Bringing Deprived Kids to Mainstream of Life

Kochi: At ‘Yugma’, the annual fete of Kochi-based Gender Rights Group, Raising Our Voices (ROV) Foundation, a congregation of like-minded women who came together in the aftermath of Nirbhaya incident to offer succour and safety to underprivileged girl children in Kochi, a girl ascends the dais and speaks from the heart.

“I am (name withheld) studying for BTech at Vishvajyothi. I completed my 12th with 95 per cent. Due to personal issues, I was not able to perform well at my engineering entrance examination and my rank was low. My family’s financial condition could not afford my education in a self-financing college. That was when ROV stepped in. Within two weeks I got a sponsor. Now they are paying my college fee every year. I completed 4th semester with an aggregate of 70 per cent. They have offered me a job if I graduate with a good score. I want to convey thanks from the bottom of my heart. I know they are here”.

ROV core committee member, Sheela Alex Matthai adds, “Nothing can be more gratifying than helping a girl child who wants to study and accomplish greater things in life.”

In the past couple of years, ever since the 15 founding members of ROV got together, the collective has adopted Government Girls’ Home (GGH), Kakkanad as their flagship project and done significant work. For years GGH has remained a neglected item in the budget sheet of the Social Justice Department (SJD) of the Government of Kerala. It was ‘jail’ for the victims of human trafficking, abuse and rape, children of destitute or runaway parents, and orphans.

‘‘One of us was already working with the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) and GGH. We wanted to be a service organisation and not just a group of passionate activists,’’ says Monolita Chatterjee, Principal Coordinator, ROV. “We started small by organising celebrations for children, reading books to them, taking them on short excursions etc.”

Once ROV adopted GGH, things started looking up. Constant follow-up and willingness to call in favours resulted in the Rs. 4.5-crore proposal mooted years ago to renovate the GGH complex and add more infrastructure as well as safety and security measures, which was stuck in red tape, receiving all clearances.

Bathrooms, toilets and kitchens were fully renovated. More toilets and bathrooms were added. Inmates who had no choice but to sleep on the floor now have new comfortable beds. The entire flooring which was dilapidated has also been re-laid. ROV is now trying to get study tables and a ‘smart’ classroom for the children as many of them require extra attention and special tuitions apart from day schooling.

GGH can accommodate a girl only till she turns 18, after which she has to move out. Around 20 children have been ‘mainstreamed’ through marriage, job placements and admissions to college degree programmes by ROV. This way the girl can move to a safe location – be it a spouse’s home, college hostel or even support herself, thanks to employment.

S Sreejith IPS, Inspector General of Police, Ernakulam Range, and Nodal Officer, Anti-Human Trafficking Cell, Kerala Police has worked with ROV closely and feels that organizations like these add tremendous value in terms of supplementing government resources with domain expertise, commitment and empathy.

Health of the inmates has been an area of concern primarily due to grossly inadequate toilet facilities (just six bathrooms and three toilets for 120 inmates), acute shortage of water and scarce supply of sanitary napkins. Urinary tract infections and dermatological infections like ring worm and lice infestations were commonplace. Added to that was the fact that most inmates, because of their troubled backgrounds, are hyper active and/or dyslexic. ROV created a comprehensive medical record for each child to start with. . “We started Psychological and Psychiatric evaluation and therapy for the inmates and this is continuing. A regular supply of sanitary napkins has been ensured. And primary healthcare is being provided by government hospitals in the vicinity,” adds Nina Nayar, ROV core committee member.

Few years ago when ROV came on board, academic performance of GGH inmates was abysmally poor. Children would attend school but invariably fail in Standard 10. Bunking regular classes and being subjected to disciplinary action for bad behaviour were common. For the last two years, GGH has managed 100 per cent pass in Standard 10.

All of what has been achieved so far have been through personal contributions of ROV members and few organisations like Rotary and TCS. What is required is 120 donors to support each child. And when they turn 18, they cannot be abandoned. For studies, boarding and lodging, financial resources are required.

“Government resources are inadequate and the process is cumbersome. We have to reach out to business houses,’’ Monolita signs off.