The excited laughter of children could be heard spilling out of the windows of a white-walled room in the small village of Jalesar in Uttar Pradesh, an hour-and-a-half from Wildlife SOS’ Agra Bear Rescue Facility. Inside, Wildlife SOS’ Kalandar Program Coordinator, Ms. Rakhee Sharma, was surrounded by a group of twenty-two eager young children, as she ticked their names off the register in her lap.
The children belong to the Kalandar community, a nomadic Muslim tribe that depended on street performances which used to depend on animals like sloths bears to earn an income.
Wildlife SOS launched its Kalandar Rehabilitation Program, as an offshoot of its project to eradicate the cruel practice of ‘dancing’ bears in India, and to provide the members of the Kalandar tribe a way out of the cycle of poverty that had subjugated them for centuries, forcing them to rely on the poaching and torture of wild animals to earn their sustenance. To ensure that the community never has to return to their earlier life, Wildlife SOS has provided alternative livelihoods to the men, seed fund and training to the women to become second income earners and, most importantly, education to the Kalandar children.
Among the children in the room was 12 year old Gulshana. The daughter of a Kalandar, Gulshana grew up performing magic tricks and acrobatics with her family on the streets on Uttar Pradesh. The family subsisted on whatever little they earned through the performances and the meager income her father procured from his job as a labourer-for-hire. Gulshana was bright and worked hard, but street performing was all she had ever known- school had never even been an option.
It took a lot of convincing over several months before Gulshana’s parents succumbed and agreed to let their daughter enroll in a private school in the area. The tuition fees and school supplies would be provided by Wildlife SOS. Gulshana had to start from scratch, and is now in the second standard, but she’s working hard and enjoying her studies, as her future looks a little brighter.
The education support program in Uttar Pradesh works with many children with stories similar to Gulshana’s, with parents who cannot afford to educate them and for whom it is not feasible to think about a comfortable future, when they barely earn enough to feed themselves for a day. In the last month alone, Rakhee Sharma and the team have distributed school supplies in the villages of Kosi-kalan, Chhata and Tal-Semri in this state alone. Wildlife SOS puts the children of Kalandar parents through school, paying their fees and providing them uniforms, notebooks and textbooks, as well as additional tutoring wherever necessary.
On Sunday, Gulshana walked out of the room with twenty-one other children in Jalesar, equipped with everything they need to educate themselves and change their destinies, along with excited smiles and the will to learn.
You can help change the destiny of many such Kalandar children by sponsoring their education HERE.