A Life As A Human interview with Jaimala & Hitesh Gupta
Vatsalya is an NGO, situated in Jaipur, India, which provides residential care to children in need of protection, education, nutrition and health. The needs of these disadvantaged children are served by a group of passionate and devoted people.
Vatsalya strives to advance the progress of Indian society by bringing out the potential of a disadvantaged and vulnerable population of children and women.
LAAH: What exactly is it that you do?
J & H: Vatsalya is involved in a range of activities through which it endeavours to empower children, youth, women and men of marginalised communities. We carry out our responsibilities with the support of partners and friends who provide invaluable assistance to these communities as they strive to move towards a better future.
- Vatsalya Udayan: a residential care program for orphaned & abandoned children
- Vatsalya Shiksha Niketan: a school for children
- MAST-Upaarjan: a livelihood program for poor youth and marginalized women
- Samvedna: a health and education program for street children
- Kavach and TI: an HIV & AIDS awareness and control program for truck drivers and CSWs
Vatsalya has two types of projects:
- Research-based, time-bound interventions. These are awarded to Vatsalya when we respond to a bid or submit a proposal to a government department or Unicef or any other funding agency. Kawach, Kalyaani and RCH come under this category.
- Welfare projects. These are based on original ideas that accord with the ideology of Vatsalya. Udayan, Upaarjan, Samvedna, Medhavee, Jagriti and SHG are the projects that fall in this category. There is no fixed support for these programs. We run them with the funding available to us.
LAAH: When did you start?
J & H: We began in 2000.
LAAH: Why do you do it and what is the motivation or passion that keeps you going?
J & H: We do this work for very simple reasons: We love doing what we do; it is what needs to be done; we owe it to our children; it is a great joy to see lives changing for good, to see smiles on faces; it is nice to see people take charge of their lives and their happiness – and that they then do the same for others. What makes it more enjoyable and rewarding in many ways is that a huge community of like-minded people have joined us in last ten years and so the joy has increased many fold.
LAAH: Do you feel that what you have done so far has made a difference? If so, can you explain how?
J & H: Here is a brief description of our various programs and their impact as we see it:
Our residential child-care program for orphaned and abandoned children has been running for ten years. Our aim here is to provide children with a safe, healthy and enabling atmosphere; at the same time, we focus on their all-round personality development. When we find and pick up children from the streets, they have a very hostile and negative attitude towards society. They also tend to believe that they are victims of an evil destiny and have no future in the adult world, which has been abusive towards them. We invest in changing this mindset, as having a positive attitude is an essential prerequisite to moving towards a successful and happy future.
We use various methods to help the children transform themselves into positive-thinking, forward-looking, happy young individuals. Our intensive focus is on yoga, art therapy, animal-assisted psycho-therapy, sports, exposure to literature and science, the development of different livelihood and life skills. In yoga, we focus on self-restraint, life-regulating moral rules and observances, fixing the mind on the Supreme and absorption of self. In art therapy, we use music, dance, creative artwork and story-telling. In animal-assisted psycho-therapy, we have used horses, dogs, cows and rabbits. Massage therapy is a combination of acupressure and Reiki. Counselling is primarily based on listening and is absolutely devoid of preaching and arguing. Sports are played and promoted vigorously as the development of skills helps children discover their true talents.
The international volunteer program is one of the most important aspects of our residential care program wherein volunteers from all over the world come and contribute in many extraordinary ways to the transformation that happens in the lives of children we serve. Volunteers bring not only a great positive energy but also add a multicultural richness to raising our children. At Vatsalya Udayan, our basic focus is on making children happy, as once they are in that state, what is desirable becomes inevitable. Through interventions based on emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and professional development, Vatsalya staff work to create a safe, nurturing environment for children in need who would not otherwise have access to opportunities that can better their lives.
Statistics: Vatsalya Udayan is our first and major intervention. Our residential campus has seen a large number of children who were lost, runaway or abandoned by their families and a good number of them now have been reunited with their families and are reintegrated back in to society and are living a normal healthy life. Through Vatsalya Udayan, we have rehabilitated, repatriated and supported in different ways 565 children. This year, 21 new children were sent to us by various child welfare agencies, 17 of whom were reclaimed by their families. Many of these children were captured under the anti-begging law of the state and their parents reclaimed them with the promise to not send them out begging again. The remaining four are AIDS orphans and will continue to live under the care and protection of Vatsalya until they are 18. Currently 48 children are living at Vatsalya Udayan.
Vatsalya Shiksha Niketan
Recognising the need and value of a proper needs-based education for the children it serves, Vatsalya started its own school in 2011. It is intended to serve the children who live on its premises as well as those living in surrounding villages. The school was built with financial support from friends all over the world who donated funds for the construction of a proper school building, a drinking-water facility and transport for the school. Recognised by the state education department, Vatsalya Shiksha Niketan enrolled 88 children in its first year. In 2012-13 we are endeavouring to double this figure and also invest in improving the quality of education given to children. We do not believe in simply making them able to read, write and count; we aim to identify their inherent potential and develop them in such a way that they become self-sustaining, empowered individuals. Vatsalya Shiksha Niketan has two other major objectives:
- Value building: We work hard towards making children understand and internalise values that truly enrich life: perseverance, compassion, service, honesty and respect for all living beings. Vatsalya invests in nurturing young minds that are full of creative thoughts and hearts full of love and innocence. We simply tap their potential and let them blossom into happy, positive, dignified individuals. When they grow up, they will only spread these virtues and multiply them quite spontaneously.
- Skill building: We encourage children to focus on academics and related activities until they are 14 years old. We try different methods of teaching and learning so that even those with not much academic potential can attain a certain level of mastery over the 3R’s. When the students reach age 14, a team of resource persons who have worked closely with them prepares a livelihood education plan for each child and the next four years are focused on developing those skills. Our challenge and goal is that by the time the children are 18, they should have basic education (preferably a 10th grade certificate), a full-time job with an extra back-up livelihood skill and the ability to live on their own with dignity and independence. We have achieved significant success in this effort and almost all our children who graduated from Vatsalya are working successfully in IT or in the hotel, textile, handicraft and jewellery industries. A few of them are preparing for the Rajasthan Administrative Services, the police and armed forces and banking services.
Statistics: We try to maintain a ratio of one teacher per 20 students. Since vocational training of 14+ children is an integral part of our education, we also need to have one trainer per 20 children, which is a major challenge for us as it significantly increases the per-child cost. We are debating as to what should be the vision and mission of Vatsalya Shikha Niketan: Where do we wish to be in next 5-10 years? We would be very happy to hear from you regarding this subject.
Under the title of “Upaarjan,” Vatsalya started the Market-Aligned Skills Training (MAST) program in Rajasthan, funded by the American India Foundation (AIF). Upaarjan is our livelihood program aimed at empowering young adults belonging to poor and marginalized communities. The MAST program works mainly with high-school dropouts aged 18-40 years and equips them with the skills and confidence to access entry-level jobs in high-growth service industries, while matching the needs of the local economy. To meet market needs as well as potentials of prospective trainee candidates, Vatsalya has a fully operational bakery, four well-equipped tailoring units with handicraft sections specialising in Katha work, a jewellery unit specialising in Patwa jewellery, a fully operational “take-away” food centre, five computer training centres, a carpentry unit, a dairy-farming unit and a vehicle repair unit. Our agriculture wing is being strengthened gradually and is equipped with modern and traditional farming equipment.
Although MAST in general is aimed at serving the urban population of young adults, Vatsalya has extended itself to rural areas as well. Upaarjan has also especially reached out to women in rural areas and women of the Muslim community, who for cultural reasons cannot take employment outside or far from their homes.
Under the Upaarjan interventions, Vatsalya has not only placed a large number of trained young people in various full-time jobs in industry, but has also found home-based employment for women by establishing a production house of its own. Over 70 women are working from home as part of the program and earning an average income of Rs. 2500 per month by making home products and jewellery.
All the trainees who complete three months of MAST training have a job offer in their hands by the time they finish the training. Over 65% join the industry workforce within Jaipur, about 25% start their own businesses and the rest pursue higher-level training and/or education. MAST trainees have been placed with organizations such as ABN-AMRO Bank, Bosch, ICICI group, the Income Tax Office, Torrent Power, Subhiksha, Gallops Shopping Mall, Godrej Smart Care, McDonald’s, Le Meridien, Café Coffee Day, etc.
Statistics: Vatsalya trained a total of 4026 young adults from October 2009 to November 2012 and out of these, 3512 have been placed in full-time jobs. In the current year, the female participants exceed the male trainees, 402 to 200. This is a very significant sign of development both in social and economic context – a large percentage of these women belong to the Muslim community and come from rural areas. Traditionally, these women have remained indoors and have not been allowed or encouraged to explore their potential outside of their homes. They have not only chosen to do so now but are also determined to make a difference in the larger economic picture by starting a production house of their own. 67 women have already formed a regular workforce of this production house and the number is going to increase THREE times in 2013!
This is our health and education program for the street children of Jaipur. It is a mobile van, equipped with staff and other resources, that holds camps regularly in the slums of Jaipur. Almost 90% of the street children that are seen selling newspapers, incense sticks, etc., on the streets of Jaipur, come from these slums. Most often basic health and education facilities are inaccessible to the children living in slums in India. The problem lies with the scarcity of resources as well as with the attitude of the parents and guardians of these children. Their parents are often either ignorant of or indifferent to the value of a good education and good health for their children. Having spent their own lives in drudgery and poverty, they cannot imagine a different and better life for their children. Vatsalya attempts to reach out to these communities and change their mindset. It holds regular Health and Education Camps in different slum localities in Jaipur wherein hundreds of children are contacted and encouraged to pursue a disciplined life that includes going to school, maintaining a healthy daily routine and looking forward to a future full of opportunities. Vatsalya does this by organizing health camps, networking with institutions that provide education, vocational training, health and medical services, etc. Vatsalya’s aim is not to duplicate the resources and services that already exist but to bridge the gap between the services and beneficiaries. Thus while our efforts are to direct and encourage clients to use the existing resources, we need to invest in the process. Generally a Health and Education Camp for children includes the following activities:
- Checking the health and hygiene levels of children
- Giving them a bath, cutting nails, treating hair for lice
- Conducting a medical check-up, including providing basic medicine and referrals
- Holding a non-formal education session, including a quiz, recitation, math problems, etc.
- Offering art and craft activities, including drawing, painting, paper craft, etc.
- Holding sports and recreation events such as a tug of war, rope skipping, singing and dance
- Organizing inspirational activities such as sharing life stories of high achievers and great leaders of the world, showing films about them, talking about personal dreams and aspirations, and the ways and means to achieve high goals in life
- Offering theme-based talks by experts on topics such as gender issues, women’s rights, children’s rights, health rights, right to education and so on
At the end of the camp, the overall winner and good performers are given prizes. Besides the children, parents and youth are also contacted with the objective of generating awareness and encouraging them to get involved with building their own future and that of their children.
Statistics: We serve approximately 250 children every month through these camps. Thus in 12 years, we have served about 21600 street children living in the slums of Jaipur.
HIV and AIDS interventions for truck drivers and CSWs
As soon as it was identified that India, with 2.5 million people suffering from HIV infection in 2007, was the second-highest afflicted country in the world, a new strategy to curb the infection came into being, with a joint NGO and government model strategy to prevent the spread of HIV. At the end of three years, with very determined efforts, the infection was not only contained but also reduced to 2.2 million. Vatsalya was part of this effort through serving the bridge population of long-distance truckers and source population of female sex workers on the highways of Jaipur, Shahpura and Ajmer. In the last year our outreach team educated 65,000 of the target population, with 20,000 visiting our clinics for free treatment. An additional 2,000 have undergone HIV testing in integrated testing and counseling centres. Vatsalya’s sites have been selected as best-practices sites by the State Training Resource Center and visited by the World Bank, DFID, UNFPA, NACO, UNAIDS and numerous other recognized bodies as demonstration sites.
LAAH: Who are your allies and supporters in this enterprise?
J & H: Our biggest support group is made up of individual angel investors, mostly from the US, the UK, Australia, Norway, Canada, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, and India, who trust our endeavours. Some small grants are also provided by American India Foundation, Namaste India Children Funds, Rajasthan State AIDS Control Society, Anchal USA and Anoothi India
LAAH: Do you have plans to grow your involvement, to expand the scope of your project? If so, can you elaborate on these plans?
J & H: We definitely wish to increase our work and the number of people we serve, but we do not intend to expand too much in a geographical sense. There is a sustained and continuous need to give protection to children and women, educate them, empower them and take care of their health. We want to grow by publishing our work and carrying out ongoing research to influence policy-makers in India and around the world so that people from the development and education sectors can come and learn from the direct care we provide and at the same time contribute knowledge and experience they have gained elsewhere. We want to become an institution which can host scholars, interns and volunteers from around the world.
LAAH: Like anything in life worth working for there must be difficulties and struggles too. Can you share with us what have been your greatest challenges?
J & H: There is a certain risk involved in doing even the most well intended work of kindness and welfare. There is no protection for NGOs from government or from the community at large which may chose to victimise a good honest organization. The media may sometimes be used to spread the negativity and blow things out of proportions if anything goes wrong. The greatest challenge is finances, of course. People like to donate to capital projects but not to support operational costs, and that is a huge tragedy for NGOs. Not enough funding or grant support is ever available for our work in child protection and education. Continuous fundraising is one of our essential features yet most difficult tasks.
LAAH: How can people help you?
J & H: People can help us by building our corpus funds so that these children can be given the best quality of care. Young students can do internship and volunteer work with us in child education by teaching English, math, science, foreign language and sports. Individuals can help us by investing financially and providing technical support for our ventures such as the use of solar energy and biomass energy, agriculture, horticulture, carpentry, bakery, dairy, tailoring, etc.
Please watch these three short videos about Vatsalya.
A short film about the cultural exchange between the children at the Vatsalya Orphanage in Jaipur India and the 1st and 6th graders at the Arts and Letters public elementary school in Brooklyn, New York.
Eating lunch with the wonderful kids at Vatsalya’s Udayan home for children. At the top of the table are older girls, best friends Soniya and Devyani. Everything is healthy, vegetarian and fresh made every meal by staff and older children.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqzWtrQAX8o
Traveling to the Vatsalya children centre.
The Life As A Human team thanks Jaimala and Hitesh Gupta of Vatsalya for the amazing work they are doing and for giving us this comprehensive interview. Also, thank you to Kane Ryan for introducing us to them! If you know them, or if their work has touched your life or inspired you in some way, please leave them a comment.
All Photos Are © Vatsalya