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