Reena Mahabir and her children walk up a steep hill to get to their Penal home yesterday. The family home has no electricity so her children cannot access education online. 

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For many children, the struggle for the start of the new academic school year has been to get devices and internet for online classes.

But for others, electronic devices and Internet connectivity seem like a far-fetched luxury.

At Wilson Road, Penal, Reena Mahabir’s ten children are growing up without electricity.

Two of them, aged 11 and 12, have never had the chance to go to school so they cannot read or write.

The four eldest children, aged 15, 17, 20 and 21, began working at an early age but since COVID-19 hit they have been unemployed.

The two youngest, aged three and four, who are supposed to be in pre-school, are also not enrolled. The two others, aged nine and ten, attend the Mohess Road Hindu School.

Speaking to Guardian Media yesterday, Mahabir said they never had electricity and most of her ten children have never held a tablet or laptop in their hands.

Each day, their eldest sister Seema Baal, 21, goes to the Mohess Road Hindu School where she picks up printed worksheets for them. They are both in Standards One and Two.

“We have to try and finish the homework before night time. If we are not finished they have to use the (kerosene) shade lamp to see,” Seema explained.

During the interview, the children sat around on wooden seats, their clothing tattered and muddied.

Asked why the other children were not enrolled in school, Mahabir said, “Things were tough. Their father wasn’t working. I tried to get them into a school but there was no space left. The principal told us the school was full.”

Asked if the children had their birth certificates, Mahabir said yes.

The family lives in a plyboard and galvanise house perched on a hilltop.

There is a pond behind the house and the Baal family tries to supplement their irregular income by planting crops. The roof of the house was made with crudely cut tree branches and gaping holes could be seen in the galvanise roof.

Despite the limited furniture, the house was spotlessly clean.

Mahabir said it was a struggle to put food on the table ever since her eldest children got laid off. Seema worked with a doubles vendor but when COVID-19 struck in March, she was told there was no more work for her.

Mahabir’s 17-year-old son Kevon worked with a vendor selling bags but he too was laid off.

Mahabir said last month, heavy winds ripped off the roof of their home, soaking the little that they owned.

An official from the National Self Help Commission came to their rescue and organised galvanize, cement, purlin and sand for them but they were unable to fix their home.

Rajnath said he was told to cast the floor but he did not think he had enough material.

“I need some blocks to put around it and some more material. The man who gave us the material said he will come back and check us but we never saw him again and we did not have his number,” Rajnath said.

In the meantime, Rajnath and Mahabir said they are trying to cope as best as they could. Seema hopes her youngest siblings will be able to do well in school and take the family out of abject poverty.

Anyone wanting to assist the children can contact Mahabir at 274-2153.