In the BDD Chawl behind the erstwhile Hindmata theatre (now a mall) in Dadar, the Family Home charity has, for 35 years, run a home for 20-26 boys, aged 6-12. They are mostly homeless children (a few do have family, but they are unable to care for them), rescued by NGOs and sent to government rehabilitation centres after registration with the family court. The government assigns these boys to junior homes such as the Family Home, where they are looked after until they turn 12. They are then reassigned by the government to senior homes.
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Though the exterior of the chawl is somewhat drab, the kids are bright and cheerful, as are most of the 10 spacious rooms that have recently been renovated. The boys are always up to some mischief; Sitesh, a six-year-old, sticks up his fingers to create bunny ears when he sees the camera. During study time, one boy insists on climbing over the desks, another yells a study-related question across the room to his friend, a third tells me his friend is a jabber-mouth—all indicating healthy, relaxed interaction.
Smita Gaikwad, matron (or “home mother”), says that a year ago, all the kids were transferred from a municipal school to a local private school, and there’s already a huge difference in their learning and overall well-being. The boys agree, and continue to chat about the movie they saw over the weekend, their yoga, music, karate and drawing classes. Chetan, 11, whose friends call him “drawing master”, proudly pulls out his drawing book to show off some neat artwork.
A team of six boys, aged 10-12, joins me in cooking —making a simple dessert of chocolate laddus using Marie biscuits, cocoa powder, butter and condensed milk. The team enthusiastically follows all the steps, from crumbling the biscuits to making the circular balls, though undoubtedly the most joyful moment comes when they can lick their fingers and scrape the bowl clean of leftover batter. Pratik,11, sweetly suggests to his mates that they should make the laddus smaller, so that they can each get more to eat!
As we walk from room to room, I notice four computers sitting untouched on a desk—gifts from well-meaning donors. These were given to the home over a year ago, but without technical assistance, software upgrades and a system in place for computer education for the kids, they lie idle. The children, of course, would love to learn to use computers and, like kids everywhere, they’re keen to play with electronic gadgets, as they do when I leave my cellphone on the table for a few minutes.
While the home’s committee hopes and intends to provide the children with computer skills, proposals for such funding have yet to find takers. Similarly, other immediate needs that would greatly improve their overall well-being and future include the services of a trained counsellor and conversational English classes.
Sweet treat: Even though the boys loved these laddus, they saved some to share with friends. Niloufer Venkatraman
The Family Home’s aim is to create an environment that is as close to family life as possible. The boys go to school, play, do homework, eat meals together, have affectionate caregivers, are disciplined from time to time, and even fight with each other the way siblings do. It is run as an open home, in that the children are allowed basic freedoms, including going to school by themselves and leaving the home with permission, much in the way children in a regular family ask parents permission to step out and play outside.
A managing committee (mostly senior citizens) looks at the fund-raising, and long- and short-term requirements of the institution and its children. While the government provides some money for the children’s upkeep, the bulk of the money it takes to raise 20 energetic boys comes from funds solicited by committee members from their friends and family and from organizations such as Wereldkinderen, a Dutch project aid organization. With more support, perhaps the Family Home could provide six more destitute youngsters a decent childhood, and improve the lives of those already under its protection.
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If you want to volunteer
People can start a computer lab on the premises with regular and competent instruction or teach the boys conversational English. They can also help with renovations and improve the interiors of the home. A sensitive and skilled counsellor is always required. Professionals (both individuals and companies through their corporate social responsibility divisions) can contribute by virtue of their skills—for instance, a construction or interiors firm, an architect or anyone else could sponsor some interior upgrades. For more information, call the home’s superintendent, Swati Sawlapurkar, at 022-24130721
Rs5,000 for this charity can
Pay one month’s salary for a part-time counsellor
Buy the children two sets of clothes each
Get an AMC (annual maintenance contract) for the computers
Cheques can be written out to “Family Home, Guild of Service” and sent to: Family Home, BDD Chawl No. 16A, BJ Deorukhkar Road, Naigaum, Dadar, Mumbai-400014
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SOS Children’s Villages of India
Money: Rs6,000 a year will sponsor a child for one year, paying for food, education and living expenses. The same amount can also be donated to the village’s general fund.
Time: The organization encourages people who would like to volunteer to do so on a long-term basis for teaching different subjects.
Contact: ‘www.soscvindia.org’ or call 011-24359450, 24357299
Money: Rs14,000 will sponsor a child’s education for a year, paying for tuition, uniform, books and transport. Rs1,500 will sponsor a child’s food and clothing for a month, while Rs2,500 will sponsor a child’s food, clothing and education for a month. You can also sponsor special events and meals. Cheques must be made in favour of Balagurukulam and sent out to Balagurukulam, 1, Ashram Street, Murugambedu, Kallikuppam, Ambattur, Chennai.
Time: The organization mainly encourages volunteers who can teach the children or take care of infants.
Contact: ‘www.balagurukulam.org’ or call 044-26580790/26864607.