Venkat Reddy has been working for several decades to achieve the total elimination of child labour in communities and to promote the right of children to education in India. Through strategic planning and orchestration of community groups, more than 80,000 youth volunteers, 2,500 Gram Panchayat members, 2,500 government schoolteachers and school education committee members are working tirelessly for the abolition of child labour. Over the years, under the leadership of Venkat Reddy and with a powerful team, M V Foundation has ensured that over 1,000,000 children have been withdrawn from labour and enrolled in full-time formal schools.
MV Foundation is a partner organisation in the Work: No Child’s Business (WNCB) alliance – an international alliance working to ensure that children and young people are free from child labour and enjoy their rights to quality education and (future) decent work. Arisa is also part of this alliance as a member of the Stop Child Labour Coalition, one of the partners leading the alliance.
To work towards a social norm against all forms of child labour among all stakeholders – communities, governments and businesses – WNCB implements a combined approach of strategies: an area-based approach that goes hand in hand with a supply chain approach. With an area-based approach, we target all forms of child labour in a specific area, tackle root causes, and strengthen local child protection systems. Community Mobilisers are at the heart of this area-based approach. They work in communities to strengthen child protection systems, and work towards the norm that no child should work and every child should be in school.
We had a conversation with Venkat Reddy from MV Foundation about the essential role of Community Mobilisers in eradicating child labour from communities.
Mobilisers work for the children and for the future of communities
”There are not many people who are committed to working for children, standing up for them and protecting them. As we grow older, we become more distant from children and what is important to them. In general, we become more closed off in our own world and less able to relate to ‘the other’. It is the younger people in communities who are still most connected to children. After all, it is not so long since they were children themselves. That is why many Mobilisers – but not all of them – are young people themselves.
”Children are very important; they are the future. So, Mobilisers do the work for the future. Mobilisers have a lot of energy and passion to help children in their communities and to make their communities thrive. We channel this energy to achieve the best possible results in the communities.”
”A child who is not in school is a child labourer, but also a potential learner. And vice versa, a student is a potential dropout who goes into child labour.”
The area-based approach to combat child labour
”It is essential that we – our Mobilisers – reach every household in the community for the area-based approach to work. A child who is not in school is a child labourer, but also a potential learner. And vice versa, a student is a potential dropout who goes into child labour. So, our work has to reach every family and every child in the community. To build trust and good relationships with parents, relatives, children and others in the community, we need to visit them again and again. It is essential that the Mobilisers are constantly in the process of building relationships and partnerships within the communities. Everyone must understand and agree: Children should go to school. This message has to be carried out very consistently”.
Getting children out of child labour and into school is not a linear process
”Our Mobilisers are constantly involved in conflict. Their work goes hand in hand with successes and failures and disappointments. These failures and disappointments are part of the learning process for our organisation and our people. Our Mobilisers have the ability to change social norms in communities and the lives of many people within them. They can really work magic in communities. This does require us and our donor organisations to have full confidence in the area-based approach and in them”.
”Getting a child to go to school as a first-generation learner is a huge achievement.”
”For example, in the communities in which we work, there are a lot of families in which not a single person has ever been to school. Many of these people are Dalits – the lowest caste. Children from Dalit families lack role models in their families to show them what getting an education can mean for their lives and their communities. Likewise, parents, grandparents and others in these communities have no example of the value of education for children. This makes it harder for Mobilisers to convince families and the wider community that children should go to school and not work. If a child from such a household eventually goes to school, they are the first child in that whole family to go. This means they are a first-generation student. That is a big deal!”
”Getting a child to go to school as a first-generation learner is a huge achievement. But, as mentioned, this process is not without failures and disappointments along the way. Bringing about such big changes in communities, real changes in the social norms of communities, is a difficult and non-linear process. Mobilisers face resistance, opposition and disappointment along the way, but they never give up”
How Mobilisers navigate an ever-changing context
”Community Mobilisers must constantly negotiate with people and other stakeholders in the community. Community Mobilisers are conflict resolution practitioners. They negotiate with schools, community leaders, caste leaders and many others. They have different strategies depending on the context in which they are working. This context is constantly changing depending on the situation in the community. For example, they adapt their timing to suit the times when people in the community are available to talk. Conversations and visits usually take place outside normal work hours. But they take many other factors into account to ensure fruitful discussions and negotiations”.
”Community Mobilisers are conflict resolution practitioners.”
”A mobiliser recently told me: “I am not going to visit person X today”. And why was that? Because that individual’s tractor had broken down that day. So, the person was not in a good mood that day. A community mobiliser knows that for negotiations to be successful, it helps if the person you are trying to win over is clearheaded and not frustrated from the outset. The mobiliser therefore decided it would be better to wait and try to talk to the person the following day – or another day”.