A new beginning

A new beginning

“If you come across a child begging on the streets or engaged in manual labour, please try and enrol him or her in a school. At least call up the nearest child rescue centre or helpline. The life of a child who is deprived of school education is miserable,” the girl with sparkling eyes appealed.

The concern in her voice reflected the travails of children deprived of school education.
The participants at the Labour Day programme, bombarded with long talks by the guests, were listening to the girl in rapt attention.

The girl, who had come to Mangalore from Gulbarga, continued to recall her ordeal. “We were living in a tent. My mother would go to work and return home late in the evening. People who passed by our tent would throw stones at me. I had to hide from them. The day I was brought to Prajna Counselling Centre, I felt I was born again,” she said.
Tales of bad childhood move every one. A few take it to heart and try to bring such children into the mainstream.

However, their enthusiasm fazes out as soon as they fail to convince the child in the first few attempts. The commitment drowns in the cacophony of development and modernisation.

However, the workers of Prajna Counselling Centre in Mangalore do not give up. It is their ‘job’ to track such children and convince their parents to enrol their child in a school.

Prajna came into existence in 1987, when the concept of child rights was still in its infancy. The organisation aimed to rehabilitate child labourers by opening a special school for them. In 2010, the state government launched an initiative to provide shelter for children in conflict with the law and street children in cities. Prajna now runs one such centre in Mangalore.

The foray into childcare was in fact incidental for Prajna. Three girls abandoned by their mother were housed in Balamandira, a child care centre in Bangalore. They were sent to Prajna in 1987. And that was the organisation’s first brush with childcare.

Now, after 25 years, residents of coastal districts turn to Prajna for solutions to issues related to children. Children brought here have succeeded in rebuilding their lives. Every attempt is made to give them a decent and secure future. Most importantly, they are provided with education, which will make them self-reliant in the future.

Recently, the eldest of the three sisters from Bangalore was married off to a boy from Sirsi. Professor Hilda Rayappan, the director of Prajna, took the initiative. About five to six such marriages have been conducted till now. The other two girls have secured jobs in the IT sector in Bangalore.

Challenges galore

Every child at the centre has a painful past. While some are pushed into hard labour by their parents, others are orphaned, or are victims of abject poverty.

Rehabilitating street children is no easy task. The number of orphaned and destitute children is growing with the expansion of the metropolis.

“A child resorts to begging when the mother goes to work. Soon the mother finds the child’s earnings more lucrative than day-long hard labour. Moreover, the situation becomes tricky since the law does not allow separation of the child and the mother for rehabilitation purposes. Under such circumstances, centres like Prajna come into the picture,” says Rennie D’Souza of Mangalore Childline.

The workers of Prajna face a formidable challenge in convincing parents to send their children to school. However, the situation gets complicated in cases where a child does not live with the parents.

“In most cases, the child does not live with the parents. No child likes to go to school, and it is not easy to convince and cajole small children. Patience and perseverance can only help in such cases,” says Jayashree, an activist associated with Prajna.

Prajna has set up Preeti Sadana, a shelter for single-parents and destitute children in Kateel, about 30 km from Mangalore. Around 50 children are housed there. The counselling centre in Marnamikatte has around 48 children.

Prajna is also involved in identifying HIV-affected children and providing healthy food to them. It has also launched a bridge course for out of school children. Over the years, the organisation has won several accolades for its service.

(Translated by Udaya B L)

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