Decades of activism to free oppressed children in India earned Kailash Satyarthi the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with Malala Yousafzai, the young education advocate from Pakistan. Satyarthi’s advocacy also brought to international attention the work that Indian nongovernment organizations carry out to change the lives of millions of Indian youth denied childhoods by extreme poverty or by a transient existence that leaves them illiterate and deprived. Vrishali Pispati runs one such organization in India’s largest city. As chief executive officer of Mumbai Mobile Crèches, she leads a team of more than 130 people offering a range of services to children living on construction sites without schools or clinics or safe places to play.
Pispati, who holds graduate degrees in economics, management studies and law — and was a 2014 Ford Motor Company international fellow in leadership training at the 92nd Street Y in New York — began her association with Mumbai as a volunteer and rose to the top of its management in 2010. She describes the organization’s holistic philosophy and model programs here. — BARBARA CROSSETTE
The construction industry is the largest employer of migrant workers in urban India, and a large number of workers live with their families on construction sites in the megacity of Mumbai and surrounding areas. Migrant construction workers are a highly transient population. They often travel long distances from their home states to the Mumbai region searching for employment and facing less than optimal living conditions, no official proof of identity, which limits their access to public services, and linguistic and cultural barriers.
Children of these workers are vulnerable to frequent relocations and harmful environments on the construction sites, which can adversely affect their health, education and development. Mumbai Mobile Crèches is a nonprofit group that supports children living in these places, promoting their safety, health and education. Established in 1972, Mumbai Mobile Crèches believes that stimulating care, proper development and education are inalienable rights of every child, and that these tools provide the most powerful and profound resources for escaping the cycle of poverty.
The organization partners with the building industry to create day-care centers at construction sites to provide holistic early-childhood care and education for children from birth to 14 years old. On average, Mumbai Mobile Crèches runs 20 to 30 centers annually at a time, in rooms allotted by builders at the sites, reaching around 4,500 children each year. To date, the organization has operated more than 270 centers in greater Mumbai and has reached more than 100,000 children.
Over the past four decades, the organization has pioneered a model that supports the development of the very young child, frees young children from the burden of looking after younger siblings, assists children in enrolling in schools and provides after-school support to ensure they stay in school. Children from birth to 3 years old take part in a crèche program that emphasizes the creation of a stimulating environment that nurtures motor, cognitive, social, emotional and physical growth. This is what Mumbai Mobile Crèches is best known for — as a model of early-child care and education where learning happens through music, dance and play.
Children from 3 to 5 years old are placed in a pre-primary program that boosts school preparedness. From age 6, children are enrolled in local municipal schools and benefit from after-school support, which works with them to develop their reading, writing and math skills.
A nutrition program works to improve the children’s nutritional health with a carefully designed daily diet. Centers provide breakfast, midmorning snacks, lunch and an evening snack to all the children. The organization’s health program ensures that children receive necessary medical attention and are regularly checked and treated for illnesses. All children receive curative, preventive and rehabilitative care, provided by weekly doctors’ visits. Health and hygiene awareness workshops are run for children and the surrounding communities.
When construction workers move to jobs at another building site in the area, their children will attend Mumbai Mobile Crèches’ center on the new site, if that site has one.
Mumbai Mobile Crèches sees the community as the central focus for creating awareness and sustainable interventions, be it in health, education or any other relevant social issue. Through workshops, training, monthly community meetings and street theater, various issues such as child care, child labor, hygiene, nutrition, health care and substance abuse are discussed. The group is also committed to empowering women who live on construction sites by training them in a yearlong program to become early-childhood caregivers. Currently, 30 percent of the organization’s teachers hail from construction workers’ communities.
Advocacy initiatives of the organization include promoting knowledge of the rights of children on construction sites in their communities, in government departments and in the construction industry in general. The mobile crèche project also includes training other nonprofit groups and individuals to set up and run day-care centers that promote early childhood development. Mumbai Mobile Crèches works closely with the government to see to it that children living on construction sites can enjoy the benefits of various government services. We envision a future where all children have a nurturing and happy childhood.