The horrors of the catastrophic floods of 2013 still haunt the residents of Uttarakhand. The repercussions are perhaps worst for the children who lost their parents in the calamity. Most of their fathers and mothers lost their lives in Kedar Valley, which was reportedly the most affected region.
It was the pilgrimage season, so people, mostly men from neighbouring villages of Kedarnath, poured in the sacred township to do menial jobs for those few months, in the hopes of sustaining the harsh winter months. This was when disaster struck and washed away hordes of people within the wink of an eye. The air back home resonated with the deafening cries of the orphaned sons and daughters.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
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Soon, they were pushed into child labour, and many underage girls were forced into early marriages. Some even got trapped into trafficking rackets. Perhaps, the future of these kids had been bleak forever had there not been someone like Kalika Prasad Kala. A senior advocate based in Dehradun, Kala runs PDGRB Trust from his own savings which provided educational scholarships to 150 girls from low-income families, who were either orphaned or supported by a helpless mother. Presently, around 50 among them have passed the Board Examination with flying colours.
His PIL battle with Uttarakhand High Court
After the floods, Kalika Prasad Kala found his native village in shambles, with hardly 300 people left. At that time, his wife was the Child Welfare General Secretary with the local administration. She was assigned to conduct a survey on the number of orphaned children and the children who lost their fathers, who were the sole breadwinners of their families.
“Around 242 such children were identified in the survey. In 2015, I filed a PIL at the Uttarakhand High Court, demanding all these kids be admitted to Rajiv Gandhi Navodaya schools before they get pulled into child labour or forced into child marriage. Worse, they might even starve to death alone in the streets,” Kala reveals in a conversation with Efforts For Good.
For the next two years, Kala fought a prolonged legal battle. Even with ailing health, he frequented the court premises to ensure a better future for those helpless children. His efforts achieved full circle finally when in 2017 the Uttarakhand High Court selected 132 children from the list for admission in Navodaya schools and free education till 12th standard.
Educating helpless girls from his own savings
However, during those two years, as his faith in the system dwindled, Kala created something more amazing on his own. “I interacted with these children, their guardians and even gram pradhans, trying to understand the gravity of the situation. What I found was shocking,” he informs.
For most of the girls, education had become a luxury. Their guardians, who struggled to sustain their own children, found these orphaned or homeless girls as an extra burden. They were withdrawn from school and made to work as housemaids, till they were married off.
“Some NGOs were trying to help these kids, but their efforts were limited. The State Government was quite nonchalant. Even after repeated appeals, there was no assistance from the authority. I realised I had to do something myself,” Kala shares.
Collecting money from his own and his wife’s personal savings, Kalika Prasad Kala started the Parvati Devi Ganga Ram Bhat (PDGRB) Trust, named after his late parents. In the first year, the couple selected 18 young girls to avail the scholarship. As word spread, Kala’s relatives, friends and hundreds of well-wishers poured in their donations. Some even agreed to sponsor the education for a few girls themselves.
The number of beneficiaries increased over the years, standing at 63 in the present year. The girls are either orphaned, fatherless or hailing from impoverished families, with ailing parents who are unable to provide for their education. But all of them are incredibly meritorious, making everyone proud, with their remarkable scorecards.
Ensuring utmost transparency
Kala ensures a very transparent procedure of handing over the scholarship amount, to ensure no misuse by guardians or surviving parents. “We don’t want careless fathers using up their daughter’s scholarship money on alcohol. We don’t want guardians of orphaned girls to misuse it, depriving the girls. That’s why we arrange the entire transaction through their school principals. We hand over the cheques to the principals, who monitor the amount deposited in their students’ bank accounts. The money is released according to their needs for books, stationeries and school accessories,” he explains in detail.
Very recently, Kalika Prasad Kala started his second educational initiative – Manas Foundation which is aimed to finance school education for orphaned girls all over Uttarakhand.
“I am not doing this for myself. It is my social responsibility. In fact, it is the responsibility of every citizen to stand beside the underprivileged and the helpless. You know, if every rich family in Uttarakhand adopted one orphan, or atleast sponsored their education, there would have been no more crisis. But, sadly, that wouldn’t happen in reality. So I will try my best to secure their future as long as I can,” Kala signs off.
For helping more girls in Uttarakhand avail education, reach out to Adv Kalika Prasad Kala through his Facebook page or mail him at [email protected]
With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.
After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.
Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.
Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.
“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.
Direct Monetary and Material Transfer
Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.
Information till 10th April 2020:
Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
Reached 17,700 families
Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.
In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.
This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.