For These Orphaned Girls, the Future Beckons
If there is one thing that stands out about Sheela Bal Bhavan (SBB), it is the interest of most inmates in getting educated, so that they are equipped to become at any given point in time, useful members of society. For the 25 inmates of SBB, the Bhavan is their home and also for its trustees and their family. For girls who ‘graduate’ from SBB, after getting a job or getting married, it is their ‘maayka’—their parental home.
 
Joti and Sheela Bhatnagar founded SBB in 1992. The Bhatnagars, both educationists and non-resident Indians (NRIs) who had done well in their professional fields in Montreal (Canada), returned to India after retiring in the early 1990s. Providing for women’s education in India had always been their passion. Since women in Rajasthan were lagging behind on this parameter, and because Sheela was from Jaipur, they chose the city to set up their NGO, registering it as a trust. They established SBB using their own savings and with help from their colleagues from Canada.
 
Supported financially by CanServe Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit, SBB is managed by a board of directors in India and staffed by women caretakers, two of whom live on the site. All day-to-day operations are handled by Sangeeta Garg, project coordinator, who joined SBB in 2012. It was a happy coincidence for Sangeeta, as she was suffering from an empty-nest syndrome after her children left home for higher studies and the Bhavan was looking for a mother figure. Says Sangeeta, “Since our residence is located close to SBB, its inmates feel free to come over and discuss with my husband and me whatever problems they have. They have a bond of affection with us and really look upon us as their parents.”
 
The Child Welfare Committee (CWC) of the Rajasthan government’s social justice & empowerment department, which is responsible for orphaned and abandoned children in the state, selects the girl children sent to SBB. These girls are either orphaned or abandoned by their families. Most girls come to the home between the ages of 0-6 years and stay until they turn 18.
 
The inmates of SBB attend a local English language private school. The younger girls receive tutoring at home, whilst the older girls attend a nearby tutoring centre after school. The girls are encouraged to continue their studies after high school. Many of them have obtained Bachelor’s degrees from local colleges and a few have gone on to obtain Master’s degrees as well. The home provides complete financial support for their entire education. 
 
Sangeeta says with almost maternal pride, “The home has celebrated seven marriages. Nine of the young women who grew up in the home are currently living independently in cities across India, pursuing their post-school studies or focusing on developing their careers. Three of them have obtained Master’s degrees in physiotherapy, business administration and tourism.” 
 
The home is sustained with annual contributions from CanServe donors, each of whom is assigned a particular child to sponsor. The sponsor becomes a surrogate parent. Most sponsors are matched with younger girls, so that they have the opportunity to watch the girl grow and develop. SBB has various levels of other annual sponsorships towards the daily expenses of the home, including food, utilities, tutoring, school supplies, clothing and staff salaries. 
 
SBB also invites international volunteers who, typically, commit 1-3 months of living at SBB. According to Sangeeta, “Volunteers walk the girls to school every morning, share their meals, help them with their homework and, most important, act as didis—Hindi for elder sister. They are an important source of affection for the younger girls, confidantes to the older girls, and conversational English teachers for all. Volunteers have come from all over the world. Indians too can volunteer.”
 
SBB has FCRA registration for international donors and also exemption under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act.
 
Sheela Bal Bhavan
C-192, Ahilya Marg, Hanuman Nagar, Jaipur 302021
Telephone: 0141 2353007
Website: www.canserve.ca

 

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    Helping Slow-learners Catch Up
    Located in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is an institution doing pioneering work towards providing academic and vocational skills to children who are slow-learners, with delayed development parameters and specific learning disabilities. Its focus is on inclusive education. Bhavani Child Development Centre was set up by Vimala Venkatesan in July 2003 as a non-government organisation (NGO). 
     
    Says Vimala, the Centre’s managing trustee-cum-director, “Our main aim is to understand how our students learn and how well they should be learning, to achieve academic goals.” Passionate about the fact that many children are not given a chance to enjoy their childhood, Vimala believes that society needs greater awareness and acceptance of children with specific learning disabilities (SLD) and of slow-learners. She works in close coordination with parents as well as educational institutions. “Otherwise, we are creating stressed childhoods on the one hand and depressed parents on the other. And this is no good for the society as a whole.” 
     
    Over the years, she has found that parents need counselling more than children. Because of societal and peer pressure or sheer lack of awareness, parents perceive academic performance as the key parameter of a child’s success. Many do not have the time or the ability to diagnose the reasons for the slow or delayed learning of their child. And, at school, because of the teacher-student ratio, teachers too do not have the time to perceive and diagnose the difficulties of slow-learners. 
     
    Vimala has trained at the National Institute of Public Cooperation and Child Development (NIPCCD) in setting up a guidance centre for pre-school children with SLD. She was a resource person with the Guwahati NIPCCD for teachers and anganwadi trainers. Later, she took courses at National Institute of Mental Health on children with physical and other challenges. She would set up ‘counselling centres’ in whichever city her banker husband was posted. After he retired and settled in Jaipur, she set up a ‘learning cell’ for children with SLD in a mainstream school. But being confined to one school was not enough, so she decided to set up the Centre. It is intentionally called a ‘development centre’ because “we look at the total personality development of the child—not just academic performance.” The Centre has about 60 children at any point of time and has guided over 2,000 students and helped them in academics and skills, since 2003. 
     
    “It’s heartening that some of my students now work in well-known bakeries or have become hair-stylists; many have joined their father’s business as well. What more can a parent want?” says Vimala with justifiable pride. 
     
    The Centre provides early intervention for children with delayed development parameters who are likely to have learning disability. As a first step, it establishes partnerships with parents and teachers to create awareness about tracking milestones in child development to identify the various types of learning disabilities. 
     
    It also trains teachers on how to handle slow-learners. She says “Changes in the educational system are as crucial as the methods for assessing children. So we have developed PEPAL—a Programme to Evaluate Performance and Learning. It comprises activities tailored to review students’ knowledge in the curricular component and to assess development of cognitive and perception skills, logical thinking, mathematics, language and literacy.” This model is now being used by several schools all over India. Vimala says that her biggest satisfaction was when she found that, after she trained teachers in PEPAL, one particular school in Jaipur closed the special section for slow-learners.
     
    The Centre accepts funding only for specific projects. State Bank of India, Trident Hotels and Vijay Amritraj Foundation (USA) are some of its funding partners. The Centre has FCRA registration and also 80G exemption. You can donate towards the fees of one child too; it costs Rs2,300 per month.
     

     

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    Enterprise Launched To Employ the Disabled
    When Kaushik Das gave up a thriving career as a tea executive to dedicate his life to society, he dreamt of changing the lives of disabled people, not by giving donations to charities, but by setting up an organisation where they could work to support themselves. He converted this dream into reality by setting up Atma Nirbhar-Ek Challenge (ANEK), a social enterprise, in 1996.  
     
    ANEK works to provide economic rehabilitation and empowerment to the disabled. It aims to prove that, if presented with the right opportunities and facilities, the differently-abled can become productive and contributing members of the society. 
     
    “Employment for the disabled—that is our sole aim,” says Ashok Kumar Jha, operations manager at ANEK, which is located at Guwahati (Assam). “We started with only three people back in 1996 and now we have a team of 43 members. We have are happy with this progress,” says Mr Jha. “Our aim is to have at least 100 beneficiaries. We want to support them and help them in maintaining their families. We really hope to achieve this in the near future.” 
     
    The organisation generates employment in the tea and spices industry where employees help with packaging and marketing of their in-house tea brand, ‘Nav Jeevan’. They purchase tea leaves from the Guwahati tea auction and the blending and packaging process is entirely done by ANEK employees. The tea is sold commercially and also supplied to select, socially conscious canteens and cooperative stores. The employees also make ornamental potted plants and paper shopping bags for sale.
     
    ANEK operates out of a three-storey building named ‘Paropkar’. The plot of land on which the building stands was a gift from their project coordinator. Some parts of the building are rented out to other organisations which brings valuable income for the institution. 
     
    ANEK was initially financed through generous contributions by friends and well-wishers of the founder. Over the years, it has had its ups and downs, dealing with financial constraints and other problems; but that has not been allowed to hinder its activities. 
     
    The employees are paid a salary based on their job description. They have a provident fund and are financially supported for medical treatment and are also given a free meal. ANEK’s contribution has been recognised with the National Award for the Welfare of Persons with Disabilities-2004, presented to them by the then president, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. It also received the NCPEDP-Helen Keller Award-2005—a national award for promotion of employment among the disabled. ANEK is the only organisation in the North-east, and one of the few in the country, to have won both these awards. 
     
    Even with so many accomplishments, the organisation has its fair share of challenges. Says Mr Jha, “The market itself  is our biggest challenge. We pay our beneficiaries a salary even when there is no sale of products. Only if we can sell our products can our beneficiaries be truly rewarded.” There is also a geographical disadvantage due to the lack of infrastructure facilities and development in the North-east region of the country. 
     
    Mr Jha credits GiveIndia, a payroll-giving NGO, for its support. “We must give credit to GiveIndia for their immense support. The contributions from their site have really helped us during our tough times.”  
     
    “In all honesty, we never expect help from any person or organisation, not even from the government. We just want our beneficiaries’ efforts to be repaid wholly. Atma Nirbhar will always be working for their prosperity,” he says further.
     
    Contributions to the organisation are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G of the Income-tax Act. You can also make donations via GiveIndia.
     
    Atma Nirbhar- “Ek Challenge”
    Shop No. 120, AK Azad Rd, Gopinath Nagar, ESI Dispensary, Kalapahar, 
    Bishnu Rabha Nagar, Birubari, Guwahati, Assam 781008
    Phone: 0361 247 1668

     

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