By Aishuwarya Sudarshan
3 years back Shakirâ€™s family gave up the brutal practice of bear dancing and Shakhir applied to us for a job. He had decided that he genuinely enjoyed working with bears and that would be fulfilled working as a keeper at WildlifeSOSâ€™s Agra Bear Rescue Facility, than leading a nomadic lifestyle with a hungry and dehydrated bear. Shakir joined us as a shy 18 year old who had dropped out of school during his 6th grade; he looked much older than his age, maybe because he had 8 younger siblings to think about. When he told us he hadnâ€™t gone to school for more than 5 years, we offered to enroll him into school as part of our Kalandar rehabilitation program. He readily agreed and studied really hard showing us very good results.
Today, Shakir takes care of 23 bears in enclosure no 3 as he waits for his 10th grade results. He watches over their feeding, enrichment, medicines and says Shetty is his favourite bear. He also works at the canteen and enjoys dealing with customers.
He says â€˜I am happy my family decided to give up what we did to start new lives. There have been days we didnâ€™t have enough food for the entire family. But today, things have changed, our dreams have changed and thanks to this job I am closer to fulfilling those dreamsâ€™. Sakir talks of how all his younger siblings are following his steps and studying at school. He says â€˜3 years back I was happy being a drop out. But now each time a guest or a customer needs help and asks me something in English, the fact that I can reply itself is a small dream accomplishedâ€™. He has dreams of joining the police force someday and working with computers and we are backing him every step of the way. Although we would be sorry to lose such an experienced keeper.
The Kalandar Rehabilitation program gives support to dreams like Shakir’s. It helps the Kalandars start alternate livelihoods and reduce their dependency on working animals and the wildlife they had poached. This program helps families start long term sustainable employment methods like looking after small shops, weaving, stitching, driving autos etc. It also educates their children and offers vocational training to the women of the community.
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