Providing a holistic life for children from the margins

The United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World’s Population report recognises India as the country with the world’s largest youth population. Close to 28% of our country are children aged between 0-14. It is said that countries with such large youth populations could potentially see their economies soar, provided they invest heavily in young people’s education and health, and protect their rights.

One would think, with the passing of laws such as the Juvenile Justice Act (2000), Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006), and Right to Education (2009) India, over the past decade, has consistently made significant efforts to protect and nurture its children. However, even with all these laws in place, India today tops the charts for having the largest percentage of children living in extreme poverty, and a large population of destitute and orphaned children.

Why is it that we are unable to guarantee our children a future sans socioeconomic deprivation despite having spent so much time and resources in developing these laws and policies? Is it because most of these laws and policies have ignored to factor in some of India’s unique problems?

With around 44 million destitute children and over 12 million orphan and abandoned children, one of our primary concerns today should be to develop protective, familial environments that can assure them not just a roof over their heads and a square meal, but a life that is equal, fair, and enriching. Going beyond offering rudimentary school education, children should be given access to skills and knowledge that will help them develop into critical thinkers and innovators even within their limited environments. Education should be such that it ultimately instils in our children a set of social values that will motivate them to lead exemplary lives as equals even in this unequal world.

Samagrshala is an effort to create this sort of a holistic growing up environment for orphan/destitute children from the most marginalised communities. Far from being just an orphanage or a hostel, Samagrshala will become a home that will provide these children a socio-culturally enhanced existence that will identify and nurture their innate dexterities and horn special skills that will help them achieve realities that are often not in their reach.

Samagrshala is an initiative by Antakshari Foundation, an organisation that has worked in the child rights and education space for over two decades. As the word ‘Antakshari’ suggests, the organisation tries to develop a new change process out of the learning of earlier ones – a process that carries on from one individual to another. The organisation works collectively by building a network with government, community, individuals and civil society. Currently Antakshari Foundation is working in Ajmer, Kishangarh, Kota, Rajsamand, Bundi, Baran and Jaipur districts in Rajasthan, Patna and Gaya districts in Bihar.

The organisation already runs six child care centers, eleven night schools for children and two community libraries. It has implemented various programmes in Rajastahan funded by donors like UNICEF, Action Aid, American Jewish World Service, India Committee of Netherland, Social Work & Research Center-Tilonia, etc. It had also implemented the Google supported bonded labour initiative.

Samagrshala is a concept developed from the years of learning and experience acquired through all our various initiatives. We are striving to provide orphan/destitute children from the margins a safe accommodation, good education, healthy food, and exposure to socio-culturally rich living. They will leave behind a life of deprivation, and join us to become a part of an affectionate family and a new home that opens doors to expansive knowledge, skills and opportunities.

A fresh lease of life at Kakalwara

The first Samagrshala has been initiated in Kakalwara, a village in Arain block of Ajmer district. Land for our campus has been given to us by the people of the village as a show of their complete support and solidarity with our efforts.  Through the years we have managed to build a simple campus, one room at a time. Today our campus has a few rooms, toilets and bathrooms, meeting halls, office space, and a kitchen and  mess – basic amenities enough to accommodate 25 children.

Samagrshala in kakalwara will every year take under its care 3-4 children between the ages of 8 and 14 from across Rajasthan, from extremely difficult socioeconomic background. Each child will spend a minimum of 5 years with us during which time, they will be provided all basic care and facilities.

All children joining Samagrshala will be enrolled into appropriate classes in the Kakalwara government school. Apart from regular school education our children will be given exposure to several other kinds of learning through our various in-house activities.

Tuition and extra classes:

An in-house tutor will live with the children in the campus who will on a regular basis give the children extra tuitions to help them achieve excellence in their school curriculum. The tutor will employ new and innovative methods to convey lessons and will regularly assess their progress.

Farming and other life skills:

The Kakalwara campus sits on a 4 bigha land that has ample space for children to learn farming techniques. Efforts are to give children the ability to see farming as an integral part of rural living, understand its value, and experiment with new and innovative techniques to grow their own food.

Cultural Exposure:

Through regularly scheduled workshops and events children at Samagrshala will gain exposure to various art forms. From visual arts and crafts such as paining and puppetry to performing arts such as dance, music and theatre, we aim to provide these children an expansive learning opportunity. Prominent artists, thinkers and intellectuals will be invited to interact and teach children at Samgrashala.

Personal Development:

Samagrashala will also offer ample scope and space for children to develop their personalities and social skills. Through regular interactions with people from different cultures and social backgrounds, children will slowly build values and traits that will help them become egalitarian and empathetic individuals.

Kitaab Khana:

Kitaab Khana is a unique library initiative that inculcates social awareness and democratic values in children and young adults, from marginalised and disenfranchised sections of India, through the medium of books. Kitaab Khana stands out from other libraries as it goes beyond a physical space and transcends into a cultural space for children to explore and understand life through creative means. Establishing Kitaab Khana within the Kakalwara campus, we wish to introduce the fascinating world of books to not just our children in Samagrshala, but all the children in the block of Arain.