A toddler found tied to a post in a goat shed, a widow so traumatized she became mute, a teenager who was trafficked by her mother and stepfather – these are but a few who have escaped their dark pasts to find a home in Bal Sadan.
Pooja and her sister Nisha come from a middle class home. Their mother was abused and thrown out by her family over a property dispute. Consequently, she lost her mental balance and ended up living like a beggar on the premises of a temple with her two little infants. From there she was rescued by the team of Bal Sadan, a home for orphan and destitute women and children in Panchkula, Haryana. Today, Pooja is educated and works with the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi after having completed her hotel management course. Her sister takes care of the front office at Bal Sadan.
There are many other stories like this – Khushi who was found tied to a post in a goat shed, two siblings whose parents were murdered, and a girl who was trafficked by her mother and stepfather, to name just a few.
These are but a few examples of children who have lived through the darkest of times to find light at the end of the tunnel. And this light has come to them from a place they now call home – a home run by ordinary people belonging to the community in Panchkula. A home called Bal Sadan.
Bal Sadan’s story goes back to 1992 when a helpless lady landed on the door of Panchkula resident, Satish Almadi. She was running away from her abusive husband, with three kids in tow. Almadi took pity on her condition and gave her shelter. This was the start of an initiative that has now become a movement.
In 1993, Almadi registered an NGO, Bal Sadan, after a few other such cases came to light. After two years of incredible work rescuing and sheltering destitute women and children, Almadi passed away in 1995, leaving behind a home that was now in the hands of other enthusiasts. But soon, the NGO took a negative direction – clothes, toys, and rations being donated for the children were being sold in the open market and the children were living in unhygienic conditions.
This is when Kalpana Ghai, a hotel management professional working in Chandigarh, intervened. “I was shocked by the conditions I saw at Bal Sadan. I wanted to do something to improve things. But the governing body was not quite happy with my intervention. There were a lot of allegations and controversy. I had to leave that place but I managed to start again from scratch,” recalls Kalpana.
That was the second birth of Bal Sadan, a home that provides shelter and nurture to destitute children – right from meeting their emotional needs to providing them with a good education to motivating them to put their often traumatic pasts behind and excel in various fields and jobs.
With the help of many friends and well-wishers in the community, Kalpana launched herself into a dynamic fund raising exercise. She had found the 25 children of Bal Sadan in a small one-room space living in appalling conditions. She was determined now that they should have their own home in a proper building with a kitchen, toilets, separate sleep and study space, and a common area.
It took a few years but Bal Sadan now has its own building in Panchkula. It houses 50 children and is no less than a holistic learning centre. The kids are sent to good schools; they come back and have tuition classes if required.
Recreational activities are lined up for later in the afternoon – these include karate, yoga, art and craft, music, dance, computers, etc. Regular outings are organised where kids are taken to concerts, events, the zoo, films, and out-of-town trips.
The students also try their hands at gardening and have yearly cultural programmes, which they eagerly await.
But make no mistake, this is not an ordinary school. A lot of work goes into rehabilitating these children who come to the Sadan with mental and emotional problems related to their past.
“Everyday is a struggle. They come from different backgrounds and have faced different difficulties. Some of them have run away from a child marriage, one girl was sold by her own parents for Rs. 60,000, one faced domestic violence. We have to deal with each one of them very patiently. We have experts and counsellors who regularly visit the girls when needed,” says Kalpana.
Kalpana says she is very conscious of the fact that Bal Sadan is not a house but a “home” to the children – many of them have known no other family and home all their lives.
Therefore, the Sadan will not abandon the children once they turn 18. They will help the children, most of whom are girls, find good jobs and even life partners once they reach the right age.
“We are not just an NGO. We are their home. Even when they get married, they still need a home to go back to. We are that home and provide not just educational support but most importantly an emotional support, which these kids need the most,” says Kalpana.
“We empower each one of them to live on their own terms. We make sure that they get jobs of good quality and don’t end up working as house helps, etc. After they get jobs we send the girls to working women’s hostels and they are welcome to come visit us and stay with us anytime they want,” says Kalpana.
Bal Sadan’s efforts have also been recognised by the Haryana government, which now donates Rs. 2,000 every month for each child at the Sadan.
However, says Kalpana, the one place where they face a cash crunch is when the children want to pursue professional courses after finishing high school.
“I have young women here who are waiting to pursue courses in nursing, computer engineering, law, a bachelor’s in education, a company secretary course. We need money to send these girls to college so they can get good jobs and settle down in life. It is easy enough to send them to school, but these professional courses are expensive.”
“Just because they come from mostly poor backgrounds does not mean they can’t have good jobs. They should have equal opportunities. We encourage our students to take up mainstream courses and get fine jobs like any other person,” says Kalpana.
If you would like to extend your support to Bal Sadan and help fulfill a young girl’s dream to attend a professional development course, check out their website.