The Hope Kolkata Foundation was founded in 1999 with the sole purpose of bettering the lives of the 2.5 lakh children who have to fend for themselves on the streets of Kolkata.
The Foundation works with the children of sex workers, slum dwellers, beggars, and HIV patients. Over the years, the organisation has managed to support 30,000 children and 3,00,000 community members.
Geeta Venkatakrishnan, who has been working with Hope for the past 17 years and is the director of the organization, spoke with TBI about some of the major projects undertaken by the Foundation.
The organization believes that children on the streets are especially vulnerable to emotional and sexual abuse since they’re not educated about their rights. She said, “Many people from farms in villages near Kolkata come here and try their luck to earn a quick buck, but it doesn’t work out for all them. Most displaced families just become homeless and have to spend the rest of the lives on the streets. Kolkata is also a fairly cheap place to live in, so people from Bihar and Jharkhand come here to seek their fortunes but not all of them are successful.”
Hope started with just 14 children who were sexually abused; they were put in a protection home.
A unique project undertaken by the Hope Foundation is the Child Watch Programme. Under this programme, a team comprising one social worker and one driver use an ambulance to drive around the city past 8 pm and pick up any vulnerable children on the streets.
Approximately 1,400 children have been rescued from the streets under this project.
Geeta said, “We drive around different pockets of Kolkata three times a week to identify children who look weak, malnourished or abandoned. We immediately pick them up and do a general diary (a document made and maintained by the police for internal reporting purposes) in the nearest police station. After this, we place them in gender segregated crises homes, except for mother-child pairs who are put in the Mother and Child Care Unit.”
Once the children have been placed under the care of Hope, they send those who are ill to a hospital for proper diagnosis and treatment. Geeta said, “After the children return from the hospital, we bathe them, tuck them in and tell them that, ‘Tomorrow is a new day and this is a safe place.’ The next day, a social worker and a counseller, who are present at the crisis home, communicate with the children to find out more about their family, health, emotional well being, etc. And if a child doesn’t speak up, we leave the child alone for 4-5 days and we encourage him/her to interact with the other children.”
If the child reveals during the counselling process that he/she has a strained relationship with the family, or belongs to a home with abusive parents, or was lured to the city with the promise of a well-paying job, a social worker is immediately assigned to the child’s case; this person does a home study report on the family of the child.
So how does this home study report help the child? Geeta says, “If the home study report reveals that the family situation is better than expected, then we support the family financially; we offer to sponsor the child’s education. If the family is not in a condition to raise the child, we place the child in a school. And, after six months, if no one comes to claim the child, we shift him/her to our permanent protection home. We are currently housing three boys and three girls in the permanent protection home. We let them live there until they turn 18.”
Hope strives to make the children feel like they’re loved and cared for. The children who are housed at the permanent protection home are allowed to participate in all the festivities organised by the Foundation.
Apart from this, each child celebrates his/her birthday and is encouraged to practise everything from Taekwondo to the acoustic guitar.
The children are also allowed to pick the medium of instruction they would prefer for their primary education: English or Bengali.
Families that visit their children at the Foundation and want to take them back are allowed to do so on one condition — social workers from Hope would be permitted to visit the families once every year for five years, to do follow-up studies and ensure that the children have been rehabilitated safely.
So what does the organisation do when it come across children who are orphaned or abandoned? Geeta said, “After ensuring that the child is bathed and well-fed, we take the kid to the child welfare court. We tell the committee that we have a child who has been orphaned and hand over the home study report. We don’t place the children in homes; that is done through government adoption agencies.”
In order to ensure that the children who stay in the crisis centres are able to get employment and escape the cycle of poverty, Hope organises various skill development workshops.
Children who are slow learners, drug abusers or have special needs are given training in culinary science, fashion, photography, and data-entry. For children who are above the age of 15 or 17 and do not want to go to school, Hope organises ‘bridge-learning’ courses in Maths and English; after this they allow the kids to choose one skill they’d like to develop, which can be anything from food & beverage production to driving. When the children turn 18, they are shifted to ‘halfway homes.’ In halfway homes, they are supported by the Foundation for six months, after which they’re encouraged to look for their own homes. If the child chooses to stay in a paying guest accommodation, Hope sponsors the stay for another two years.
For its remarkable contribution to the rescue and rehabilitation of vulnerable children, the Hope Foundation has won numerous awards.
Some of the notable awards it has received are the Bharat Nirman award in 2007, the Good Samaritan award from the Commissioner of Kolkata Police in 2012, and the Nari Samman award in 2010.
It also works with 34 government schools for slow learners and children with special needs in West Bengal. Teachers who are employed by Hope visit these schools five days a week to teach the students.
The organisation is not only giving neglected children shelter but also helping them discover their individual aspirations through thoughtful initiatives. They aim to facilitate susceptible children to lead dignified lives through early intervention. To help Hope get more children off the streets of Kolkata, donate here.
To know more about the HOPE Kolkata Foundation, visit their website.
All pictures have been taken from HOPE’s Facebook page.