THE ROAD OUT OF POVERTY
Migration in india is a way of life for hundreds of millions of people. But even within that poverty-stricken migrant population, there is an overlooked underclass.
Seasonal distress migration
In the worst-case scenario, entire families are forced to leave their rural villages for eight months of the year in search of unskilled work. Termed “seasonal distress migration,” the phenomenon was neglected until recently, though it is believed up to 70 million Indian people uproot themselves simply to survive.
“This way of life ultimately pulls a family down because they come back with less money and are trapped in a highly exploitative cycle,” says Smita Agarwal, director of education for the American India Foundation (AIF).
The power of education
Educating migrant children is key to breaking that cycle—a difficult task when they are transient and, oftentimes,laboring alongside their parents. In 2003, AIF addressed the problem by launching the LAMP program, which provides hostel accommodation and education for these children in their home com- munities. To date, the program has benefited nearly 300,000 children.
Agarwal says, “Many children we brought into hostels are completing high school and have different aspi- rations for the future.”
Rural to urban migration
In the best case scenario, a migrant might travel from his rural home to Mumbai or another large city where he works long hours as a tailor or other occupation that provides bet- ter wages and working conditions than he could find at home. While the life is not easy, Agarwal says this type of voluntary migration can be beneficial in the long run.
“Over time, it improves a family’s economic condition, allowing them to buy a bicycle or medical treat- ment, and provides the possibility of asset accumulation.”
A lack of assets is an underlying cause of poverty, and a problem AIF is working to address for India’s nearly eight million rickshaw driv- ers. Through the Rickshaw Sangh program, AIF provides guarantees to banks, which offer loans to NGOs, which in turn disburse those loans to individual drivers. Within about a year, the driver owns the rickshaw and keeps all of his earnings.
A little empowerment can go a long way for India’s migrants, even if it’s one person at a time.