It is just once in a while we come across an extraordinary story that is worth telling. This is one such story of a 12 year old boy who won a national award for his invention.
Life has snatched away a lot from Naveen Kumar who hailed from a small village called Madanpalli in Andhra Pradesh. But that did not deter him from achieving the best.
He was just 12 years old when he invented an eco- friendly mechanism to cook food which was cost – effective with zero pollution. He used raw materials like toasted coconut shells, cellulose lime powder and arg cryst powder to prepare it. And his efforts bore fruit when he won national award for it from the Ministry of Science and Technology.
What makes his story all the more interesting is: Naveen was a child labourer, earlier.
He was in fourth standard when he had to drop out of school and work at a tea stall to complement his father’s meagre income. His family did not have proper shelter or a steady source of income. Naveen’s father sold vegetables on the street and refused to send him to school as he would lose the additional income Naveen earned. It was at this juncture, PORD– People’s Organization for Rural Development, a project by CRY, an NGO working for the marginalized children identified him and his family as part of their social work.
But convincing his parents to send him to school was not an easy task. The incentives in the form of mid day meals, free books and free uniform could not make his parents send him to school. Even with the knowledge that they can be punished for encouraging child labour, his parents refuse to budge from their decision.
The PORD team approached the Sarpanch and only after the latter agreed to approve their self employment loan that his parents finally relented and Naveen was re-enrolled back in 5 th class in Eswaramma colony UP school on August 2013 along with his younger brother who had dropped out as well. As per the promise, the Sarpanch approved a loan of Rs 25000/- for his vegetable business and his family also received an Aadhar card and ration card.
It was at school that Naveen started participating in child collective meetings, then became a part of the cultural team and gained exposure, confidence and leadership skills. It gave him an opportunity to explore which ultimately led him to participate in the Science Exhibition. He started identifying the issues that schools faced and one was pollution.
“I realized that the method which the school authorities used for cooking mid-day meals in the school caused pollution and was not favourable for the environment. Hence, I wanted to find a way through which this pollution could be minimized,” said Naveen.
And thus he started working on his project. With the help of his school teachers of Eswaramma colony UP school and PORD team, he participated in an exhibition conducted by the District Educational department in 2015. Out of the 450 projects that were displayed, only 70 projects were selected for State level. And one belonged to Naveen.
He qualified for the national level competition conducted at Delhi. He was one among the five winners. Naveen’s invention is favourable to human health and the environment and is now being used in many schools, including his own, to prepare mid day meals.
The success has truly changed Naveen and his family’s life. His mother joined a self help group and now works at a bakery.
When asked what his goal for the future is he said, “I want to become an engineer and help poor children improve their skills.”
Given a chance, these marginalised children can do wonders. But the burning question is: Whether the nation offers children like them, a conducive environment to flourish? An analysis of Census data by CRY- Child Rights and You reveals that around 1.4 million child labourers between the age-group 7 and 14 cannot write their names. “It means that one in every three child labourers in the country is illiterate. Worsening the situation is India’s legal framework which is based on the assumption that children can work and still be educated. The proposed amendment in the Child Labour law allows children under the age of 14 to work in family occupations after school hours. Allowing children to work in family enterprises is likely to have far reaching implications affecting not only their education and learning outcomes but also their health and overall development,” said Suma Ravi, Regional Director, South, CRY.
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