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News from Kolkata during the COVID19 Crisis

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What’s happening in India I was last in Kolkata in January. One woman who has become a friend over the years is Razia. She lives with her disabled husband and 3 children in a shelter beside the Topsia nullah (a stinking open sewer or canal). She is illiterate and terribly poor but determined to make a better life for herself and her family. Her daughter has just taken her class 10 exams and has great ambitions to continue her education. I always drop in to see Razia when I’m in Topsia and if don’t find her, she’ll come and find me. It’s an odd sort of friendship but one I value. She is the human face of Tiljala SHED’s work. So I was very shocked to be send some footage of a delegation from Topsia, who had come to visit Shafkat at home to explain how desperate the community is for food. There was Razia. I shouldn’t be surprised – she is a community leader in the Topsia canalside squatters and would absolutely stand up for her neighbours. 

The Indian Government announced an immediate 21…

New charitable trust supports Tiljala SHED

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The trustees very pleased to announce the establishment of a new UK registered charitable trust dedicated to supporting Tiljala SHED and other organisations committed to the relief of poverty in India and around the world. The Shanty Trust is U.K registered Charitable Trust (Registration No. 1188154) raising funds to support the work of partner organisation TILJALA SHED which works with the rag pickers and ultra-poor of central Kolkata, India. The Shanty Trust’s mission is to relieve poverty through the empowerment of women and the protection and education of children. The Shanty Trust was founded by Jane Manson in December 2019 and registered as charity no 1188154 with the UK Charity Commission in January 2020. Other trustees are Jane’s sister, Emma Boot, Maggie Cassidy, Charlie (Chantal) McMurdie and Helen Bratchell.
Donations to the Shanty Trust can be made here https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/12623 (COVID19 Fund)
Or general donations towards our programmes here https://cafdonate.…

Delivering Food Parcels in Topsia

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On a mission to deliver emergency food rations to one very needy family and two very vulnerable elderly women.
This was a difficult day.


First we went to Maya’s home – a shelter down a dark alley between the busy road and the sewage canal. Maya has no toilet facilities, no running water and no means of support other than begging and rag picking. She says she thinks she is about 75. Her husband died just four months ago. She has three daughters but they have their own families and she doesn’t see them - one occasionally visits and give her a hundred rupees or so. She used to do embroidery but her eyes are too weak now. She showed us her glasses which, she said, no longer work.



Then we crossed the road to see Loki. She is over 80 and lives in a space behind a larger building. We clambered through the dark over a high step and slippery mud to reach her. To collect water or use a toilet she has to cross the road. We asked if she has a ration card – she said without even the 2 rupees for …

Visiting the Park Circus Children's Club

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I don’t know where to begin. I have been visiting Tiljala SHED for 5 years and thought I couldn’t be surprised by anything. Yesterday I was invited to attend school. Local children from the Park Circus Railway Squatters (mostly the children of ragpickers) attend our community centre 5 days a week. This group attends government schools in the afternoon so their supplementary/remedial classes are in the morning. Well – I assumed this was mostly a babysitting exercise. Games, songs and a safe place whilst parents are working. But no.

It was a Bengali lesson when I arrived. 26 children lined up according to their school class. The year ones at the front and 5s at the back. Mehnaz the teacher, a girl from the community herself and a qualified teacher, was handling all groups at once. Letter recognition for the year 1s and 2s up to full story telling for the 5s. Every child engaged and working. This is skilled teaching and she was clearly fully in command. We had a short interlude for Jane…

Rehana: from success to despair to renewed hope

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Back in Kolkata at last!
Yesterday  I went to visit some of our beneficiaries - redoubtable women from the Topsia Squatter camp who are making a success out of lives lived perched over a sewage canal.







Rehana is one of our star performers: with a tiny loan of about £200 she bought a rickshaw, then 9 more. Sold them all and bought a godown (warehouse) from which she deals in waste, selling on the rubbish collected by ragpickers. All was going well and I expected to be congratulating her. But when she arrived it was clear all was not well. She is sick: thin and pale. She is also pregnant and bleeding constantly. The doctor has told her she must be admitted to hospital immediately - but she doesn’t know who will look after her children. As the conversation proceeds it transpires that the husband has run off with another woman taking the contents of the godown with them. Rehana has lost her valuable stock and doesn’t know how she will repay her loans. She is in despair and doesn’t know wh…

"I’m very much excited for the future"

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Ayesha is 32 and, unusually in communities like the Topsia slum where she lives, she is unmarried. Instead, her family depends on her to supplement their tiny income. Seven of them have to live on just Rs4000 (£44) per month. Ayesha is a graduate from the Tuilajal SHED “Saloni” Beauty Training Parlour. It is clear from the girls’ experiences that the beauty industry is highly exploitative expecting 9 or 10 hour working days for just £20 or £25 a month. She told us her story: “Because of financial problems I could not complete my education. When I finished the beauty training course, I searched for a job in a parlour and went to around ten salons for interviews but I decided not to work in any of them as the pay and growth was minimal and long working hours. So, I started freelancing and with some small parlour kits I arranged to buy from my own pocket and now I do freelancing and have a handful of clients. If I have a client, I earn a minimum of Rs.500 for that day at least. For more…

Empowering Young Women through Skills Training in Hair and Beauty

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Please empower a young woman today for the price of a visit to the hairdresser... Tabassum, age 20, lives with her family in a single room in Kolkata’s Tiljala slum. Her father supports his family of 4 on Rs4000 (£44 or USD57) per month. She has recently qualified in hair and beauty therapy at the iSalon, NGO Tiljala SHED’s tiny Beauty Training Salon. “Because of my father’s low income I left education early. When I came to know from one of my friends, that a free course is being offered at this place, I immediately visited the parlour and decided to join. After joining, I was confident that this skill will surely help me out of poverty. After completion of course I applied to many salons but they offered maximum 2500 per month for 9-10 hour days. Then, I consulted with the trainer who helped me and now I have 8 clients and earn close to Rs.2000 per month. I have requested the trainer to start more advanced courses which has a demand in the market and which will help us increase our …