“It’s not an orphanage. It’s a children’s home and we are their parents. We are their family and we make sure we do the best we can for them,” says Shobha Kumar about a very special place called Spandana.
In 2009, Hyderabad-based couple Shobha and Uttam Kumar came across an 11-year-old mentally challenged girl sleeping on the street, surviving on just a chapati and water that an auto driver gave her every day.
Troubled by the sight, Shobha and Uttam decided to help the girl and enquired about her family. When no one came forward, they decided to take her home. They took care of the abandoned girl like their own child, and after a few weeks, got her admitted into a centre for mentally challenged kids.
But the incident left a huge impression on them. It also became a trigger for starting a refuge for abandoned and needy kids called Spandana.
“We did not start an orphanage. We started a family. To these 59 children, we are their parents, and we care for them and educate them as if they were our own. We love them and we want to provide each and every one of them with care, knowledge, overall support and a happy childhood,” says Shobha
Uttam and Shobha take in children who are orphaned, semi-orphaned, or have experienced neglect, abuse, or impoverishment
The focus is on those kids who need immediate support and intervention. The minimum age for a kid to become part of Spandana is six years.
Once the children enter Spandana, they are given all the facilities and opportunities that they never had before. From healthy food to clean clothes and a good education, Spandana leaves no stone unturned to change their lives for the better.
Spandana has a relationship with a private school in the locality, which offers the Spandana children a well-rounded education and personal development.
Each week, after six days of schooling and training, half of every Saturday is spent on extra-curricular activities like kabaddi, karate, sports, skating, music, dance, and much more. Spandana has created a dynamic environment where the children build many different skills, talents and experience overall development.
What sets Spandana apart from many organisations that take in abandoned kids, is the close bond Shobha and Uttam share with the children at this home.
The couple has a personal and emotional connection with each of the children, and tailors their parenting to each child’s unique personality and qualities.
Shobha and Uttam have inculcated the habit of kindness among the children and asked them to help three underprivileged kids each when they grow up and are in a position to help someone.
It is this close bond and valuable advice that is cherished by all the 59 kids at Spandana, who support each other like family.
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Children who were completely illiterate are now excelling in studies, and kids who would often steal and hit other kids are now giving and compassionate.
The gradual change is evident and for this they cannot thank their “parents” Shobha and Uttam enough for giving them a home and family to call their own.
“The transformation is huge. Many of them were violent, misbehaved, lacking in self respect nor respect for others. Today they are well behaved, compassionate, loving and some of the most amazing children that one could imagine meeting,” says Anjali Daryanani, newly appointed director of Spandana.
However, things don’t always go smoothly at Spandana. Sometimes, the new kids run away and have to be relocated by the team. At other times, many of them have mood swings, emotional breakdowns and other small and big requirements.
“It is a slow process getting the kids to adjust their behaviors, attitudes and habits to positive ones,” says Anjali.
Ranga, the oldest child at Spandana, is one such kid who was very reserved and illiterate when he first came to the home. He would hardly talk to anyone, especially after his father passed away, leaving his mother – a construction laborer – widowed and unable to take care of him. Today, Ranga is a leader at the home, and has become one of the most extrovertive and active children, scoring the highest marks on exams, mastering his cricket game and becoming a mentor to the younger boys at Spandana
Manisha Yetamoni is also another child who was just six years old when her mother dropped her off at the doorstep of Spandana. Manisha’s mother never looked back and there was no other family member that Manisha could go to. Manisha is 11 now and has transformed into a charming little girl.
Spandana has come a long way since it started. Today, it hosts 59 students and has the capacity to host a total of 70 kids.
“We do not want to overburden ourselves and the kids too. We want to make sure that we focus on the kids currently at the home, and give them each a lot of care and attention,” says Anjali.
Many generous people have come forward to support Shobha and Uttam’s cause, as the organization is run on private donations. However, the struggle to arrange funds every month for proper nutrition and education of the children continues to be a challenge for this couple
“We want to create a pipeline for the children to receive a college and university education, or vocational training, depending on their interests. There is so much talent among our kids, and they are all extremely hardworking and bright. We also know that many of them want to make a positive impact in India and directly change the lives of people in need, just as their lives have been changed out of one couple’s goodwill,” says Anjali
To know more about Spandana’s work, or to support some students, check out their website.