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Sujaya Foundation teaches underprivileged children and helps youth get jobs, reports Shukti Sarma
In India, English is the language of success. If you are reading this, you are lucky. However, for the millions of underprivileged children who do not have access to the language, career prospects are not so bright. Mumbai-based Sujaya Foundation works towards strengthening linguistic skills of underprivileged children to improve their prospects, while providing elementary education. The NGO is also committed to help them secure a job.
The NGO was set up in 2002 by a group of friends as a trust. Neelambari Store Rao, after teaching French abroad, was teaching at a municipal school where she saw the difficulties that the children faced while learning and speaking English. She started taking extra classes and, soon, the idea for starting an organisation came up. “My friends, Sujaya Rai set up a computer centre for kids and started developing course content, and banker Huzan Mistry helped us managing the finance,” Ms Rao said. “Now, we run four centres and the youth, who we have trained, come back and volunteer for us.”
Sujaya Foundation has two focus areas: children and youth. It collaborates with two municipal schools where after-school classes are held. The Foundation has provided computers for children at these schools and the English language curriculum is fed into an interactive software that tracks their progress. For youth, there is ‘English Immersion Programme’, and ‘Experiential Learning Programme’, which trains them for jobs in the information technology enabled services (ITES) sector, mainly data-entry at BPOs. “Our corporate partners, HDFC Bank and Deutsche Bank, not only help us with the training but also absorb many of our students—even some physically and mentally handicapped ones,” Ms Rao said.
Generally, youth who were not able to complete their graduation or who want to improve their skills to get a promotion, attend the English Immersion Programme. A young woman had taken up the course because she was not permitted to go out of the house except for study. Her in-laws were forcing her to undergo fertility treatment that had made her overweight. “At one point, she felt suicidal. After she joined the course, her confidence level got a boost and she took up a job as an LIC agent,” Ms Rao said. While working as an insurance agent, she discovered that she had a talent for managing finance and enrolled in a course on mutual funds. Today, she is financially independent and has refused to go for any treatments. “She is a changed person now,” Ms Rao says.
Apart from the 800 children they teach, Sujaya Foundation has 40 physically and mentally challenged kids to take care of. Also, for the mothers of such children, there is an arts & crafts class. “If you have a child for whom you have to care constantly, you cannot even leave the house. These women come almost daily for the crafts sessions; which is a good place for bonding and sharing experiences. Also, they can make some money by selling the items they make,” Ms Rao says. The Foundation along with its partners and other NGOs also conducts extra-curricular activities for children such as drama workshop, geography workshop, sports day event, movie shows, etc.
Apart from the permanent staff, psychologists and teachers, Sujaya Foundation also has volunteers. “We are facing a talent crunch,” Ms Rao says, “There is a dearth of trained professionals who can help us in our programmes.” Also, she thinks that corporates should be friendlier towards people who come from a less privileged background. “After working with so many children, we feel that people should be more open to psychological counselling and see whether their kids face a genuine problem,” Ms Rao says.
Sujaya Foundation collaborates with other NGOs. It receives much of its funding from the trustees and team members, apart from some foreign NGOs. All donations to Sujaya Foundation are exempt under Section 80(G) of the Income-Tax Act.
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The Railway Board’s director of safety Ashish Merhotra, while replying to an RTI query said, “Only consequential accidents involving loss of life or grievous injury or loss of property worth Rs2 crore or interruption to through traffic above the threshold value are reportable to the board”
Although it would be hard to remember; till September, Indian Railways has suffered 61 ‘major’ accidents, an RTI query has revealed. But the numbers have gone down steadily with time.
However, the Railway Board doesn’t maintain information separately for the performance under every minister. RTI activist Subhas Chandra Agrawal’s application got the following response from the Railway Board’s director of safety Ashish Merhotra: “Data of all major and minor accidents are not maintained. Only consequential accidents involving loss of life or grievous injury or loss of property worth Rs2 crore or interruption to through traffic above the threshold value are reportable to the board. Details regarding consequential train accidents are not maintained separately for tenure of each minister.”
This year, till September, there have been five cases of collisions, 28 derailments, 26 level crossing accidents, and two instances of fire. Last year, it totalled to 141 accidents, the year before that, it was 165.
On the positive side, however, the number of accidents seems to have come down over the years. In 1960-61 there were 2,131 accidents, including 1,415 derailments and 405 fires in trains. By 1970-71, the number had more than halved to 840. At the turn of the century, there were 473 accidents, and it dropped further.
Information on train accidents before 1960 is not available though. When Lal Bahadur Shastri was serving as the railway minister, prior to becoming prime minister, he had resigned in 1956 when a railway accident in Madhunagar claimed 112 lives. Though his resignation was not accepted by Jawaharlal Nehru, three months later he put down his papers following another accident in Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu that saw 144 deaths.