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After losing both parents to lung-related diseases, Sakeena and her three sisters were left orphaned, vulnerable and living alone at their home in New Seemapuri. At just ten years old, she did what no child should have to do: Sakeena, along with her older sister, assumed the position her parents had held and took on the responsibility of looking after her two younger siblings and providing a family income. To do this, the young girls were forced to drop out of school and surrender to working as rag-pickers.

Rag picking – or garbage recycling – is the collecting, sorting and selling of waste materials (in particular, recyclable materials, such as glass, plastics and metals). Men and women alike, but mainly women and children, participate in sifting through the garbage and then transporting found materials to recycling factories. This is not only an extremely unhygienic and unreliable job, but the average wage earned in a 7 hour shift is 50 Rupees — the equivalent of 0.80 USD. For Sakeena and her sister, with little education, rag-picking was their only means to earn money. It was not a choice, but a necessity.

Sakeena has devoted the past eight years of her life to her younger sisters. She is trying to give them the best life she can by keeping them in school and away from the harsh realities of rag-picking. As Sakeena described her desire to see them graduate, there was no remorse in her tone – only pride. She is proud that she has been able to give them lives she could never have. However, after hearing about PCI from a friend, Sakeena realized that it is possible for her to pursue her own goals as well as provide for her sisters. For Sakeena, PCI is offering a fresh start and the chance to change her own path – something she admitted she never believed would happen after dropping out of school in fifth grade.

Today, at eighteen years old, Sakeena sits in front of me, ready to change her lifestyle. Although still working as a rag-picker, Sakeena has been attending PCI’s Vocational Training Center (VTC) for the past four months. She is specializing in the Cutting and Tailoring Program. Sakeena starts rag-picking at 7am, then spends six hours each day sorting through waste material before reaching the center at 1pm. She spends the remainder of her afternoon at the center studying dress design. She says that because the center is located within the rag-picking colony, it is easier for her to continue to earn money from rag-picking while focusing on a future career in dress making at the same time. Due to her financial circumstance, PCI provided Sakeena with a sewing machine, which she uses to practice her new skills and earn a little extra money from part time tailoring jobs.

Once she graduates with a certificate in dressmaking, Sakeena can expect to earn almost triple her current salary. She will take pride in her work and gain a sense of achievement that she never felt with rag-picking – a job that she said that made her feel “worthless.”

Sakeena now speaks with excitement and determination when she talks of graduating from PCI and obtaining a real job. She saw the second chance that PCI could provide her with to change her own life and is now on the road to success. Her motivation is truly inspiring. Sakeena’s dream is to work in a dressmaking factory and to one day own her own tailoring shop. Sakeena is a wonderful young woman and is a credit to PCI’S Vocational Training Center.