A clinical psychologist from Delhi University (DU) by profession, Richa Mohan, the founder of Empowering Minds for Research and Development, is like a savior to the slum kids of Arthala, Ghaziabad. These kids were as she says, “Smart, sharp but didn’t have a direction to implement their talents.” During her college days, Richa was an active volunteer for social movements like Narmada Bachao Andolan, this gave her an idea about how a social sector works and what the main issues are.
After earning her M.Phil from DU, she started work as a psychologist with disabled and mentally challenged kids for various NGOs. Following her 15-year stint in the NGO sector, she withdrew from full-time work due to family responsibilities. She started a consultancy at her home and freelanced with various projects, also writing research papers based on the work she did.
As part of her research, the government approached her with a National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) project aimed at launching a community radio station that would create awareness about HIV/AIDS. “We got a very good response,” Richa recalls. “It was mainly for the labourers. They used to be very open and ready to take help. We helped out and tracked the impact.”
The community radio was started in the Arthala slum at Ghaziabad. In the process, during breaks, the project team used to interact with the slum kids. During these interactions, a few kids shared their stories about how they dropped out of school due to financial constraints. These were the children of hawkers, peons, security guards, cart vendors and other laborers. Richa Mohan with three colleagues, who she knew professionally through her previous work, then started teaching these kids various subjects like English, maths and social studies, in the slum whenever she could find time. The kids started to spread the word among their friends, which lead to 40 children attending the sessions in nine months’ time.
“We later felt we had to take these kids into the mainstream and identify more kids who have similar needs. We choose a person from the same community who was ready to help in teaching to these kids. We also rented one small room for these kids.”
Richa’s colleagues then suggested she start an organization and expand it in a professional and structured way. By May 2007, Empowering Minds was founded with Sujata, Sanjay who were Richa’s friends. The lack of funds needed to move into a bigger building was a hindrance. So they chipped in from their personal savings to supply books and other necessities. One day, by which time Richa’s work had progressed, around the area, a donor, who had heard about the project, offered Rs 20,000, which she says was the breakthrough. “We then rented rooms on two and started the school with two teachers and 60 students.”
When asked about why started an NGO and not a clinic, since she’d been a successful psychologist, Richa says, “I was in the social sector since the start. I always wanted to serve and teach those who had no resources. This need kept me busy and occupied throughout, and I never really thought about opening my own clinic.”
With a vision to transform lives by recognizing their potential and empowering Individuals and communities for a better living, Empowering Minds has definitely emerged as a great force for good in the lives of these kids.