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Climate Migration: Indian kids find hope in a new language


BENGALURU, India – Eight-year-old Jerifa Islam only remembers the river raging, its water gnawing at her family’s farmland and the waves crashing their home during monsoon floods. Then one day in July 2019, the mighty Brahmaputra River swallowed everything.

Her home in the Darrang district of the Indian state of Assam was swept away. But disaster began Jerifa and her brother, 12-year-old Raju, on the road that led them to a school nearly 2,000 miles (3,218 km) away in Bengaluru, where people speak Kannada very different from the children’s native Bangla. em.

The first few days were difficult. Classes at the state-run free schools are taught in Kannada, and Raju cannot understand a single word of instruction.

But he persisted, reasoning that just going to class was better than the months in Assam when the flooded roads kept him out of school for months. “At first I didn’t understand what was going on, then with the teacher explaining everything to me slowly, I started to learn,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of an ongoing series that explores the lives of people around the world forced to move because of rising seas, drought, extreme temperatures, and other things caused or aggravated by climate change.

The children were born in a low-lying village, flanked by the Himalayas and the river. Like much of northeastern India, it is no stranger to naturally occurring heavy rains and floods.

But their father, Jaidul Islam, 32, and mother Pinjira Khatun, 28, knew something had changed. Rain is more erratic, flash floods occur more often, more unpredictable. They were among an estimated 2.6 million people in Assam state affected by the floods the year they decided to move to Bengaluru, a city of more than 8 million people dubbed the Silicon Valley of India.

No one in their family had ever moved so far from home, but any lingering doubts were weighed down by dreams of a better life and a good education for their children. The couple speak a little Hindi – India’s most widely spoken language – and hope that will be enough to travel to the city, where they know nearby villagers have found work.

The two packed what they could pick up into a large suitcase that they hope will one day be filled with new belongings. “We left the house with nothing. Some baby clothes, a mosquito net, and two towels. That’s it,” said Islam.

Suitcases are now crammed with workbooks at school – and the parents, without any formal education, say their lives are focused on ensuring their children have more opportunities. “My children will not face the same problems as I did,” the father said.

The family fled the low-lying Darrang district, which suffered heavy rainfall and natural flooding. But rising temperatures coupled with climate change have made the monsoons erratic, with much of the season’s rainfall falling in days, followed by dry spells. The district is among the Most Vulnerable on climate change in India, according to a New Delhi-based think tank.

Anjal Prakash, research director at India’s Bharti Institute of Public Policy, said floods and droughts often occur simultaneously. The natural water systems in the Himalayas, in which humans have lived for millennia, are now “broken,” he said.

Over the past decade, Prakash said, the number of climate migrants in India has been increasing. And within the next 30 years, 143 million people worldwide will likely be uprooted due to sea level rise, drought and unbearable heat, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported this year.

India has an estimated 139 million migrants, but it is not clear how many are displaced because of climate change. By 2050, cities like Bengaluru are predicted to become the preferred destination for nearly 40 million people in South Asia forced to leave their homes, by 2021. World Bank Report.

“Especially if you want your second generation, you have to move,” says Prakash.

In the suburbs where Jerifa and her family now live, most people are from the state of Assam, many forced to emigrate because of climate change and dream of a better future: Yes Shah Jahan , 19 years old, a security guard wants to be a YouTube influencer. There is Rasana Begum, a 47-year-old cleaner who hopes her two daughters will become nurses. Their homes were also swept away by the flood.

Pinjira and Jaidul have both found work with a contractor that provides housekeeping for the offices of US and Indian tech companies. Jaidul earns $240 a month and his wife about $200 – compared to $60 he earns from farming. Raju’s new private school tuition eats up a third of their income, and the family saves nothing. But, for the first time in years, in their new home – a 10-foot by 12-foot (3 meter by 3.6 meter) room with a tin roof and sporadic electricity – they felt optimistic about the future. future.

“I love that I can work here. Back home, there is nothing for women. … I am very happy,” said Pinjira.

Currently, Raju dreams of doing well in his new school. He has benefited from a year-long program run by the Samridhi Trust, a non-profit that helps migrant children get back into the education system by teaching them basic Kannada, English, and Chinese. Hindi and math. Teachers check in on students every two months to help them transition into free, state-run schools that teach in Kannada – or in some cases, like Raju schools, in English.

“My favorite subject is math,” the 12-year-old said, adding that his favorite time of day is taking the bus to school. “I love looking out the window and seeing the city and all the big buildings.”

His sister, who wants to be a lawyer someday, chose Kannada faster than him and chatted happily with her new classmates at her nearby public school, easily switching between her native language and her adopted language.

Their parents work rotating shifts to make sure someone stays home in case of an emergency. “They are young and can get in trouble, or get hurt,” says Khatun. “And we don’t know anyone here.”

Their anxiety is not unique. Puja, who uses only a single name and coordinates the Samridhi Trust’s after-school program, said many parents worry about safety when they send their children to school in unfamiliar neighborhoods.

Children of migrants often tend to drop out of school, finding classes is too difficult. But Raju considers his school’s “discipline” refreshing after a chaotic life in a poor neighborhood.

His mother misses the family and talks to them on the phone. “Maybe I’ll come back during their vacation,” she said.

Her husband does not want to return to Assam – where floods have killed nine people in their district this year – until the children are in higher education. “Maybe in 2024 or 2025,” he said.

Every afternoon, the father waited patiently, scanning the street for Raju’s yellow bus. When he got home, the boy told stories about his new school. He says he now knows how to say “water” in Kannada, but none of his new classmates know what “real flooding” looks like.

Follow Aniruddha Ghosal on Twitter: @aniruddhg1

The Associated Press’s climate and environment coverage receives support from a number of private foundations. See more about AP .’s climate initiative here. AP is solely responsible for all content.



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