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How a Cup of Chai Led to An Initiative That’s Eradicating Child Begging in Punjab!

Having been raised in a household where social service was not just a hobby but much more, Harsh grew up with the ideals of wanting to make a difference and lent his support wherever he could.

What’s the one thing that is common to almost all college canteens?

‘Chottu’.

I remember the chottu from my college canteen, and if I try and think of his name, I draw a blank. Every student of every batch that passes out of that college has called him chottu, and yet none of us can recollect his name.

Harsh Kothari, founder of Har Hath Kalam (a pen in each hand) says that we play a crucial role in creating these chottus and if we wish to change that, it is possible.

Let’s create learners, not chottu’s

In conversation with The Better India, he speaks about the importance of education and the need to help those who are in conditions which require our intervention.

Beginning

Having been raised in a household where social service was not just a hobby but much more, Harsh grew up with the ideals of wanting to make a difference and lent his support wherever he could.

When asked to describe himself, Harsh immediately says, “I love interacting with people. I have always been inclined towards working in the social sector and seen social work being done by my parents. My father has been a huge influence in my life and then, in school as well, I would ensure I was a part of all major social campaigns.”

One of the causes that Harsh’s father was actively involved in was providing relief to disaster-struck zones. The Gujarat earthquake is one example that Harsh recollects vividly. “My father would go door-to-door, collecting food and other relief materials and ensure that it was all packed and ready for dispatch. These instances have left a deep impact on me,” he says.

Lending a helping hand

It was during the time that Harsh was in class 7 that this incident took place. “I was in a new school which had just opened up and so, had very few labourers working on the campus.”

“I remember seeing everyone there putting in almost double shifts to build the school. With the approval of the teachers, a few of us got together and began helping the gardeners.”

Letting kids explore

While they refused our help in the beginning, soon they were so happy that we took time off to help them. The work got done quicker, and the sense of satisfaction we all felt was immense,” he says.

Har Hath Kalam

Founded by Harsh in July 2014 in Patiala, Har Hath Kalam is the earnest attempt of a group of college students towards educating the underprivileged children and ensuring that they do not resort to begging.

Harsh says, “We realised rather early on that the kids begging on the streets earn about Rs 1,000 a day and to get them away from that towards education would be a very difficult thing to do.”

Early learnings

Harsh speaks about the mindset of the person giving money and the child who is begging. “People believe that they are doing a good deed by giving some money to a begging child. In reality, they are destroying the life of that child by indulging the act of begging.”

How the organisation functions

“We never started by telling the kids to stop begging because we realised it would yield no results. We studied their pattern for almost a month before we started our work with them. We identified their peak hours to be between 5 and 7 pm, so we began to engage them in various sports and art activities around that time,” he says.

He continues, “It took a while, but slowly we managed to get the kids interested. Eventually, the kids started coming to us on their own without the need to lure them away with any bait.”

Happy learners

To encourage these kids, once they have learnt something, say dance or music, the same is showcased at an event where members of the city administration are invited. This further boosts the confidence levels of the kids.

A case sheet for each child is prepared which describes all the issues that the child is facing in detail. Once this is done, counsellors work with the children to help them. These kids are then brought to an academic level and enroled in schools.

A little concern goes a long way

“We worked a lot on Saloni who was not just difficult to handle but also very ‘notorious’. Despite trying various techniques, we were unable to rehabilitate her.”

“Almost on the verge of giving up, it was her elder sister who came to us requesting that we somehow enrol her in a school. We did and what happened in the next 15 days was nothing short of a miracle.”

Team Har Hath Kalam

Harsh continues, “Enroling into the school changed her life. She came up to us and thanked us for everything. She has truly made a complete turnaround and the best part is that she is studying in the same school outside which she used to beg every day.”

Harsh and Har Hath Kalam are showing us that it is possible to help a beggar with a long-term solution, rather than simply giving alms. To know more about this organisation or provide help in any manner, do visit their website here.

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)


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