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Chattu: My life in the honey slums

Chattu* is 13. He lives in Kolkata, India, with his three brothers and one sister. His father, Jamal*, works collecting and selling honey.

The Madhu Basti (or honey slum) community is one of the poorest in India. Families here live just a couple of metres away from Kolkata’s busy railway lines. The community shares just one hand pump for drinking water and there are no toilets.

Poverty is the key reason that many of the community’s children drop out of school and miss out on the education they deserve. Families survive by collecting and selling honey. Children also try to make an income offering Pepsi or orange-flavoured ice lollies for one rupee (1p) each to commuters.

Chattu, 13, sells 'Pepsi' (frozen ice lollies) to make money
Chattu, 13, sells frozen ice lollies

It’s a dangerous life for children who join their parents on honey gathering ventures. The honey is collected not only in the city but in the sunderbans, the low-lying jungle areas home to the Bengal tiger. Extracting it from the hives is risky, too; children often get stung in their eyes – and hospitals are a long way away. Typically, families sell the honey for Rs. 100 (£1)/per kg. On any given month, families like Chattu’s make around Rs. 3000 (£30).

Children have no choice but to work. Education here is considered a luxury.

How you’re helping Chattu and his friends

With the support of Aviva, we’ve been running mobile learning centres on buses that have been visiting the slum communities in Kolkata for seven years. These buses are stacked with books, pictures and games for the children to enjoy.

In that time, we’ve reached 4,000 street children. The most important  feature of our buses is that they are equipped with high quality learning materials to get children reading and writing. We also encourage children to enrol in school or begin vocational skill training so that they have the opportunity to decide their own futures.

Save the Children's mobile learning centre in the area - or the 'Blue Bus'
One of our mobile learning centre’s in India

By Chattu, 13
I wake up at 6am and wash. I wash my clothes and eat paratha. Then I go to school. After, I come back to the house and sleep. I wake up at 4pm and wash. Then I sell ice-pops and sometimes I sell honey for 60-200 rupees (60p to £2). I have to go to the temple, on the other side of the railway tracks, to fetch water. Carrying the water makes my head hurt.

There is no doctor nearby so if someone is sick they have to go to Bartala, which is four or five hours away. It hurts when you get stung by a bee. Sometimes I apply onion to the skin. Our eyes get swollen, so we have to get medicine from Bartala.

I like to study in the bus. I learn English and Hindi. I study from the books in the bus. I like to read, I like to write and I like colouring. I draw toys, goats and houses. I like the AC [air conditioner] in the bus. I will sell honey and I will study. I will pass my exams and teach my father and brothers, and I will become a doctor. I will teach all the children.

*Names have been changed to protect identity

Would you like to make a donation to help more children like Chattu? You can do so here: https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/donate


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