3,00,000+ Child Labourers & Child Brides Were Rescued And Educated By This NGO In 15 Years

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They worked more than twelve hours a day. They threaded fabrics and wove beautiful attires with their tiny hands. They were toiling tirelessly to sustain their families. But, they were all between six to twelve years old.

In 2000, Percy Barnevik from Sweden visited Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu for working on a poverty alleviation project. He came face to face with a strange reality – the hundreds of child labourers in weavers’ colony of Kanchipuram. Plagued by poverty, the parents did not think twice before engaging their little ones in daily labour work at the textile units. Malnourished and exploited, these children were deprived of their chance at a happy childhood.

Fast forward today, these child labourers of Kanchipuram are now employed in respectable jobs as engineers, government officers or in corporates. The credit goes to Hand In Hand India, the non-profit organisation founded in 2002 by Barnevik to rid India of the menace of child labour. On January 22, 2019, the organisation was honoured with the Bal Kalyan Puraskar (National Child Welfare Award) by the President of India, for successfully liberating 3,12,519 children from child labour and educating them.

Hand In Hand India

The curse of the weaver’s colony in Kanchipuram

Efforts For Good got in touch with Kalpana Sankar, the managing trustee of Hand In Hand India, who has played a pivotal role in saving lakhs of children in states across India. Since 2004, she has spearheaded the on-ground initiatives of the NGO, resulting in the momentous success rate today. A former officer with the Tamil Nadu government, Kalpana has now been the managing head of Hand In Hand for over a decade.

“The scenario in Kanchipuram was a shock for me. Schools were there, but the students were not. Parents considered children as opportunities to earn a little extra for the family, so they chose labour over school education for them. Kids would drop out of school any time to deliver extra orders for their weaver families,” reveals Sankar. The general perception was that two more hands at work mean twice the income.

She adds that the situation was worse for the girls, who were not even given a chance to go to school. “We would find the fathers lazying around all day, playing cards, while the children were enduring backbreaking labour,” informs Sankar.

Hand In Hand India
Activity classes at one of the Hand In Hand schools

Not an easy task to convince the parents

“It was a daunting task to convince the community about the ills of child labour,” she recalls. At first, she used to go door to door to talk to the parents. They would shut doors on her face. When she opted for community intervention with the help of the village leaders, paranoid parents questioned her credibility. “Who quits their government job and comes to this village? We don’t trust her,” were the doubts she had to deal with. Soon, she gathered a team of 15-20 dedicated youngsters, and together, they resumed their door to door campaigns.

“This time, they took us seriously. We sat the parents down and explained to them why at least ten years of school education is necessary for a child. They started to realise that we have come down to the village only to help their children. We do not have any hidden agenda,” narrates Sankar. “They took time, but gradually they came around,” she adds.

The local panchayat and administration posed another hindrance for the child welfare group. They were in denial about child labour, refusing even to see the on-ground reports prepared by Hand In Hand. “We have eliminated child labour, they were claiming. It took a lot of efforts there as well,” she shares.

The school of no study and all play

Thanks to her efforts, by 2005 Kanchipuram had a residential school, which admitted around a hundred erstwhile child labourers. “We knew that if we burden them with syllabus and tests from the very start, they will enjoy school no more than their scary jobs. So, in our school, the children are given a taste of a happy childhood for a year,” narrates Sankar.

The school at Kanchipuram is a little out of the box. The newly admitted students are offered their first taste of a happy, normal childhood. For the initial days, there is all play and no study for them. Once they get seasoned with the changed environment, only then they are sent to classrooms and handed books. The school is operating successfully for nearly 15 years now. When they see one kid in school uniform, happy and healthy, the parents are encouraged to send their wards to school as well.

Hand In Hand India
Meeting their nutritional needs

“These are children who never knew affection and care. Until they are brought to the school, most of them are undernourished. Even getting three proper meals a day is overwhelming for them. Some of them have even been victims of violence at homes, so much so that they implore us to let them stay at school even during holidays. We have to ensure to deal very delicately with these tender souls,” shares Sankar.

From child brides to college graduates

Today, the number of child labourers in Kanchipuram is nearing zero. The same way, the number of child brides in Madhya Pradesh is also on a decline, thanks to Hand In Hand’s intervention.

In the underdeveloped belts of the central state, girls were once treated as nothing more than marriage material, to be wedded off even before they attain puberty. “Our team members were considered a bad omen at those child marriages. The families harassed and abused us, showering us with curses. But, we did not deter from our sole objective – to take those girls away from the wedding venue and put them in schools,” she says. And they have succeeded, as today around 70 rescued girls are high school students. A few have recently graduated from college as well. In Kanchipuram and Vellore, the NGO has prevented around 300 child marriages.

Rescuing the tribal children

In the tribal areas of Mudumalai and Tiruvannamalai, resides a nomadic population with very little educational awareness. Teachers have to trek through hills to reach these migrant settlements, so they choose to show up irregularly. Inevitably, the children know only work and hardships from the moment they see the world.

Sankar shares her scarring experience with a migrant community in Erode, Tamil Nadu where children were pushed into labour from a very early age. What was the work? Breaking more than 60 to 70 coconuts in a day, with their tender hands.

In another case, a village painter had lost his wife. He knew alcohol and addiction but did not know what to do with his small child. He decided to sell the child for 500 rupees to a labourer community. Fortunately, Hand In Hand stepped into the scene.

Hand In Hand have taken all these deprived children and put them in their own schools at Chennai, Tirupur and Tiruvallur. In total, children from over 1,165 rural communities across the country are seeing the light of education thanks to them.

Hand In Hand India
Empowering women in Rajasthan

Active in over six countries of the world

Presently, Hand In Hand India operates seven schools, both residential and non-residential. Over three lakh children are now regular schoolgoers, either studying in these seven schools or admitted to other mainstream government schools. Among them, around 24,000 are rescued child labourers. To ensure none of the rescued children fall back into their past misfortune, they have set up 365 Child Rights Protection Committees pan-India.

Away from the limelight, the NGO has been working in interiors of India with an integrated team of nearly 2,000 employees and over 16,000 volunteers. In fact, the unanticipated success of the working model in India prompted founder Barnevik to start Hand In Hand International in 2006, which is now active in six developing countries – Afghanistan, South Africa, Cambodia, Brazil, Kenya and Sri Lanka.

The organisation also has separate dedicated wings for the eradication of poverty, rural development and women empowerment. If at all, their recognition by the Government of India was a reward long due.

Hand In Hand India
Kalpana Sankar accepting the presidential award

The Bal Kalyan Puraskar is a tremendous honour

Talking about the Bal Kalyan Puraskar, Sankar expresses her gratitude towards all her team members as well as the villagers who stood by her side when everyone else was against her.

“It is their encouragement that I am on the right track that kept us going,” she admits.

“Sometimes, it is extremely taxing to manage so many children across so many schools. I have not been able to switch off my phone in years and take some time out for myself. But, at the end of the day, I realise how many bright futures we are fostering,” Sankar signs off with a note of contentment.

Also Read: This Specially-Abled Superhero Saved 200+ Helpless Children Whose Fathers Are In Jail For Killing Their Wives

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‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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