A hundred and seventy-five blankets were distributed to cycle rickshaw pullers and children engaged with rag picking by Leena Padam, SCN, and the outreach program staff of Community Health Centre (CHC) in Bakhtiarpur from Jan. 11 to 13, 2018. They did it on separate days to reduce the rush of people. On the first two days, fifty rickshaw pullers each were called to get their blankets. On the last day, seventy-five blankets were distributed to the child-rag-pickers who swift through the garbage on the streets to collect plastics, tins and hard-board pieces from it for sale to make a living. It’s sore to the eye to see bare-footed children roam around the streets in the town, with a sack on their backs going through garbage.

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Most of these people live in clusters, in huts made of plastics, hardboards and tins or whatever materials they collect from the garbage bins. Bihar is experiencing the longest cold spell from the end of December 2017 to till date. Seeing the people suffer in cold, especially children, Sister Leena approached different institutions, schools and the government officials for some blankets to distribute it among the people. Rev. Amal, the director of Sewa Kendra, the social service wing of the Archdiocese of Patna gave 25 blankets. And nothing could dampen the spirit of Sister Leena from getting a few more blankets to save the poor from the severe cold that she contacted her classmates of Bachelor of Social Work studies in Mumbai for more blankets and one of them sent100 and another fifty.

Around one hundred cycle rickshaw pullers are on the streets of Bakhtiarpur. They carry people from place to place in the town. During this icy-cold temperature, they have no shelter to wait for passengers or park their rickshaws. They usually stand around near the railway station, waiting in hope to pick up the passengers who de-board the trains. For each trip, they are paid a meagre Indian rupees thirty, little less than fifty US cents.

Sister Leena and her staff conduct non-formal classes at the centre and in colonies for around 150 children from the deprived sections of the society. Seventy-five rag pickers, fifty and twenty-five children each from the leprosy and brick-kiln colonies take advantage of the various non-formal and other motivational and entertainment programs conducted for them. None of these children have ever been to any formal schools.

Since it is extremely cold, the brick-kiln is closed and around sixty families are gone to their native places. Once they return, their children will also be given blankets.

On December 19, one hundred rickshaw pullers came together to form ‘an association of rickshaw pullers with the hope that they can demand for a rickshaw stand at the railway station or near the bus stand. Since there is no place allotted to them, the street vendors and the policemen beat them up and chaise them away. It is a struggle for them to earn their daily living.

CHC is working on getting their unique identification and PAN cards without which they cannot avail any government help or subsidized food grains through the government public distribution system. They also hope to enrol their children in regular schools instead of sending them to pick up the garbage.

The director of CHC, Kiran Kaniyamkandathil, SCN, also helped in distributing the blankets among the rickshaw pullers since she knows them well.

Today we had distributed among working children of brick making parents. 20 of them received from Kunzama’s hand. Elizabeth Emmanuel, SCN helped to distribute blankets to brick kiln children in Bakhtiarpur.

Leena Padam, SCN