It takes a village to raise a child. But who takes care of the village?
When we built the Shishu Mandir School in this neighbourhood, we went to meet the villagers to introduce ourselves and the school. In getting to know the villagers, we learnt that there were village-specific jobs like stone cutting and brick making. Most villagers worked under bondage, having taken loans with excessively high interest rates.
In one village, we were told that there was no creche, which made it hard for women to return to work. Setting up a Childcare Centre was our first response to the community. Second, we found that some people had a plot of land, but lacked the wherewithal to construct a house. We began to help them in house construction. Third, we formed a women’s group in each village. We were also able to offer loans to some to break away from high interest debts.
One of our earliest projects was initiating a cooperative quarry, where the bulk of the profits could go to the stone cutters. In 2008, the government announced that all quarries will be closed in this neighbourhood because of urban expansion. The quarry workers were ready to migrate in search of jobs. We knew that this would interrupt and end their children’s education. So we worked with every quarry worker to find them alternative employment and admitted their children to our school. Having given them a reason to stay back, we were able to help build houses for some of them, and altogether, offer a secure base, from which to build their lives on. With the years, our involvement with the community has deepened.
We work closely with the village panchayat to ensure that the government schemes reach the people and the community. We view this as a very successful partnership. The land for the Childcare Centre came from the government, the community constructed a shed, and we began a centre. Where families had a plot allotted to them, we facilitated construction of a house by financing the material cost. When the government introduces new schemes, we make the community aware of them and ensure that they get what is due to them.
Some of our village initiatives are managed by our school children. Every child plants a sapling and looks after it. We are constantly advocating the perils of single-use plastic and about garbage disposal. These are communicated via street plays and rallies in the villages.
For our community, Shishu Mandir is an anchor and a place of hope. Any needy person can walk in and knows that we will try and help them.
Many families in the community lived in tiny sheds with a sheet roof. Some of them owned the plot on which this shed stood. We began to support them in the construction of houses. The labour for construction came from the families and the immediate community. We sought donations for material like bricks, sand, cement and paints. Houses were designed to maximise ventilation and air circulation indoors, and to create spaces for various members of the family. When we started this, many families who didn’t own a site began to seek government schemes that make provision for it. As of 2020, we have built 56 houses.
The women’s self help groups are key to community impact. We have created these groups so that women have an opportunity to stabilise their family’s finances, while having the support system they need. We train them in finances and accounts, in grooming and hygiene, in accessing banks and government schemes, and most importantly, about their rights. We have completely eradicated child marriage in these villages and are working to completely end wife beating.
Many families in the community lived in tiny sheds with a sheet roof. Some of them owned the plot, on which this shed stood. We began to support them in the construction of houses. The labour for construction came from the families and the immediate community. We sought donations for material like bricks, sand, cement and paints. Many families, who didn’t own a site, began to seek government schemes that make provision for it. As of 2020, we have built 56 houses.
The women’s self help groups are key to community impact. We have created these groups so that women have an opportunity to stabilise their family’s finances, while having the support system they need. We train them in finances and accounts, in grooming and hygiene, in accessing banks and government schemes, and most importantly, about their rights. We have been actively trying to eradicate child marriage in these villages and are working to end wife beating.
One of our largest projects has been the Water ATM to supply purified water at low cost. The Panchayat provided the land and ensured water supply. We hired a water purification company that purifies and monitors water safety. The facility is now available in 3 villages. For the residents, safe and clean water is available at Rs 5 per can. Where we estimated an average of 50 water cans sold per day, we are seeing the use at 300 cans per day. Most of the villagers choose this water for drinking and for cooking. We are seeing an almost immediate reduction in water-borne diseases.
EVENING STUDY CENTRE.
We began the evening study centre for children attending two government schools in our community. Between Monday and Saturday, every afternoon the children make their way to our centres - we have two centres, one each at our School and Childcare Centre. They are first given a nutritious snack, before any lessons or homework is offered. They also received English lessons from our teachers. We also provide them with the educational material they need at school. Once these children complete 10th standard, we support them financially for further education.
SOLAR LIGHTS FOR HUTS.
There are over 1,000 migrants living in huts with no access to electricity. They come here in large numbers and live in plastic-covered houses. There are no street lights, where they live. So we launched a solar lights project. Each home was given a solar light, which also comes with charging ports for their mobile phones. This has also brought a saving, as otherwise the cost of charging their mobile phones was Rs 10 per day, which at two phones per family and a single charging of a day still came up to Rs 600 a month.
This saving aside, the solar light project allowed us to engage with these families and ensure that their children attend school. The lights come with three settings for brightness allowing families to use the brightest option to cook, eat, and study, and the dimmer options as a night lamp.
The project has been supported by Schneider Electric who have sponsored the lights. Each light costs Rs 2,000 and so far we have distributed 2,500 lights.
& WELFARE SCHEMES.
We support the community through various public health programmes. Medical camps are a regular feature on our calendar and include eye check-ups, general heath check-ups and dental check-ups. We extensively use the format of street plays to generate awareness on social ills like smoking and drug use, in support of the girl child, and even awareness about the COVID pandemic. These street plays see enthusiastic participation from our own student community.
We also support the community in availing government schemes that they are eligible for, like the Ayushman Bharat Health Card (3 days pre-hospitalisation and 15 days post-hospitalisation coverage), and pension schemes for disabled, widows and the elderly. Some welfare schemes are tailored for professions such as construction work, and we have helped several residents register for these support schemes.
CONSTRUCTION OF PLAYGROUND.
A nearby quarry, where the grandparents of our school children used to toil and sweat to break stones, was filled up with garbage over the decades. It was closed and lying unused. We decided to convert it into a playground for the community. The area is spread over 6 acres of land, and we had to fight the land mafia to ensure that it remained for public use. The community, the local government, and the village panchayat decided to give all rights of developing the land for the community to Shishu Mandir. Now every morning around 300 people use it for walks and exercises. Three or four schools in the vicinity also use it for their students. We have created a volleyball ground and a running track there. It is the only open ground between ITI Gate and Hoskote, a distance of about 15 km, and has been highly welcomed by the community. We have hired one maintenance staff for the ground, whose salary is borne by us.
We have been encouraging our children to plant trees. Every child is tasked with planting a sapling in their neighbourhood and caring for it. We also undertook a massive tree planting exercise with our playground, where 300 saplings were planted around it.