It’s mentioned on their website that SATHI was “an unplanned outcome of a well-intended intention. It started as one woman’s dream to take care of underprivileged children.” This got me seriously intrigued and so my first question about how it all began obviously went down this path. As Mr. Kulkarni clarified, “I remember I was at work at Prerana, my own NGO, when this lady walked in offering her volunteering skills. The only condition she had to put them to use was that she wanted to help children. For lack of anything else to offer her, I asked her to spend the day helping the children on the platform. After all, the station wasn’t very far away from the office.” And just like that, overnight, the seeds of the idea that would soon turn into SATHI were planted. In fact, in the first year, the office was used as a shelter as it was very difficult to find (as well as afford) a decent place.
As random as it may sound, it’s true; because at Prerana, Mr. Kulkarni and his team were working to help farmers through agriculture/irrigation/livelihood projects. An M.Sc. in Statistics and an MBA from IIM(A), Mr. Kulkarni’s move to the social sector was motivated because as he puts it, “tab desh ka mahul kafi bura tha.” The wave of Socialism that spread through the country coupled with no great family aspirations to do business, gave him a further push. He started off by working for the NGO Pradhan – an organization set up by his own classmate from IIM(A). Pradhan was an organization that aimed to bring about professionalism in the social sector. However, Mr. Kulkarni believes that professionals cannot do development work as they are “soft-natured”. He says, “Development is hard work as it brinsg you close to harsh realities. But to carry out successful development work, you need a good heart and a good head.” Which is why he ventured separately to set up Prerana, from which SATHI eventually sprouted.
With time, SATHI’s activities only increased – more and more children were rescued, a better shelter was found, services provided at the center increased as well as improved, and lessons were learnt as SATHI’s understanding of children and their circumstances increased. In fact, it was during ’94-’96 that SATHI learnt its biggest lesson – a lesson which has become a defining aspect of their mission. Rescued children then were given cycle-repair training, in the hope of giving them the opportunity to earn an honest living. But all the boys they placed eventually fled from these new setups, however decent they were – these boys were clearly not settled.
That’s when they took up a really huge assignment. They put in lots of effort and time (6-7 years to be precise) to track these children down and understand what made them flee again. And the answer was loud and clear – these kids were constantly on the search for their roots. They would not be happy and settled anywhere but home. This was certainly the best option for a majority (maybe not all) children. Home placement thus became SATHI’s core activity. And till the time children are reunited with their families, SATHI creates “a safe, secure and nurtured environment for them, so that the child may develop holistically with self-confidence, self worth and dignity.”
SATHI has helped 14,000 children till date. There’s no stopping Mr. Kulkarni and his team who are aiming to help 25,000 children by 2105 – that’s an ambitious number of 5,000 a year. But for a team as ambitious as theirs, it’s doable!