By diverting children’s energy towards sports and dance, this NGO keeps tobacco and alcohol consumption at bay

It’s said that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop; and it is this principle that forms the operating model of Salaam Bombay Foundation. The organisation was founded in 19X to reduce the number of underprivileged children falling prey to substance abuse. And they do this by channeling children’s energy towards positive hobbies like sports and dance instead.

Seems like a common-sense approach, don’t you think? I mean, after all, when we were children, outside of school, we attended sports and other coaching classes to keep us from spending our days lounging in front of a television set, munching away on popcorn.

What makes things challenging for the Salaam Bombay Foundation team though is the background of the children they work with. They live in one of the city’s crowded, infrastructure-challenged slums. Many do not get two, forget three, square meals a day. Due to their parents’ uncertain and fluctuating income, education cannot be given priority in their families. It’s no understatement to say then that they have highly pressured childhoods, which act as a hurdle to them being contributing members of society.

Through the setup of academies, the organisation offers interests that children can develop. Like their Sports Academy which teaches children how to play cricket and hockey; or their Academy of the Performing Arts, where children are trained in Indian Classical music, Kathak and acting. Their Media Academy equips them with reporting and editing techniques, in addition to spoken English skills. And a dedicated Conversational English programme works with them on their language skills, so as to increase chances of them getting a job in the future. All efforts are essentially directed towards helping children move toward a college education or job. Selection There is no strict selection procedure for enrolling a child into a particular programme. It is based purely on the interest of the child – if s/he wants to do a particular course, they will enroll him/her for it.

By channeling children’s energies towards these interests, the likelihood of them getting tempted by substance abuse and other such negatives greatly reduces. And children like Deepali are an example of this. 12-year-old Deepali comes from one of Mumbai’s over-crowded slums. Her mother worked hard all day, leaving her to manage the household. On a good day, they managed to put a full meal together. Her time at home was divided between cooking, cleaning and washing clothes.

But whenever she got a few spare moments, she worked hard at perfecting the most complex dance moves. She had big dreams: of being on stage, of earning for her family, of living with dignity. Fortunately for her, Salaam Baalak Foundation was just as anxious to make her dreams come true. She was enrolled into the organisation’s dance academy; with classes being scheduled around her school and chores. While she wasn’t a skilled dancer, she made up for it with grit and discipline. It wasn’t easy, but step by rhythmic step, she learnt to dance like her cinema idols.

Today, Deepali’s future is brighter than she could have ever imagined. She has grown from a little girl with a burning desire to dance to a peer trainer at the Shaimak Davar Institute for Performing Arts at the young age of 13.

Deepali is just one of 1,000 children who have benefitted from the organisation’s Arts Academy. Double that number have benefitted from the Sports Academy. If one were to add up children reached through all their academies, programmes, workshops over the years, it adds up to over 1 crore children!

In 19X, the Harvard School of Public Health tested tobacco use rates at schools where Salaam Bombay Foundation was intervening and at those where they were not. The data showed that the intervention schools had less than 50 percent tobacco use compared to non-intervention schools. And it showed that Salaam Bombay Foundation students were not only less likely to smoke, but also more likely to prevent others from smoking.

The impact of their work can be better understood against the actual scenario of substance abuse in India. Which is that by 2020, tobacco deaths in India will rise to 1.5 million. Or the fact that nearly 70% of boys and 80% of girls who use tobacco start before they’re 11! Or that India has the largest group of smokers in the world! And that 86% of the world’s oral cancer patients are in India!

Yes, the statistics are truly mind-boggling and depressing. So when an organisation like Salaam Bombay Foundation comes along, they need all the support that we can give. Because the fight against tobacco, as they say, can be won by empowering a child!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.