By Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund President and CEO
India is like no other place. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is developing rapidly. Yet at the same time the gap between the haves and have nots continues to grow. There are more hungry children in India than in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly half of the world’s malnourished children live in India. And 7 percent of children do not live to celebrate their 5th birthday.
This week, I’m in India visiting our programs. We visit a gypsy community in Chennai. Mothers are excited to tell me how ChildFund has helped them. I’m particularly struck by Kumari, a 25-year-old mother. Bright eyed, she tells me, “ChildFund set up mothers’ clubs. We meet regularly to learn about immunization for our children, breastfeeding, preparing nutritious meals, registering births and personal hygiene.”
Kumari is happy to be raising a healthy son, Santosh. “I’m raising my child differently to how I was raised”, she adds. Kumari is proud of how far she has come and invites me to visit her home. Basic and dark inside, it is spacious and there is an old black and white TV, although not much else.
This gypsy community mainly lives from collecting scrap materials such as metal and paper at communal dumps and selling them. Marginalized, they are an often neglected group in society. No other organization provides assistance to them. ChildFund’s local partner came to know of them when working in a neighboring area.
One day a child came to beg for food. The next day, more children came. The local partner then started looking into the local area and found out there was a gypsy community living on its doorstep. The needs were great, but eight years later the project is going strong and providing key interventions in health, education and livelihood.
Kumari tells me: “Of course, life is still hard. We are fighting with the local authorities for permanent land titles. We still have no drainage, no drinking water and no proper roads. People don’t even look at us. But our community is starting to ask why we can’t move up in life. We want things to change. We want our children to dream of becoming doctors and teachers.”
Also in Chennai is the Adi Dravida Welfare Primary School, where ChildFund provides school materials and raises awareness among parents about the importance of education. We are helping children who are slow learners catch up with other children by providing more trained teachers, organizing remedial classes before and after school and using audio-visual aides for reading and writing. On the wall I notice a poster helping children count one to ten. I was expecting “1 cow”, “2 ducks”, “3 horses”, but the poster reads: “1 computer”, “2 TVs”, 3 “cell phones”…. Another sign of India’s rapid development.
I meet Chandrika, a mother of two. I ask her what improvements she has seen. She tells me, “My daughter has been attending both morning and afternoon classes for the past two years. The teacher, Nithya, provides individual attention to her. She takes time to explain things. Previously my daughter was lagging behind other children. Her grades have now improved and she can compete with other children. I want her to attend secondary school.” Chandrika herself only has a primary education and it is heartwarming that she recognizes the value of going to school.
Children are attending Adi Dravida Welfare Primary School more than ever. The school has new toilets and a well providing drinking water. What I like about the program is that while we are providing quality education to all children, we also have programs tailored to children of different abilities, where we focus on the individual. This is an intrinsic quality of ChildFund programs.
And yet barriers remain. Most children in this school are Dalits, belonging to scheduled castes. Essentially they are outcasts and looked down upon by other segments of Indian society. The challenge is to ensure they can progress to secondary school. At the moment they face severe discrimination in secondary school, which inevitably leads to dropping out, where they sit separately and do not interact with other children.
In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, not far from the Taj Mahal, is the city of Firozabad. Known for its glass industry, Firozabad is the world capital for glass beads and bangles. It is also a major center for child labor. Rajeev started working there full-time in the bangle industry when he was 5 years old. He would wake up at 4 a.m. and work all day. He didn’t go to school and never thought he would.
He told me, “I didn’t enjoy working. I was often tired. I would breathe in harmful kerosene fumes all day and apply toxic chemical on bangles. I was paid 35-cents per hour.” I take a look at his hands. Those are not the hands of a 13-year-old. They are the hands of an old man.
ChildFund works in Firozabad to protect children from exploitation by raising awareness of children’s rights. To date, 1,500 children have been “rescued”. Now 13, Rajeev is going to school, although he still works one hour in the morning before school and one hour after school. He is happy to go to school and wants to become a teacher.
This year ChildFund celebrates its 60th anniversary in India. We have a long and proud history in the country, and Rajeev is one of our successes.
by Dola Mohapatra, ChildFund India National Director
ChildFund India has begun a year-long celebration of its six decades of service to children.
Each day at ChildFund India is full of excitement and new learning. It feels much the same as my first day of work some 16 years back. Coming from a rural setting, I feel especially connected to the villages where our projects are located. I know well the desires of children who are craving knowledge and information, even as they face great challenges and have access to few rights.
Witnessing an Evolution
In the six decades that ChildFund has worked in India, our organization has witnessed the evolution of civil society. In this country of nearly 1.2 billion, vast changes have transpired in economic, social and developmental patterns. ChildFund’s niche has been to reach out to the most remote locations – those areas not normally frequented by visitors and where the need is greatest. Our ability to make a visible and meaningful contribution to the life of every child in need is what drives me.
During the past 60 years, ChildFund has made significant impact in several areas, including education. During its first 30 years in India, ChildFund worked closely with more than 100 educational institutions, orphanages and civil society organizations to provide quality education with a focus on high-level achievement. It feels great to meet successful bankers, teachers, doctors, contractors or athletes who acknowledge that they are where they are now because of the educational support they received from ChildFund.
Creating a Sustainable Future
In addition, we’ve created a protective environment for children and addressed the issues of livelihoods and food security in a sustainable manner. In southern Rajasthan, where water is scarce, 80 percent of families used to migrate to other areas for survival. When ChildFund introduced integrated programming for food security and livelihood, we were able to halt 90 percent of migration. Children started going to school regularly, family incomes stabilized and the overall indicators of child health changed completely for the better.
We also have been known as an organization that reaches out to special groups. Our innovative programs include working with children of Devadasis (temple mistresses), women prisoners, children infected with and affected by HIV and children of Musahars (a nomadic tribe of Bihar state). Some of the children from these backward tribes are now engineers and have led a generation of change in their communities. ChildFund also rescued and mainstreamed thousands of children working as child laborers in a religious colony in West Bengal, and in the glass and bangle industry in Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh.
Calling Attention to Poverty
As the National Director of ChildFund India, and moreover as an Indian, I feel a responsibility to bring forth the voices of children in need and share that need with fellow Indians. I want to make others mindful of the fact that 400 million people in our country strive each day to see light again. Our progress as a nation hinges so much on equitable and sustained growth in these remote areas, and I feel I have a duty to drive this point in various corporate, government or organizational forums.
ChildFund’s approach provides ample opportunities to bring out the perspectives of children directly or to represent them at various junctures. We must engage larger stakeholders to play their part in making a significant impact in the lives of millions of vulnerable and excluded children. In addition, we are also responsible for optimally using the support of our sponsors to provide children their due and demonstrating tangible successes that will influence many others to support our mission.
I personally love to spend time with children, creating opportunities for them to voice their thoughts – motivating our staff and volunteers as they watch the children grow and do well in life.
I believe in demonstrating the strength found in children and providing them a platform to showcase it. Over these many years, ChildFund has championed the cause of children in India. As we continuously raise the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs, I envisage our becoming a truly unique child-focused organization.
We will become a recognizable brand for children in India and a preferred partner of foundations, corporations, policymakers, government and donor agencies. We will be able to mobilize more resources to reach out to more children who are in most need.