Wednesday, August 5, 2015

We rise by lifting others - A project visit to "Pahal" by a CRY Volunteer

On a sunny winter morning, I accompanied one of my friends to her daughter's school. We dropped her daughter in a chauffeur driven car and carried her princess tiffin with us to her classroom. The school premises were beautiful, with freshly painted walls, beautiful green grass, swings and ample room for kids to run around. The children were in comfortable red and blue track suits and one was cuter than the other. I was so pleased to see all the amenities available for these children.

Later that afternoon, I made my way to Badli, an industrial area outside of Rohini (near Delhi)
Upon arriving there, I was greeted by the Pahal team led by Mr. Jeetendar Singh. After receiving a small brief about Pahal's work and CRY's contribution to the project, the Pahal team took me on site to see where the actual change was taking place. What I am about to share with you next was astonishing!

Our first stop was near a massive garbage dump - by massive I mean half an acre - it looked like a big dumpster had spilled open. For those of us from India, this is something we all have probably seen at some point and also experienced the mob of flies that attacks you as you go closer. However, what most of us don't know is that some of the garbage filled land masses have slums established behind them. Within these slums reside the rag pickers. The rag pickers take heaps of garbage into their homes and then separate it for strands of hair, bottles, cloth etc They then sell their findings for food and water.

This group lives in extreme poverty, lacks hygiene and basic survival conditions. What is worse is that other underprivileged communities look down upon these rag pickers. Seeing this oppressed class of people, I felt extremely sorry for the current generation and wondered what happens to their future generations - is there any hope for them, or will they continue scavenging through garbage? How long do they children survive without basic means? Are there any opportunities for their condition to improve?

This is where the CRY/Pahal team takes action. The Pahal team interacts with the slum dwellers and educates them about hygiene and vaccinations. They bring them upto par with our communities in the area so that their children are welcome in nearby schools and community groups. They make them realize the value of education so the next generation does not have to face the same struggles.

From there we continued to the residential colony across the industries of Badli. We walked through the narrow streets with semi temporary living arrangements and made it to a small concrete building with blue walls and a 400sq feet room. In this room, awaited our greatest fans. I was greeted by 30-40 smiling children in the Pahal community center. Unlike earlier in the day, these children wore very ordinary clothes, did not have tiffins packed by mothers, many did not even have shoes and yet walked a long distance to make it to the center.  However, what they did bring with them was Hope - Hope for a better future, Hope for a protected environment, hope to have fuller stomachs, hope for a childhood. 

The ages of the children ranged from 5-15 years. Many of the older children had never been to school because they were taking care of their younger siblings while parents worked, or they had been employed to supplement family income. These children were victims of child labor and had been rescued by the Pahal team. Thanks to Pahal, these children now have a place where they can interact with other children, learn how to read and write, but most importantly, a place where someone wants to see them prosper. 

Once the children learn the basics, they are enrolled in the nearby government schools. Pahal has made these children feel so welcome and aroused such a strong desire to learn that many of them show up at the center even on holidays. In my interactions with the children, many of them said "humme yahan aana acha lagta hai" (we like coming here); "yaha didi humme bahut kuch sikhati hai"(The teacher helps us learn a lot of things); "hamare dost hai, hum baad mein khelte hai" (we've made some friends here, with who we go play later)

The female children prepared a small skit for me which depicted their situation - the main takeaway was that they want to go to school but family demands did not allow them to study. In some cases, they had to take care of younger siblings, in others had to take care of their home or had to go work with their parents and in a few situations, they were  promised for marriage and therefore did not need to be educated.

The interactions concluded with a dance by 2 teenage girls - looking at them made me realize that they are just like any other children I know. They also want to have fun, sing, dance, draw, color, paint and play. These children were bereaved of a childhood until Pahal came along.

I left the center teary eyed as I had never felt so much love and gratefulness in the past. The children were so thankful for everything Pahal was doing for them. As much as I was pleased with the work we had done, I also realized that we have a long way to go. 

This thought process was reinforced when I met a  mother of 2 children - One 6 year old and the other  3 days old. I visited their single room home where i met a mother sitting on the bed, with a small bowl of rice in front of her, the newborn wrapped in a duppatta and the elder one sitting next to the baby. We decided to visit this home because the older child had not been coming to school. When we asked the mother why she didn't send her older daughter to school, she said she was taking care of the newborn baby. If the older daughter went to school then the mother would have to miss work to take care of the baby, which would put a dent in their family income. It is a big challenge convincing some of these parents to send their children to study, however, Pahal's constant counselling has made many families realize the importance of proper upbringing which comprises of both education and healthcare.

In our day to day lives, we often take so much for granted - food, shelter, clean drinking water, water to run our homes, electricity, healthcare, education, safety...the list is endless. It is when i visited Pahal, I realized how blessed many of us are and how important it is for us to give to those who need it the most. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference, all it takes is 1) Awareness - to identify those in need and 2) Dedication - to ensure help is being provided.

I urge everyone reading this blog to become more aware of their surroundings - if you see a child laborer, please report it and if you want to help, please get involved with CRY.

"We rise by lifting others"

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fighting Sex Trafficking: A Project Partner call with our Volunteers

Image taken from The India phile

Our Volunteers participated in a call with our project partner today with Dr. Ajeet who started "Guria" and efforts to fight sexual exploitation of girls forced into prostitution and trafficking in India. Dr Ajeet was on his way back from speaking at Princeton and as soon as he spoke, you could hear the passion in his voice. He is inspiring person and someone who started this journey when he was only 17 years old.

At 17, Dr. Ajeet decided to take in and adopt children. He has been risking his life to help them ever since. Some of what he shared was that our organization, CRY, supported the efforts when they first got started and when no one else seemed to care. Because of this, he has an emotional connection with us. He also mentioned that he and his staff are targets and that their lives are often at risk. One of his staff members was attacked just a few months ago. He said that they confront corruption and work all angles to rehabilitate and protect the girls. They take criminal cases all the way up to the supreme court, they hide girls and their families to protect them and they are hated by those that are involved in these criminal acts.

It left a strong impression when he spoke of fear and how he gets the strength to continue. He said he is not afraid and that real strength comes from within and that the process makes him connect to his purpose in life which is to serve unconditionally. He also said that he's happy that people are talking about the issue of sex trafficking now, that they have built relationships with the U.S. government, the UN and he's glad that the advocacy component is so strong now. He shared that CRY gave them the strength to grow. They have now rehabilitated and rescued over 800 girls and have brought criminal cases against over 1,000 sex traffickers. Their work has also played a large role in influencing the government in India to not give bail to sex traffickers in prison, to be key players in sting operations and more.

The call made me very proud to be a part of our organization at CRY America​ who supports ground efforts making real change in the lives of children who need it the most. Our volunteers have helped over 600,558 children through their efforts and this is one of the projects that hard work goes to. I can only hope that those that were on the call and that read this blog know that every event planned, every time they speak of our organization, every call and donor gained is part of a ripple effect to helps someone as courageous as Dr. Ajeet.
        Dr. Ajeet and his family with CRYAmerica's Fundraising Manager, Patrick Bocco and CEO, Shefali Sunderlal

Written by Sol Garcia
CRY America Volunteer Manager

Monday, March 31, 2014

From household chores to a classroom in school.

Girls in India, continue to become child labourers and drop outs because people do not address girl children’s issues holistically. Irrespective of the data source, roughly 50% of all working children are girls. School dropout rates amongst adolescent girls remains high at 63%. Moreover, 53% of girls in the age group of 5-9 years are illiterate.  What is needed is a systems approach, which focuses on tackling external and internal barriers to girl child education. This includes bridge courses for children to make up in years of lost schooling, ensuring good quality free government schools, good backup in health services and adequate employment and housing for the adults.

Child Labor is deeply rooted in our society due to social and economic marginalization, poverty, displacement, migration and lack of a coherent policy towards quality education for all. Girls work mainly to help their families because the adults do not have appropriate employment and adequate income. Children also work because there is a demand for cheap labor in the market.
Take the case of Rina, who had to quit school due to her family’s bad economic condition. Rina’s mother, who worked as a PE (peer educator) in an NGO had to discontinue her job for some reason. This forced her to withdraw her children from school. After dropping out of school, Rina began to perform the domestic chores. Her mother started engaging in some work in order to support the family. Furthermore, her family’s HIV status subjected her to stigma and discrimination from her father’s family. Rina confined herself to a small room in her house for most of the time. Due to the unfriendly and indifferent environment, she started becoming very depressed. She kept away from her friends and gradually started becoming abusive and aggressive towards her family.

Intervention from CRY America and our partner, Wide Angle helped Rina get back to school. Frequent visits and counseling sessions were conducted to ensure that Rina actively participated in children’s programs. Staff members of Wide Angle convinced her mother to enroll Rina in a school closer to her house. They met with the headmaster of Buddhimanjuri High school (government school) and explained Rina’s condition. They emphasized on the immediate need to reinstate Rina’s life as a student and empower her by imparting education. The headmaster responded positively to their request and assured them of complete cooperation. Today, Rina has been admitted into the government school in class V. Rina has started going to school again with a hope to attain herself a better and brighter future. Your support ensured that children like Rina get a chance to go to school, no matter what the barriers to education are.

We, at CRY America, firmly believe that when a girl is able to go to school, she sets off a cycle of positive change which gives her the strength and skill to fight numerous obstacles and change the course of her life. Our recent initiative, ‘Stay in School’ campaign is about ensuring 1944 girl children in India do not drop out of school and receive  quality access to a classroom, a teacher, books and much more by removing the roadblocks that hinder their education. All we need is $70,000 to achieve it.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

CRY UW Team in India - Project Visit Testimonies

“Before the trip, I knew that CRY India provides support to NGOs that work with children. This weekend, I truly learned the nature of that support. It seems that CRY looks for NGOs that harness three major forces: knowledge, of a child’s universal rights; solidarity, of a community so that many voices are empowered and not just one; and perseverance, to work tirelessly over the several years it takes to effect change. An NGO, with the personal and monetary support from CRY, injects these forces into a community like a vaccine to treat the diseases of injustice and dejected attitudes passed down through generations. As a Maharashtrian by background, I am proud to have witnessed the incredible strength in the people of this state to end a vicious cycle and help children reach their full potentials."
~Ashwin Karnik, University of Washington, Fourth-Year

“Volunteering for CRY at the University of Washington and reading all about CRY has always been such an amazing experience. However, we never truly understand how CRY works and where our efforts go. Being able to come to Latur and visit these villages has been such an eye-opening experience in understanding how CRY and KMVAGVS work to make such a difference in the lives of so many people. Despite growing up with little to no opportunities, these children have been given the chance to pursue their hopes and dreams through the intervention of KMVAGVS, and it is amazing to see how much of an impact this has had on their outlook on life. These children have been through so much, yet they never fail to have a smile on their face. It was wonderful to be able to experience their passion and enthusiasm for education and fighting for their rights and see how that passion continues to grow no matter what challenges they face.”
~Shireen Chawla, University of Washington Alum, B.A. Psychology

CRY UW Team in India - Latur Day 2

Saturday, September 7th - Latur, Day 2

Today’s focus was more on urban poverty projects (slums) that KMVAGVS supports.  The primary purpose of visiting the first slum was to focus on the poor conditions of the “anganwadi.” An anganwadi is a mid-day program meant to provide nourishment to children ages 0-6. Basic nutrients are given through bananas, lapsa (porridge), and occasionally eggs. This anganwadi was less than 50 square feet but was meant to hold over 20 children. Built with clay, cow dung, and bricks, this anganwadi was in poor condition due to seasonal rains (monsoons). Thanks to the intervention of KMVAGVS, the people of the slum have been empowered to stand up for their rights and have been sanctioned to build a new, more functional anganwadi.

At the next slum we visited, we were invited into the home of a member of the women’s empowerment group. The women explained to us the empty promises that political leaders make to them every year in hopes of securing their votes for the elections. Fortunately, this community was able to stand together to fight for its rights. So far they attained a block of toilets, some up-to-code housing units, and a water drainage system. They are fighting for much more so that their community can thrive, not just survive.
CRY UW with children of an anganwadi

We were then taken to meet the children’s group as they returned home from school. We learned that their strategies were tailored to their unique urban situation. A people forced to move here due to flooding in their village, they illegally occupy prime real estate that the government can whimsically take away from them at any moment. The children have rallied in the busy streets not only to spread awareness of their destitution to political leaders but also to gain visibility to other denizens of urban Latur, breaking down social barriers.

The day concluded with a surprise visit to a collective farming unit called Arnjkheda. This farming unit is a testament to the success of KMVAGVS’s interventions. We were welcomed to the village with a homegrown lunch from the people’s farm, as they were proud to share their accomplishments with us. After a yummy meal, the villagers described their struggle against the upper caste, who wanted to maintain their superiority over the farmers. The villagers, backed by KMVAGV, wanted to end this fight that had been going on for many generations so that their children would not have to continue facing the same struggles and instead focus on education. In fact, while the elders of the village remained in the farm to work for a living, their children were sent to a boarding school where their education can continue. KMVAGV has since stopped directly supporting Arnjkheda because of the farm’s self-reliance and sustainability as well as the fulfillment of the promise to their children.

All six of us had our own words to say about the visit to KMVAGVS and its projects. Tomorrow, we will share some of our quotes with you!

To learn more about KMVAGVS, visit the following links:

Monday, September 9, 2013

CRY UW India Trip 2013

Our CRY America University of Washington Action Center is currently in India and volunteering their time with CRY. Below is a summary of their first few days. Please take a moment to learn about their experience.

Wednesday, September 4th - Orientation Day

Today was our first official day with CRY India where we gained a complete overview of the objectives of the organization. At the orientation, we were introduced to one partner organization called Kalapandhari Magas Vargiya and Adivasi Gramin Vikas Sanstha (KMVAGVS), whose projects we would be visiting for the next two days in the villages of Latur.  KMVAGVS is an NGO that gained the support of CRY India in 1999 with its original purpose being to “Ensure Child Rights through Women’s Empowerment in the district of Latur near the border of Maharashtra.

September 5th-6th - Latur, Day 1

We travelled overnight by train and arrived early morning in an urban area of Latur. Today we visited the office of KMVAGVS, where we were greeted with warm hearts and warm chai by the staff and founder/leader B.P. Suryavanshi. Suryavanshi explained to us the motivation behind his organization. Despite his underprivileged childhood, he overcame the barriers ubiquitous to his situation and devoted his life to improving the prospects for impoverished children.

Our first visit of the day was to the local Primary Health Center (PHC) where we became acquainted with the lack of sanitation, space, staff, and equipment. Through our conversation with the only doctor serving the PHC, we saw that despite the many challenges of serving over 50 patients each day, he maintains optimism in this destitute situation. This PHC is supposed to provide vaccinations and a few other services, some of which are virtually discontinued due to insufficient support from the government. 

                                                      Bhalghat meeting among students in grades 6-10, led by Meena of KMVAGVS

Our second visit of the day took us through miles of winding, unpaved roads. After travelling through sugar cane fields for nearly an hour, we arrived at a primary school in a remote village. Despite being complete strangers, we were greeted enthusiastically by the students, ranging from grades 1 to 4. The school children were gracious enough to invite us to a session of their “Bhalghat” group. A Bhalghat meeting is a group of students who convene periodically to discuss how they can exercise their right to demand justice from the government in order to further overcome the obstacles they face.

The meeting was followed by a formal welcoming by the women leaders of the Banjaram tribe. We discussed the issues they faced, including domestic violence, social ostracism, and child labor. The community elders, musical artist volunteering for KMVAGVS, and the children performed several songs and skits portraying their triumphs over child-related injustices. By the end of the evening, we felt that the experience gave us an idea of how long it takes for an NGO (KMVAGVS) and a community in need to build a trusting relationship with each other, only after which real change can take place. This visit also clarified for us how the support from the partner CRY India empowers NGOs and communities to take action.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

With education as a foundation, Riku is set to conquer her dreams

As a child, Riku’s life remained restricted by the limits imposed by cerebral palsy. Inconvenient and insensitive to her special needs, she had to drop out of school. People like you who donated to 'Stay in School' campaign last year, ensur...ed 834 girls like Riku to get back into school and become a confident and self-assured girl. This year she will appear for her finals and complete her schooling. After her finals, Riku wants to study music and her dream is to be a Singer.

Support CRY America's 'Stay in School' at this year to ensure 2300 girls like Riku get the same opportunity.See More