You don’t have to be a resident of Mumbai to know about the prevalence of street kids around every corner of this famed Maximum city. Their numbers were estimated to be more than 11 million in India by UNICEF in 1994, with over a lakh in each of the metros.
A 2004 study of street children in Mumbai found that 60% of the street children had never attended school and approximately two-thirds were illiterate. Additionally with limited access to nutritious food, sanitation and medical care they are susceptible to poor health and a range of illnesses.
The plight of the street children stares at you starkly, more than ever, when you become a parent who strives to do the best for his/her child. While many of us wish these conditions to improve, there are some who are actually taking it upon themselves to bring about the change.
Live for your own liberation and for the good of others (‘आत्मनॊ मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च’)
In 1987, a group of young individuals inspired by the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, formed the Vivekananda Youth Forum under the guidance of Swami Someshwarananda, a young monk from the Ramakrishna Mission. Their guiding philosophy was, Live for your own liberation and for the good of others (‘आत्मनॊ मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च’). As the name suggests, their goal was to involve the youth in bringing about social change. They started by offering non-formal evening classes to children living in their neighbouring slums.
Over the years, VYF has started several projects imparting formal / non-formal education to children in various ways. They have also carried out relief work in the event of natural / man-made calamities like the Tsunami of 2005 and the Bombay riots in 1992.
A few victories against unsurmountable odds..
Ravi Sardar was very young when his father deserted him and his 5 siblings. While his mother worked as a housemaid, he, sponsored by VYF, graduated from Mumbai University with 77% and ranked first in one of the subjects. He went on to complete his MBA and is now working as an assistant manager in IDBI, Mumbai. He donates Rs.15,000 every month to VYF to help other children receive the same help that he did.
An orphan whose parents died of AIDS, Shabana Sayyed and her brother were left as poor, malnourished children. Due to multiple health problems, she needed constant medical attention. In spite of the poor health, she had a burning desire to finish her schooling and pursue further studies. She took on the challenge and is now in the final year of B.COM. VYF has been sponsoring her education and medical needs all these years.
A few of their ongoing programs:
Sandhyalaya: This was the first project started by VYF with 5 children, which has now extended to 50-60 children per year. It is an evening class in non-formal and formal education, vocational training and skill development for children dwelling in slums of Vile Parle and Juhu. The members of VYF and volunteers gather once a week to educate the girls and boys of age group 5 to 18 years.
Soup Kitchen: Providing a nutritious diet and non-formal education is the central idea behind this program. It is conducted daily for street children between 5-15 years of age in Andheri. Emphasis is on health, hygiene, de-addiction and non-formal education to bring them back to the mainstream schools.
David Sasson Industrial School, Matunga (DSI) and Disha – Chembur Children’s Home (CCH): Most of the children in these centers are orphans or from homes with single parent. Workshops are held for these children on every Saturday. A toy and book library is conducted at both the centers on alternate Saturdays and also all calendar festivals are celebrated. Here the stress is on emotional development, awareness building, enhancing their creativity and focusing on group therapy.
Swatah: This is a child sponsorship program which helps sponsor deserving children’s education, medical and vocational training to make them self-sufficient and independent. At present 65 children are being sponsored right from Grade 1 till post-graduate courses.
The other programs that are running are Little Lamps (for kids between 2.5 – 6 years) and Sakwar (Rural self-development project for Tribal Boys).
The challenges faced every day
VYF is accomplishing all this and more in spite of the numerous challenges of working with such a volatile and unmotivated group of children. From convincing the parents of such kids to let them attend the classes, making do with shortage of volunteers to limiting the classes due to constraint of space and time, VYF is nevertheless showing results.
Under the guidance of their trustees, Purnima Contractor and Aloka Dutta Gupta, VYF is trying hard to raise funds to have a bigger place of their own and to expand their activities. This will enable them to impact a greater number of children.
They are also hoping to spread the word to get a greater number of people involved. For the past few years, they have a tie up with the NSS department of Mithibai college to get volunteers. However stability of the volunteers remains an issue.
“They alone live who live for others, the rest are more dead than alive.” On their website (www.vyfngo.com), you find quotes like this from Sw. Vivekananda on every page. His philosophies have been inspiring and guiding this organisation for almost 3 decades. With several milestones achieved, their work has only just begun.