The plight of two young migrant school teachers in Afzalpur
With no job and money, for three months, they needed help.
This story is narrated by Anita Kanaiya of ‘The Freedom Project India.’
On Tuesday, June 9th, I first got a Whatsapp message regarding two girls from Afzalpur who were in a crisis and desperately wanted to go back to their village in Orissa.
“My name is Margarita. My cousin Elisabeth and I want to go back to Orissa as we have no job and no money to survive as school teachers.”
The message came through an unknown person in a group that I was a part of that was responding to the needs of migrants. Help Migrants Bengaluru is a group of volunteers from different churches who came together to respond to the migrant crisis. It is a mass exodus of workers from urban cities to their villages in the most hazardous conditions. They had no money and food during the forced lockdown across India.
A phone number was all I got to try and provide some support to these girls. I made the call, and the voice on the other end very timidly and apprehensively answered some basic questions. “My name is Margarita. My cousin Elisabeth and I want to go back to Orissa as we have no job and no money to survive as school teachers.” As I listened to more of their story, I could not believe how these two young girls had managed to survive the three months of lockdown with no money — only one little bag of rations.
“Ma’am, I will never forget you.”
Two young girls in their early 20’s are very vulnerable on their own in a relatively new place. To get them on a Shramik train to Orissa was the only way, and for that, they would first need to reach Bengaluru.
We quickly arranged for some money to be sent to them to take care of immediate needs. I got a quick response, “Ma’am, I will never forget you.” To them, it was beyond an explanation of why a stranger would even care so much. A day passed in trying to get them some help locally in Gulbarga, but we realized that they were about two hours away from Gulbarga, and the transport was not easy to find.
June 11th was the last direct Shramik train announced to Orissa, and we were desperate to get them on the train. All our efforts to find transport to get them to Bengaluru on time failed, and we were very disappointed, but I continued to stay in touch with the girls and encouraged them to travel at the earliest to Bengaluru.
On June 11th, a kind heart on the Help Migrants group booked a sleeper bus ticket from Gulbarga to Bengaluru. When I sent them the bus ticket, they were shocked at the fare, “it’s so costly, ma’am!” Margarita exclaimed, feeling indebted but very grateful to leave the place of their ordeal finally.
On the 12th morning, I am eagerly scanning the group looking for updates on trains to Orissa. At the same time, I was also making arrangements for the two girls to stay if there were no trains that day.
Early in the morning, the bus from Gulbarga reached Bengaluru. I had organized a known auto driver to pick them up as we were also coordinating breakfast for 3000 migrants at Palace grounds. As the auto pulled up outside our office, and the girls got out, I felt a sense of joy and peace, the girls had made it safely, and now it was home stretch left!
Over a hot breakfast together, I listened to their stories. They had grown up in orphanages in Orissa from when they were 4 and 5 years old. Their mothers had died very young, and the fathers had remarried, forcing their home situation to change, and they were sent away. Bold, independent, and very courageous, these girls had paid 15,000 each to an agent to find them a job. At the same time, they finished college through distance education.
They were recruited to teach English in a small school in a town called Afzalpur in Karnataka. They had just completed a few months and, during the lockdown, had not been paid by the school management for three months. Alone and desperate, the girls survived on a bag of rice donated and nothing else for three months.
There was another train scheduled for the evening. We managed to get them to Palace Ground in the hope that they will get registered. The place was crowded and full of people wanting help with registrations. Margarita immediately and without thinking sat down to fill the forms of other migrants who were not literate. I was so touched to see her respond to the needs around her.
They were able to board the train that day, but before I left and said goodbye, we took one picture together as a reminder of a chance meeting completely orchestrated from above! This is the picture that Margarita had on her status!
“My grandmother has been having fever for one week, but there is nobody to take her to hospital.”
As I reflect on that meeting and the lives of the girls, I am left teary-eyed. I call and stay in touch to encourage them through their 21-day quarantine at a facility in their district. They are still not home yet! My calls are usually happy and short, but today as I spoke to Margarita, she broke down and wept, “My grandmother has been having fever for one week, but there is nobody to take her to hospital.”
“I finish quarantine on Sunday, so I hope I will be able to go home finally. I am like a mother for my younger sisters who are studying in an orphanage. I support them with school fees and pocket money every month. It is for their sake that I went to work so far away as I will not get a good salary in Orissa. Please pray that I will get my withheld payment as I need to pay for my college fee and my sisters,”
I promised to help her. More importantly, I prayed with her and encouraged her to hold on to Jesus. As I prayed, I encouraged myself, too. He is our only hope, and He will not fail us.
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Loving the Migrant Worker is a network of volunteers and NGOs across over 50 cities in India serving daily wagers and migrant workers who are on the move.