Being parents to children who have lost their own

My visit to the NGO Catalysts for Social Action (CSA) came on a hot June afternoon. I headed north from the picturesque CST station and into the urban district of Thane. Coming from the UK, I was shocked to witness the midday rush of people hopping on and off the trains but managed to reach Thane and catch an auto rickshaw to CSA’s office.

CSA’s mission is to provide holistic care and optimum rehabilitation outcomes for orphaned children. In this endeavour, they have partnered with orphanages across the country; with whom they work very closely to fulfil the needs of the children. The decision to partner, rather than set up their own orphanages, was intentional. A decision I quite agree with. Because the current setup allows them to reach out to more children – 2,200 in all!

The organisation is also particular about selecting partners. A tie up only happens with like-minded orphanages. A “like-minded” orphanage is one which treats children well and looks out for their future too. It’s also absolutely essential for partners to be fully operational and be registered under the Juvenile Justice Act – small measures that CSA has taken to ensure some kind of credibility and seriousness amongst selected organisations.

The primary sponsor of the organisation is Accelya, as the founder of the NGO, Mr. Vipul Jain is the CEO of this company. This meant that initial orphanages were identified in places where Accelya had offices, so managing and monitoring these partnerships was efficient. Another sensible move.

CSA is based on four pillars of action – which directly or indirectly improve the life of orphaned children. The primary pillar focuses on health, hygiene and education. To achieve this, ‘children committees’ are set up. Run by the children themselves, these committees empower the kids to take responsibility of their peers. For example, the committee would be entrusted with the task of ensuring every child is brushing their teeth, twice a day. Or doing their homework before going to bed at night. I found this democratic committee setup really cute!

Regarding education, CSA makes sure every child in their orphanage attends school. They essentially look out for childrens’ futures in a similar manner that my parents look out for mine. Able students are encouraged and provided with necessary support too, to achieve a post-graduation degree. Vocation courses and training are sought out for less academically engaged children. These start at age 14/15 and could range from tailoring to driving lessons. It’s all part of CSA’s childcare plan which aims to treat every child as an individual and identify their unique spark.

The second pillar improves living conditions at partner orphanages. This support is in the form of rations, clothing, utensils, linen and even electricity and water – needs that will help make the orphanage “a home” for the children. What’s interesting to note is that CSA never hands over money to an orphanage. Instead, all money is controlled by CSA representatives who contact local sellers for products the children need and ensures their delivery to the orphanages. This is done to ensure that no donations are wasted.

The third pillar focuses on sensitising stakeholders. It is imperative that corporates take an interest in the livelihood of these children and are aware of their precarious situation. To increase awareness, they thus facilitate interaction with the children. Like recreational event days or when they rented out a cricket stadium and organised fun cricket matches between the children and corporates. It turns out to be a beneficial experience for both children and corporates.

The final pillar is advocacy and research, which the organisation aims to do by engaging media attention to promote its cause.

My experience of CSA was that it is a very determined and capable organisation which is truly striving for a better life for the orphans it takes under its wing. After an initial chat with their managing director, Sidney Rocha, I trekked another 1.5 hours northward to Bhiwandi; to visit Bhagini Nivedita Utkarsh Mandal (BNUM), one of their partners.

BNUM is home to around 30 girls ranging from age 6-14. Their living conditions were extremely basic; the sleeping quarters consisted of two rooms and I was informed that all girls sleep on the floor with blankets. The only other rooms were the kitchen, prayer hall/ dining room and an office. It occurred to me that these conditions were far from ideal but this orphanage provided these girls with a safe place to sleep, eat and play. It also helped them go to school. Had it not been for CSA, their lives may have been quite different.

I spent some time with the children, who took great pride in performing dances that they had learnt. Despite the language barrier, we managed to understand one another. The older girls also taught me a combat defence sequence that they had learnt in order to protect themselves in case of a violent attack. Afterwards, I watched the children say their prayers and then a representative from CSA handed out fruit and gave a talk which the children seemed to enjoy. Visiting BNUM was an inspirational experience and I felt that the work of CSA was heavily appreciated by these girls.

CSA currently works with 22 orphanages and 26 adoption agencies across India and caters to the needs of approximately 1,600 children. While I saw for myself the good work that they do, Sidney Rocha was able to demonstrate it to me through graphs and data.

Yes, the organisation has carried out numerous tests across orphanages they support and can provide data to show that their work is greatly improving the childrens’ lives. Infact, they rely on a lot of data to carry out corrective action. For example, when health checks on the children revealed that 40% had ailments and 45% fell into the underweight BMI category, they started providing 4, instead of 3 meals a day across orphanages. Work is also on to change diets to provide more nourishing food, that will help the kids put on some weight.

Clearly, there’s a lot happening to fulfil these childrens’ many needs. Being parents after all is a full time job!

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