Rifa (name changed) is a 12-year-old girl living in Larkipora, a remote village in the Anantnag district of Kashmir. She left her studies in the 6th standard due to poverty but mainly as a result of the civil unrest in Kashmir. Rifa’s father drives an auto for a living but due to frequent strikes, curfews and blockades, he could not earn enough to support his family.
Rifa’s sister has multiple disabilities and her brother left home after 8th standard. Rifa’s mother could barely support her family let alone support Rifa’s education. This led to Rifa dropping out of school. However, dropping out did not mean that Rifa did not want to go to school.
Rifa would often come and sit outside the Larkipora Child-Friendly Space (CFS) centre run by ActionAid India. A CFS staff noticed Rifa and started interacting with her. Though nervous at first, Rifa eventually shared her story and her wish to join the CFS centre.
After hearing her story, our CFS staff convinced Rifa’s parents to enrol her in the CFS centre. They made regular visits to Rifa’s house and met her parents, counselled them on the importance of education, child rights and spoke about the enthusiasm Rifa has shown to join the centre. Finally, Rifa’s parents agreed. At the CFS centre, Rifa is now able to learn, play and interact with other children and actively participate, sometimes even lead the activities being conducted at the centre be it drawing or painting or sports.
With no money to pay her school fees, Rifa couldn’t go to school even though she wanted to. Our CFS staff, after taking consent from Rifa’s parents, approached the nearest school and discussed in detail about Rifa’s situation and her desire to be in school. The school authorities kindly agreed to integrate Rifa back in school free of cost until she completes her basic elementary education.
Rifa’s story is just one of the thousands of children enrolled at our CFS centres in Kashmir. More than 17,000 children are currently enrolled in over 100 CFSs, with nearly 50% participation of girls. The CFSs provide a safe environment to children during times of civil unrest when the school are closed due to strikes, curfews and protests. They participate in a variety of activities including sports, craft, drawing, painting, debates and other capacity development programmes to help them reclaim the social space that is imperative for their growth and development. In addition, these safe spaces act as a platform to identify community children in need of special care and protection and provide them with the required support and referral services.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has been witness to different phases of civil unrest over the last two and half decades leading to loss of life of thousands of people and much suffering, including children becoming victims of conflict in various ways including physical harm, mental trauma, stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders.
Children are the worst hit as frequent unrests, shutdowns and curfews result in disruption of normal activities and closure of schools. This has led to fewer and fewer opportunities for children to play, learn and socialize with friends which in turn affects their mental and social well-being. The overall atmosphere in the communities is not very encouraging, thereby children are at the risk of dropping out of schools and falling prey to psycho-social problems.
Children in conflict-affected areas are able to learn, grow and play with their friends in a safe space. Your support will help thousands of children including out-of-school children, drop-outs, differently-abled, children from economically weaker background and children with psychosocial issues get access to basic education, counselling and a space where they can be themselves.