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Canadians working to end child poverty: India

One child every three seconds. That’s the estimated number of deaths that occur around the world each day as a result of extreme poverty, hunger and preventable illness, according to UNICEF. The organization recently estimated that out of the 2.2 billion children worldwide, about half live in poverty. Thousands of Canadian aid workers worldwide devote their careers, and sometimes their vacations, to help alleviate this issue. ParentsCanada brings you a few of their stories.
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India 

Shobha Kumari Sharma, Prince George, B.C.
Growing up in Canada, Shobha Kumari Sharma (pictured above right) says she was disturbed by the marginalization of indigenous populations in North America. 
Shobha felt compelled to get involved in humanitarian work in 2003, after hearing Free The Children (FTC) founder Craig Kielburger speak at a University of British Columbia student leadership conference. FTC aims to free children from poverty and exploitation, while inspiring young people around the world to affect positive change. 
“FTC offers endless opportunities to change the world; through leadership, awareness of global issues, local and global priorities,” says Sharma, who is now FTC’s Projects and Programs Country Director of India, where 34 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day. 
In Udaipur, Rajasthan, where Shobha is based, child labour is a rampant problem: India has more than 60 million child workers, some as young as six, who work on constructions sites. A recent study found that almost half of child workers in Rajasthan never enroll in school and are illiterate. 
“When I had the opportunity to come to India, my journey truly began – dealing with historical marginalization through the caste system and accountability for human rights in the world’s largest democracy,” says Shobha. “We’re working to strengthen the commitment and trust of our communities, building relations with government, mobilizing the team and working with issues of caste, class, and gender while searching for equal grounds to build sustainable projects.” 
For its Adopt a Village project, FTC conducts awareness campaigns on the exploitative conditions of child labour and the importance of education, adds Shobha. By building rural industry through alternative income generation projects within the communities, parents get the economic freedom to send their children to school. 
“We’ve been able to divert many youth into FTC’s government-supported schools, while ensuring that our young people feel supported in wanting to break the bondage that they are often inadvertently subjected to.” 
Shobha is especially proud of a newly refurbished school in Lai Community. “When we initially came here, we found a mud hut being used as a pub by night and a school by day,” she recalls. “By working with the community to build their own leadership, we’ve completed a five-room primary school, and have five well-educated teachers. The population of the school went from 10 to 170 students, 55 per cent of which are girls.” 
Learn what you can do: freethechildren.com.
Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal writer and television producer and a frequent contributor to ParentsCanada. Read more about her at taketwoproductions.ca.
Originally published in ParentsCanada, April 2012

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