Monday, June 12, 2017

Sunil Kumar - From a child labourer to a champion. A story of grit and determination.

Sunil Kumar has made headlines in mainstream media. His performance in 12th Grade has been outstanding, a  First class and now he is focusing his energies to enrol in the Indian Army to defend his country.What makes his mission newsworthy is the fact that 11 years ago, he was rescued from a zari unit in a Mumbai slum and brought to Sitamarhi district to Pratham’s Gyanshala, a residential program for children who have been child labourers. Here Sunil got an opportunity to start a new chapter in life.

Sunil was born in a small village, Khap, on the India-Nepal border, in the Sitamarhi district of Bihar. His parents were landless labourers, with no resources to bring up Sunil and his siblings. Peer pressure and the lure of Mumbai, the city he had heard where dreams can become a reality beckoned him and his friends to run away from their homes. They fell easy prey to middlemen who search for vulnerable children usually migrants from poor districts of UP and Bihar to employ them in sweatshops in Mumbai and other parts of the country.

Back in 2006, the zari units or sweatshops as they were called employed these young innocent children, as workers to do basic embroidery as well as cleaning and washing clothes for the entire unit. They were forced to work for 16 to 20 hours at a stretch, in tiny rooms with dim lights with only meals as remuneration. In such a trapped atmosphere, they very often succumbed to vices and other unhealthy practices.

At a time when large-scale rescue operations were conducted in these areas, Sunil was one of the fortunate kids to be freed from the shackles of labour. He was sent back to Bihar and enrolled in Pratham’s Gyanshala for a second chance in life. The 'Gyanshala’ program aims to provide education to children rescued from child labour. When the children enter the Gyanshala they are assessed to gauge their levels of reading and basic math. First, their basic foundational skills are built and then they enrol in a nearby government school while continuing to live with other boys like themselves in Pratham’s Gyanshala. Between 2006 and 2008 Sunil went through this process before being enrolled in a school in 5th grade. The boys also play sports and some are trained in music.

Sunil focused his energies on learning and today he is a changed teenager. Out of the 12.40 lakh students, who appeared for Grade 12 or Intermediate examinations in 2017, conducted by the Bihar School Examination Board (BSEB), only 4.37 lakh students or 35.25% managed to clear them.Sunil earned a First Class result with 67%.While regular studies took up a lot of his time, evenings were spent in learning football and kabaddi. His efforts to become a better kabaddi player saw him represent the state and win medals.

What does Sunil dream for the future? His struggles and his fight to overcome them probably influenced his decision to join the Army. Confident and aspiring Sunil has cleared the written and physical rounds of Army recruitment twice but could not make it in the medical test. He is currently preparing for other competitive exams.

In kabaddi, when a raider comes to raid he is alone. He has to touch an opponent and then escape from seven players of the defending team who are trying to catch him. Sunil’s life is an inspiring example. He has come through many obstacles and challenges and yet made it successfully to the other side. 


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