Keeping childhood alive

Keeping childhood alive

HEARTENING The density of child labourers increases exponentially as you move away from the City. In trying to keep their childhood intact, Sparsha, an NGO, is changing the façade of the society one kid at a time, finds out  A Varsha Rao

Bangalore, with its ever-changing landscapes and mentalities, has
become a nest for child labourers, child drug addicts, child beggars and
scavengers. Whenever you look at a new building cropping up the skyline everyday, spare a thought to the numerous child labourers whose sweat has gone into the building’s making. Sadly, the density of the child labourers increases exponentially as you move away from the City where

children either get into back-breaking
employment – read begging, quarrying and construction - or whittle their time playing in toxic work environments of their parents.

But like a knight in shining armour, the benevolent team of Sparsha has come to the rescue of many in need. Frederick Douglas once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Proving every word of his true,
Sparsha is changing the façade of the

society one child at a time. On a casual visit, a group of friends, including the
Managing Trustee Gopinath, realised the harsh reality of the slums.

“During our early days, we went to a Sikh community on the outskirts of the City. Imagine our shock when we got to know that many girls had never seen a world beyond their fifth standard classes and boys had not even managed to reach tenth standard.

So, for three years, we went there to just spend time with them. We didn’t conduct any classes or preach about education. We chatted, danced, sang – basically, got familiar with the families and the lively kids,” explains Gopinath.
This unconventional approach may

surprise many, but it earned the trust of the families and more importantly, the kids. Now it was time for real education. But mind you, this is not your typical

classroom. Inviting anybody who had the expertise to teach, Sparsha formed an
informal schedule and jumped into the mess. Slowly, kids started making their way to the classes. But soon, they had to face their first failure when they replicated their ingenious methods in Bettahalasur, a quarrying hub. Though they managed to get children

interested in education, they realised that the home environment of many was not conducive to a growing child. Remarks Gopinath, “Parents were drunkards and weren’t concerned about the future of their children. It was then that we decided to create a safe and happy home - Makkaladhama - for the tiny tots. There were so many instances where we had to force the parents to send their
children to our shelters!”

Giving a big boost to women empowerment, Sparsha also has an all-girls shelter in Hebbal, where ambitious and self-

sustained girls are currently pursuing their dreams.
“All the girls are focusing not just on their education but are also equipping themselves with arts and crafts,” says Gopinath proudly. Backing their efforts are many organisations like Kennametal Shared and Service, First American

(India), Lodge Sainik No.196 GLI, Value Budget Housing Corporation and Infinite Computer Solution and even the

government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme. Adding value to their sincere
efforts was the ‘Best NGO’ Karnataka State Award 2014.

To change the mindsets of students who knew nothing apart from the fact that they had to work for their daily bread must have been a near impossible task. Gopinath explains, “We had our own share of challenges. First and foremost was convincing the parents to understand our efforts. Then, the sad cases of sexual harassment started creeping up. Next,

the partial support of the government
educational schemes let us down. When these students come to us, we put in a lot of effort in grooming them. But, one fine day, their parents take them away

dumping all their dreams and our efforts. Ambika was a happy girl, spending her time learning a variety of things at one of the shelters at Sparsha before being taken away to be married. Mamta had lost her mother at an early age and had a missing dad. With no regard to her age or her

education, her brother-in-law took
her away, killing all her dreams and
aspirations. Such regressive mentalities have brought down the initial number of 300 children to a mere 185.”

Talking about the future plans, Gopinath says, “Our main aim is to bridge the gap between under-privileged students and the mainstream ones. We want to

create a university that incorporates all the ambitions of all the students who come to us. If a child is interested in engineering, we aspire to give that child all that is
needed for a simple course of engineering. If another one is interested in higher
education, we are there every step of the way.”

Turning this dream of theirs into reality is the ‘Nisarga Grama,’ a shelter cum
rehabilitation centre for children situated on the outskirts of Bangalore.
To volunteer or contribute, contact Sparsha at www.sparsha.org or call
080-2337 7550.
 

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