Vatsalya is a highly ambitious NGO, whose work currently focuses around five programs. The flagship and biggest of these is Vatsalya Udayan which is the residential child care program for orphans and abandoned children.
As I chatted with co-founder Hitesh Gupta, I couldn’t help but notice the pride he took in his work. Hitesh candidly shared with me that when street children arrive at the campus, they are usually hostile and have a negative attitude towards society. Vatsalya strives to transform this mindset and works on their all-round personality development. The safe, healthy and nurturing environment of the organisation has a soothing effect on the childrens’ behaviour too. Therapies such as yoga, art therapy and animal assisted psychotherapy are practised. These help to reduce anger and frustration and encourage expression through creativity.
Vatsalya Udayan has been highly successful in reuniting children with their families and many now lead a normal, healthy life. Since 2002, Vatsalya has rehabilitated and repatriated 565 children. There are 55 children presently living full time on campus, which is located on a quiet plot of land in the wilderness of the desert. But as we we drove through the organisation’s gates, I was instantly met with bursts of colour from decorated buildings, patches of grass and roaming cattle. Quite a pleasant surprise!
My visit commenced with a tour around Shiksha Niketan, which is Vatsalya’s own school. Established in 2011, the school services those living on the premises as well as children in the surrounding villages. It is recognised by the Rajasthan State Education Department and educates approximately 100 children. The project aims to go beyond making the children literate and aims to build core values such as honesty, compassion and perseverance. The children focus on academics till the age of 14. Then, a team of resource persons who have worked closely with them prepares a livelihood education plan for them.
The next four years are focused on developing skills that the child excels in or enjoys in a career based way. By 18, Vatsalya wants every child to have a basic education (preferably a 10th grade certificate), a full time job with an extra back up livelihood skill and the ability to live independently. Previous graduates are now in higher education colleges, working in IT and in the hospitality industry.
An example is 20-year-old Shaheena Baig. After completing grade 12, she joined Information Technology Education Services (ITES) and completed her 3 months training. The training also included personality development and English speaking. On completing the course, she was offered a job at “The 108 Ambulance” as a tele-caller officer. She earn Rs. 8,000 a month and leads a fairly comfortable and independent life.
Jaimala, on the other hand, spoke like she was the proud mother of these children and delighted in the fact that the alumni still come back and visit her and Hitesh.
The children I met were very bubbly and happy to be learning. One of them was Mukesh, who has studied in the campus school since it opened, and is now in standard 12, preparing for an entrance exam of government administrative services. He sounded truely excited about his future prospects. I also ate lunch with the children. At lunch, I noticed how incredibly well-behaved they were, sharing duties to serve the food and all joining in to pray. Afterwards, they all washed their own trays, even insisting they do mine as I was a guest and it was the polite thing to do!
The third project I got to see in action was Anoothi. This program was initiated in 2006 and aims at economically empowering women of marginalised communities. Women are organised into self-help groups and taught to conduct business following fair trade norms. The women are trained in various skills, such as sewing and block-painting. Their products include home furnishing items, garments and jewellery. The items are made from recycled fabric and paper, old silk and cotton, ceramics and semi-precious stones and silver. The Anoothi program works with around 300 women, providing them with hope and a sustainable future. Before Anoothi, these women lived in extremely deprived and exploited conditions. It has targeted rural women, sex workers, widows and women in communities where leaving the home to work is not accepted. The home based employment that Anoothi results in has been highly successful, especially in the Muslim community. As women can now work from home as they meet suppliers’ demands as well as care for their families.
With an average monthly income of Rs. 2,500, the women are self-sufficient; this is especially important for those who are widowed or those whose husbands are unable to work. Jaimala is deeply involved with this program and describes it as ‘a movement that runs through the families inspiring girl children to want to work’. Beneficiary mothers now appreciate the value of working and want this kind of positive future for their daughters. Lalita, a woman working for Anoothi, describes it as a ‘miracle’. She used to have to loan money to provide for her family due to her husband’s illness. Now her earnings pay for the children’s school fees and she can afford medical treatment for her husband.
Another project central to Vatsalya is Samvedna, which educates street children in Jaipur. This is a mobile van which also provides basic healthcare and works in the slums. It campaigns for children to get off the streets and networks with institutions providing schooling, vocational training and medical services. They organise monthly camps in Jaipur’s slums, which provide health check-ups, art and craft activities, non-formal education and sports. Vatsalya covers approximately 250 children every month and this program aims at spreading awareness and facilitating change.
Another community based program targets commercial sex workers and truck drivers and strives for AIDs prevention through sex education. It also offers free HIV and STI testing across 4 clinics in the city as well as provides free medication. The main aim of this program is awareness and to promote education, team members often hold counselling sessions in the slum areas.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Vatsalya campus and it is evident that the children there are in good hands and will grow into respectable adults who are able to support themselves. This NGO has achieved so much in the past fourteen years and this partly stems from the undeterred commitment of Hitesh and Jaimala. They have dedicated their lives to this charity and are involved in every aspect.
Vatsalya’s main aim for the future is to make their projects self-sustainable. Jaimala especially wants to focus on women empowerment projects as this hits at the vicious cycle of mothers not being educated, so not educating their children. The Guptas hope to reach out to as many poverty stricken people as possible with the goal of ‘transforming lives’. The couple have a larger vision of being able to contribute to the growth of Indian society through their projects. The key note in the work of Vatsalya is ‘irreversibility’, so that the people they help will never be able to go back to how they lived before Vatsalya.