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  • Writer's pictureManvita Baradi

Facilitating Learning for the Children of Sanitation Workers

- Manvita Baradi & Meghna Malhotra

April 2022

Sanitation workers in India have faced caste-based discrimination, occupational stigma, loss of health and life, and invisibility within the system. Inter-generationality in sanitation work is very high and it is difficult for them to break this vicious cycle and pursue alternate livelihoods. They lack access to basic human rights and dignity and their efforts remain largely unacknowledged. Their children are often segregated in schools, told that they have no future, and for the rare few that still manage to graduate – are denied access to jobs.

To right this generational injustice and with the motto of “leaving no one behind”, the Urban Management Centre supported the Government of Odisha launch the Garima scheme, for ensuring the safety and dignity of core sanitation workers in all cities.

We found that there is an additional need to provide additional focus on aspirational profession or alternate livelihoods for the children of sanitation workers. Education is the primary step towards securing the social, emotional, and economic well-being of vulnerable children. Especially for sanitation workers, it creates confidence, opportunity, and inspiration. It enables the children to exercise their fundamental right to choose. The Covid-19 brought a crisis in education and exacerbated the gap between 'online learners' and those who could not. Sanitation worker’s children are at the further end of the spectrum. Despite huge demand for education among the vulnerable communities, their access has been severely limited due to closure of schools and low penetration of digital infrastructure.

Urban Management Centre responded to this crisis with support from USAID in 2020 by starting work with 5 vulnerable settlements in Ahmedabad. Our approach had two pillars. First was engaging peer- learning facilitators, MISAAL Fellows, from within the community. Each of the 5 fellows we brought on board engaged with a group of 15 children daily. Our team focused on supporting these fellows with material, training, and mentorship. Second, we provided the learning groups with a Raspberry Pi – an open-source and low-cost computer kit, an internet connection, and access to free and open-source software. This has become a window to the world for the fellows and their learners. In 2021 we expanded this program to cover 3 additional cities. There are 11 Fellows active today reaching out to 100+ children across 4 cities.

Across regions and communities, we found that the students were inspired to pursue their own learning outcomes, and to seek out their interests. We have taken our learnings from ‘Gammat thi Gyan’ or ‘Learning with Fun’ program which engaged adolescents and young adults as MISAAL Fellows (learning facilitators) to facilitate aptitude-based learning for lockdown triggered ‘out of school’ children in urban poor settlements. The learning emphasized on enhancing reading, writing & speaking skills, basic mathematics skills, general knowledge, and WASH awareness.

With the support from DASRA, we are now facilitating aptitude- based learning for 600 children of sanitation workers between 6-14 years and providing career counselling to adolescents between the age of 15 – 19 years with the aim to enhance functional literacy, digital literacy and access and enable them to choose their livelihoods and break out of the intergenerational cycle of sanitation work. This will be coupled with counselling the parents to encourage continuity of education, skilling and exploring alternate livelihood options.

In this iteration of the program, we are laying a greater emphasis on peer learning and collaboration across geographies. We are going to connect learners to their counterparts in other parts of the country to help them see themselves as part of a larger picture, and to encourage them to think of broader horizons.

The emphasis is to help the children find joy in the learning process, and get opportunities to explore interests, hobbies and careers that might otherwise have been held from there. We are looking for individuals and partner organisations that can engage with the mentors to provide training-of-trainers style classes and exposure visits. Conducting a dance training workshop, or a storytelling workshop, would then capacitate the mentors to magnify that support for their cohorts.

If you are interested in or know anyone that would like to volunteer for this kind of effort, please reach out to UMC at


About the Authors

Manvita Baradi

Manvita Baradi is the Founder & Director of the Urban Management Centre. For almost 3 decades, she has been one of India’s leading voices advocating for the development of better cities.

Meghna Malhotra

Meghna Malhotra is the Deputy Director of Urban Management Centre. She is an expert on the design and operation of human centric infrastructure. She is currently leading UMC’s partnership with Government of Odisha to implement the Garima Scheme program and ensure safety and dignity of sanitation workers.


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