Vatsalya dedicates itself to empower the vulnerable children to become responsible citizens in the mainstream, Shukti Sarma describes
The genesis of The Vatsalya Foundation lay in a field project of students from Nirmala Niketan. They started working with the children living on the streets in the Marine Lines area (Mumbai) in 1982. “At first, they would look at us with suspicion. But when they saw that we meant no harm, the kids warmed up to us. We ate together. We went rag-picking together. And we taught them how to save from their daily earnings. By 1994, we decided to form an organisation which would take up the cause of these children seriously. Thus, Vatsalya was born,” recalls Swathi Mukherjee, executive director and trustee of Vatsalya Foundation.
Vatsalya, she claims, is the pioneer in its field. It works with children between six and 18 years of age. It started as an outreach project; the volunteers and founder-members established a rapport with the children and then involved them in several group activities. Today, Vatsalya has numerous community and learning centres (some separately for girls) along the western suburbs of Mumbai. They also have a centre in Asangaon (Maharashtra) for tribal children which is solely managed by the local tribals. Apart from children’s shelters, Vatsalya also has group homes where young adults board.
Outreach is still a very important part of the Foundation. But there are many children at Vatsalya’s centres who come via reference also. Requests come from families whose wards have come to Mumbai to earn a living and have now become pavement-dwellers. Many of their former residents, who have stayed at their community homes, or have been part of their programmes, also refer children to Vatsalya’s shelters.
Viewing itself as a networking centre, where children are given non-formal education and engaged in group activities at the shelters, Vatsalya arranges for their admission in government schools and colleges. It also arranges for their vocational training in streams like gardening, catering, computer and BPO training and beautician courses. “When there are so many institutions in Mumbai which have the facilities for training people, why do we add to the number? Instead, through our network, we help these kids take advantage of the existing facilities,”
Ms Mukherjee says. Vatsalya collaborates with other NGOs who deal with issues like de-addiction, rehabilitation and child labour management, and also help runaways get back to their families.
Many children taken in by Vatsalya have now become volunteers for the organisation. They not only help in handling administrative jobs, but also teach the children. Sanjiv, who came to Vatsalya 12 years ago, is originally from a slum in Vadala (central Mumbai). He will turn 18 next month; he teaches maths at the centre. He is about to start his graduation in commerce. “I also do some data-entry tasks and other jobs. I have an interest in banking and insurance,” he says. He knows what it is like adjusting to living in a centre after living on the streets; and can handle his students well. “It is not that we don’t have fun. But I know when to act tough too,” he laughs.
There are others, who have now established themselves. “One of our former inmates now runs a cargo centre and has set up an NGO to help children going through the same hassles that he endured,” Ms Mukherjee says. Apart from their former members and staff, there are many students who work with Vatsalya as part of their projects.
Ms Mukherjee doesn’t see the hardships as ‘problems’; they are challenges which have to be overcome. “We do not think that there is much awareness about the issue; most people view it as charity which we do not believe in. It is about empowering children and helping them become self-sufficient,” she says.
One can contribute by being a part of Vatsalya’s awareness drive, or by becoming a volunteer. All donations are exempt under Section 80(G) of Income Tax Act.
The Vatsalya Foundation
King George V Memorial,
Dr E Moses Road
Mahalaxmi (W), Mumbai-400011
Tel: 022 24962115/24912352