A group of students in Pune is working for the reformation and welfare of children in a juvenile home located in Yerwada. From counselling sessions to confidence building classes, these children are being well-prepared for the world outside.
Nitika Nagar, a final year student of Symbiosis Law School in Pune, had sociology as a subject when she was in her first year. She was working on a project with three other students for the same. The project involved visiting a juvenile home and writing an analysis based on their observations. She and her teammates started interacting with the superintendents and probation officers in the juvenile home, along with taking sessions with the children to speak with them and understand their situation from a legal point of view.
“We were involved in a lot of in-depth research and while working on the project I realised that I was getting very personally involved with these children. I started empathising with them and wanted to help them in some way. I feel that the situation of the children in juvenile homes is very different from other children, like those living on streets. They go through their own emotional and mental turmoil, but for juveniles it is very different because they have lost their sense of right and wrong. And whatever they have done is mostly driven by circumstances. Moreover the situation of juvenile homes is very bad today. All of this really made me think about the issue and drove me towards working for the children,” says Nitika.
In 2013, she started a student group named Preshti to work for the reformation of children in juvenile homes. Preshti is now an NGO operating under the aegis of Alexis Society, an international non-profit organization.
She started the group with 12 other students. In the beginning, Nitika didn’t have an organizational setup. It was just the students who used to give legal aid to the juveniles and conduct educational programs for them. But the team has a proper administrative setup now and they have worked with over 40 children at the Nehru Udyog Kendra in Yerawada, Pune.
Preshti teams up with psychologists who visit the juvenile home in Yerawada and provide individual as well as team counselling sessions to the inmates. Group counselling sessions take place thrice a week and individual counselling sessions are conducted almost every day depending upon the need of the child. There is a proper segregation of kids based on the crime they have committed and the level of counselling they will need. Those who commit theft, robbery, etc. and are not habitual offenders need one-time counselling, while those who come in for crimes like murder, rape, etc. need continuous treatment and therapy. The psychologists are not involved with the team on a permanent basis but work mostly on contracts. People from Chetna Counselling Centre in Pune and psychology professors from Symbiosis have worked with them for a very long time. The team also has psychology graduates who assist the professionals in one-on-one sessions.
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Additionally, Nitika is planning to start coaching sessions for the children too.
Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr
“There are many children who want to continue with their education once they are free. But it becomes very difficult for them to cope up after a long gap. We will try and help them come back on track in terms of their academics. We are already helping those who are about to be released in filing out their Class 10 exam forms, in enrolling them for different vocational training classes, etc.” says Nitika.
She herself took some training in the fields of communication, health and hygiene so that she would be able to conduct sessions regarding the same with the children. The team also conducts behavioural therapy sessions through theatre and drama.
“In my communication and confidence building classes I try and encourage every child to stand up and speak so that they learn how to open up and express themselves,” says Nitika.
Preshti’s core team has five members and there are seven other members working with them. These are all college students from different backgrounds in Pune, like psychology students, those pursuing social work, management students, etc. The law students are involved in providing legal aid to the parents to make them more aware of the juvenile justice act, etc. While the organization is working on a more concrete funding model, they have received some individual and corporate funding as of now. The team members also pitch in whenever required.
Aakash, who was recently released from the juvenile home in Yerwada, was brought in for theft. During the initial days, he was so shy and scared that he did not speak to anyone. For him, the idea of moving out and leading a normal life was not something usual. However, after seven sessions with Nitika, he finally started talking and opening up. He began reading, talking to his peers, and became a more confident individual overall. He even came up to Nitika one day and said that it was because of her that he was able to speak up and had even started talking to his parents properly.
“It was a very emotional moment for me. These children need to come out of the mental setup that they have. Other than reforming them and bring them on track, we are also trying to make them realise that they have avenues towards a better life and they are not as helpless as they were when they first came into the juvenile home,” says Nitika who plans on expanding Preshti after college and working with more professional people in the future.