"These parents, who are migrant labourers, don't have a safe place to leave their children. Although I cannot guarantee all of them will go to formal schools, but I can guarantee their care for those four hours in a day, feeding, educating and even getting them fresh pairs of clothes."
In bustling metropolises like Delhi, children of migrant labourers—security guards, waiters in roadside restaurants, gardeners and cleaners—are often left out of the school system because their parents can’t afford it.
Eco Puzzle is a fun and interactive game, designed to help children learn to make basic lifestyle changes that have a positive impact on the environment.
There is very little official data on this, but a 2013 UNESCO report states that the total number of migrant children in India is around 15 million. Their numbers today are probably a lot higher. As their parents are unable to care for them when working, they are usually seen wandering about at traffic stops. Not only are they prone to criminal abuse, but also fall early into the trap of drug addiction and alcohol consumption.
Fortunately, there are concerned citizens like Richa Prasant, who, in a bid to help these children live a dignified existence, quit her lucrative job with Hewlett Packard in 2009 to start the Sunaayy Foundation.
The Delhi-based non-profit seeks to create a future of hope for under-served children, women and their communities by helping them to build their skills and resources to reduce their vulnerability in a sustainable way.
As her work became more evident, people stepped in, and the family of volunteers kept growing. Some arranged school bags and crayons, while a few took the responsibility of getting them the meals. Today, Sunaayy has close to 100 volunteers, and in a decade, the organisation has managed to impact thousands of lives. With support from multiple donors, it has employed a multi-intervention strategy to improve its program quality and outreach.
Today Sunaayy provides regular classes, free books, stationery, school uniforms and also distributes daily hot meals with the help of donors to 300-400 children across centres in Delhi, Kolkata and Vaishali in Bihar.
Since they began their work, the foundation has seen over 100,000 meals served, 1000 blankets, 1,500 uniforms distributed over and above the regular lessons imparted to the children, and enrolled 500 children in schools.
“Our objective is primarily to give these children from the age of 3 and 17 a safe space. It works like a creche in a play-school, a preparatory stage platform, where we prepare them for the mainstream education system. These parents don’t have a safe place to leave their children. Although I cannot guarantee all of them will go to formal schools, I can assure that for those four hours in a day, they are fed, educated and cared for” says Richa.
“We have 300-400 children right now. Since parents migrate at different times in a year for harvesting crops in their village, finding work in other parts or attending a marriage ceremony, these figures vary. At a certain point, the number of children even goes upto 500. On average, however, in our three Vasant Kunj centres, we have 300-350 children, while Kolkata has 50. In the last decade, we have managed to enrol more than 500 children into formal schools. Thanks to the EWS quota system, some of them have even enrolled in top-notch schools like Vasant Valley, GD Goenka and DPS Vasant Kunj,” she adds.
“When I first came to Sunaayy I was very young and didn’t even know if I would ever get an opportunity to study. Then, Ma’am came into our lives. She would pick us from home and bring us to school. We started studying and have come a long way in the last 8 years, learned a lot,” says Rachna, who is today studying in a government school and joined Sunaayy as an 8 year old.
“We all come together as a family here. Ma’am listens to our problems and tries to help solve them. She has inspired me to start a similar school; I want children like me to get an opportunity to study and change their lives,” she adds.
Richa is joined by over 100 volunteers, some of whom are as young as 8 and as old as 80, who contribute in any way possible—whether it’s gathering funds or engaging in our on-ground activities. For nine years, the foundation just ran on individual contributions, friends, family and well-wishers. It’s an entirely voluntary endeavour.
“We are impacting children’s lives through education. Besides, we are also engaging mothers who can’t find work, give them skill-development training and they also become teachers, motivators and coordinators at our centres. We take care of the children and escort them back home,” informs Richa.
For Sunnayy, education isn’t merely relegated to textbooks. In these centres, children are exposed to drug awareness camps, engaged on social issues like gender sensitivity, while people from prosperous neighbourhood teach the children and conduct story-telling sessions.
Since it’s entirely volunteer-run, they understand that there are people giving their time to make their lives better, but it works the opposite way as well.
“These children are also making our lives better because the exercise helps us do something meaningful that can impact a human being’s life,” she argues.
“It has been a wonderful journey with Sunaayy as a teacher/mentor/ volunteer. We would love many more people to join Sunaayy and share their talent helping each other grow,” shares Anita Holani, a homemaker and volunteer, who found in Sunaayy an avenue to pursue her desire for teaching.
Going beyond friends and family, the foundation is today receiving support from a few corporations and organisations working in the same space as well.
Moving ahead, Sunaayy wants to implement the programme in at least six more locations across Delhi, other than increasing the capacity of its existing centres for improved impact and outreach.
In other words, it wants to ensure no child of a migrant labourer in cities like Delhi is left to fend for themselves when their parents work during the day.
Also Read: ‘My School, My Farm’: Mizoram IAS Officer Tackles Malnutrition With a Brilliant Idea!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)