NEW DELHI: One would think that Mandira Sarkar would have no problems having children around the house because she was a non-working woman. But the 32-year-old from Seemapuri felt the day pass by inordinately fast, what with having to look after a son with special needs and a hyperactive three-year-old daughter. With some misgivings, she decided to send her daughter to a creche in the neighbourhood. Today, she rejoices at her decision. “My daughter Manisha gets to learn, draw and pick up life skills at the creche that she might not at home. Also with her at the creche, I am able to finish house work earlier than usual and so am able to give both her and my son the quality time they deserve.”
If a housewife can get so much out of a day-care centre that takes children under its wings, how much more would working people benefit from such a haven? For time-strapped people-daily wagers, drivers, domestic workers and those holding small-time jobs in factories, petrol pumps and BPOs-the creche is virtually their road to empowerment, both as bread earners and as parents. While the government hems and haws about its plans to set up anganwadi-cum-creches across the capital, it is NGO Mobile Creches that has stepped in with its idea of “community managed creches” in 30 places in the east, northeast and south districts of Delhi.
When TOI visited the Seemapuri creche on Tuesday morning, the place was teeming with children aged six months to six years. Despite it being the festive season, the number of children there indicated that parents are putting in extra workdays to eke out a living. The monthly Rs 200 they pay per child is a small sum for the freedom from worry when they are at work.In 2006, whenever I needed to go out, I did not know where to leave my daughters. Moreover, I needed a safe place for them to stay in,” recalls Ranjana Sharma. That was when she learnt of Mobile Creches.
Nine years hence, the partnership has grown more intimate; Sharma is today one of the eight community leaders of Seemapuri who manage the day-care centre there. Mobile Creches sees community participation as critical for delivering a more workable solution to the urban reality of women from nuclear families in slums joining the work force.
“While we provide training and are around for support, it is the committee drawn from within the community that takes decisions regarding the creche and on encouraging parents to enrol the children there,” says Chirashree Ghosh, senior manager (advocacy), Mobile Creches. In other words, it is the community that is made to feel responsible for the facility.
Sharma says that the creche, which operates from 8.30am to 4.30pm daily, is an instrument of empowerment. “It was at the day-care centre that I understood the value of nutrition and the need to focus on the physical and mental development of the child,” she says. Sharma is responsible for monitoring the food quality not only at the Seemapuri centre, but also others in the northeast district. She and other members of the managing team are paid an honorarium from a fund that pools money from various sources, including the monthly fees paid by the users.
Like Sharma, Sanjeev Kumar too has reaped the benefit of having a creche in the locality. He works night shifts at a BPO and was unable to give time to his daughter Priyanshi until she joined the centre. “On the way to the creche every day, we share our thoughts, and this has helped me bond with her. The creche has helped me understand the role of a father in the child’s growth,” he says. “Also, the regular meetings of parents have made me more sensitive to the fact that bringing up children is an equal responsibility of both parents.”
As more parents approach the creches, funding will increasingly become crucial to the idea’s success. It is not a big problem currently, but private funds may not be a viable long-term proposition. So, ultimately the goal is to turn the day-cay centres into community projects that run on money drawn from the annual funds assigned to municipal councillors.