"A beaming young face with scraggy hair and a missing tooth looks out at you from the first folder that Mobile Creches put out in 1970. The few words that go with it are: Every Child's Birthright - Nutrition, Education and a Happy Childhood.
"These words tell you a lot about Mobile Creches, what we believe in, what we set out to do. Of course, we have learnt a lot more about Early Childhood since then, about what a happy childhood means and how complex it is! But that has not deterred us or deflected us from the course."
Devika Singh, Co-Founder
On 14th of March, 1969, Mobile Creches was born as an idea during the planning of the Gandhi Centenary celebrations. It could not have been more symbolic. And so without any grandiose vision or celebrity backing or money, MC made a small beginning, as Kasturba Shishu Vihar. It was a unique celebration amid the rubble and dust and din of the worksite, at Rajghat. This was how MC began under the leadership of Meera Mahadevan, joined within a few months by Devika Singh.
The First Creche
The first creche began its life to the rhythms of sledge hammers and cement mixers. Hardly an ideal backdrop for a creche. It had children, a rather lost creche worker, a few toys, a charpoy and a tent that kept falling down. From this simple act sprang the exploration of a small group of women into the lives of migrant, unskilled workers and their children.
When Meera Mahadevan looked around for people, for support and work, she found one, and then another. They were not nutritionists or trained teachers or social workers. Just people with an education, deep concern for the children and the willingness to get their hands dirty. Others, equipped with simple home running skills and less than a high school certificate, wanted to join in. These were the skills at our disposal in 1969.
The First Band of Workers
The Expansion across Dimensions
MC, as an idea, had come to stay. The approach was not of philanthropy or patronizing charity, but simply the claim of a child to the joys and promise of childhood. By the mid 80’s MC had gone way ahead of just running creches at construction sites. The crèche for babies was followed by a school for older children and adult literacy for the parents. The programme expanded to include medical check ups, immunization, nutrition and environmental hygiene. Geographies expanded to Mumbai and Pune and slum settlements in Delhi. In September 2006, Mobile Creches split into Mumbai Mobile Creches, Mobile Creches (Delhi) and Tara Mobile Creches (Pune).
Nudging the System
Much of the early years marked a relentless pursuit of government departments - Works and Housing, Labour and Health - and with the Builders Association, for a collective buy in and support to the creche programme. As larger numbers of children and adults were served, MC sought to make its role clear: from being an agency that ran day care centers, MC was moving towards ensuring that every child had a right to a dignified life at every stage in their lives. The new objective was to explore all avenues to ensure quality childcare services.
Getting the Team ready!
MC realised that we could not deal with the issue of early childcare, across the country, all by ourselves. A long-term solution was possible only with changes at the level of policies, laws and programmes, and only if we joined hands with others. In 1989 MC co-founded a national network - Forum for Creche and Child Care Services (FORCES) - to lobby for childcare and maternity support for poor working women. Grass root advocacy to build public pressure for services like health, nutrition, early learning, care and safety, as well as basic services like water and sanitation, was in full swing. To increase access community women were trained to run neighbourhood creches.
Evolving in Response to the Needs
MC started to work at both ends of the spectrum: with the grass root network of Delhi Forces while giving inputs into Government Policies and Planning. The aim was to mobilize demand on the ground and carry these voices to the policy fora. Today, the issue of the ‘young child’ has gained some visibility. The country’s first Early Child Care and Education Policy, drafted in 2012, and the consultations around it, catalysed another round of platform building. The government accepted many of the suggestions by this emerging group, the Alliance for Right to ECD. They are presently exploring how the Right to ECD can become a justiciable right for all children under 6 years of age.
Our Work is not done yet
Over the last 49 years, we have touched the lives of almost a million children, trained thousands of creche workers and have had an impact at the policy level. But the task is not over yet. We need aware communities, trained workers, and responsible businesses and governments.
We have miles to go …