills. Again, seeing so many girls on their way to a better life was really motivating for me to help whenever I can, as the results are so tangible and real. It costs Save the Children £60 to educate one girl for a year. It’s sad and strange to think that for the price of a nice meal out, a child can be given a better life.

Emotion was again upon us when we were invited to visit a Save the Children drop-in centre where the kids wanted to perform for us as a welcome. What we saw was incredibly touching. The children put on a puppet show skit of the reality of domestic labour, acting out the abuse, torment and loneliness they faced.  Girls in the Save the Children programme perform this in the villages as a form of education for poor families about the realities of what happens when they give their daughter away.

Day one was, needless to say, very emotional.

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