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Jobs Are Needed

Saroj lives at RK Puram . RK Puram is an enclave built by the government in the 1970’s to house individuals with leprosy. 90 men, 40 women and 20 children share ten public toilets – five for women and five for men. Saroj has a boy and a girl. We met her at the Hindu temple located opposite to a shop that sells basic goods, managed by one of RK Puram’s residents. Saroj has searched for a job in domestic help but unfortunately every time she says where she lives people turn her away. Her husband works as a sweeper for the government.

Photo of Luisa Fernanda
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When we asked her what she dreams for the future of her children, she said that she hopes for her daughter and son to be engineers. She rarely leaves RK Puram but when she does is to visit her mother at Tilak Nagar, another leprosy enclave. She only goes during the day.

Saroj is afraid of children kidnapping, like many of the women we talked to in this area. She recounted stories of friends of friends whose children have been offered chocolates and then are taken away. Children are kidnapped to collect ransom and when it’s not paid, they disappear. Saroj, relies on the RK Puram community, which she says is very unified and makes her feel supported and safe.

Now, that one of her daughters is becoming a teenager she advises her to just stay friends with boys – signaling that they shouldn’t get romantically involved. At the same time, she admits that she can’t protect and control every action of her children and they will have to fend for themselves eventually.

At 11 am, Saroj had to leave since she had to pick up the kids from school. That day was an standardised test day, and children got off earlier.

What called my attention while talking to Saroj was her will to work yet the impossibility to find opportunities due to the segregation her community faces. She wasn’t alone, Rom,a man who seemed to be one of the community leaders, employed by the government as a cleaner, approached us as soon as we got to RK Puram and shared that the community needed jobs beyond begging – one of the community’s major sources of income.

How might the unity of the community serve as leverage for empowerment?

I was also surprised when Rom said that boys and girls from the community are sent to boarding school. Five boys, who have graduated, have found jobs in big companies. He wasn’t specific about what type of jobs. When we asked about what happens to girls after school he said that some have married when they were about 18 years-old.

Having had the experience to talk with people in various countries in South America of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, I was surprised by Rom’s and Saroj's aspirations for the future of their children. In my experience, people from similar backgrounds want jobs like those around them. In RK Puram the most seeked-after job seems to be being a cleaner. When Rom and Saroj said they wanted both girls and boys to be engineers, I was delightfully surprised.

How might we create opportunities for girls from these communities to access employment that allows for social mobility after they finish school?

Marginalised communities like RK Puram need outlets and models for creating entrepreneurial ventures and access to employment.

How might we change the public perception of vulnerable communities such as leprosy colonies so that their members can access employment?


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Photo of Jamie Beck Alexander

This is incredible insight. Thank you for bringing Saroj's important voice to the conversation along with your questions Luisa. While reading this, I kept wondering whether Saroj talked about her aspirations in terms of her health; i.e. finding treatment for leprosy. I was really struck by the fact that treatment wasn't mentioned since I think there are many NGOs (including the WHO, who provides free treatment in many cities ) working in that area to treat people with leprosy. Is that an aspiration of hers? Is the NGO community doing enough to raise awareness in these communities that leprosy is treatable and that there are free treatments available? If not, why? How might those providing these services do a better job at communicating them to people who could benefit from them? I'd love to learn more about these health interventions and why they don't seem to be reaching the communities that most need them.

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