Giving them wings to fly

Alisha Shinde
Monday, 17 December 2018

Through their initiative Mitti Ke Rang, Amit Jain and Ashutosh Sharma have been relentlessly working for the upliftment of slum children and widow empowerment

Malwadi, a slum located near Hadapsar, Pune, is home to 1000+ families and 1500+ children, most of whom attend a local school. While slum children and youngsters have similar dreams and aspirations as economically-privileged youngsters, they neither have the environment nor the opportunities to take them forward.
 
Amit Jain and Ashutosh Sharma, two youngsters who closely witnessed their problems, decided to create a world class community learning centre for the children and youngsters of Malwadi slum where they could hone their skills and pull up their socks to grab greater opportunities and fulfill their dreams. Talking to Jain, we find out how they are making a difference  in the lives of others through their initiative Mitti Ke Rang.
 
Coming from a lower middle-class family and having faced many hardships, Jain says that he worked hard through his school years for academic success. “Having lost my father at the tender age of three, I grew up witnessing the plight of a widowed mother in Indian society.”

When Jain moved to Pune he was able to find himself a decently paying job. Even though life has not been fair to him, he says that these situations never made him a bitter person. “On the contrary I got my mission in life: ‘Don’t let others go through the same fear and uncertainty that I have been through’ and that is how Mitti Ke Rang came into existence,” he says.
  
“In 2014, when we were leading a somewhat better life, we thought it was time to give back,” he says adding that he had no idea of how to gather volunteers for the cause. But Jain was aware that a few people in big cities had a lot of things to donate, however, they did not know where and how to make the donations. “So just as a trial I posted on Quikr and got some inquiries. Then I started posting on social media and attended a few social events. In a month, we got around 30 inquiries,” he says. 

During the collection campaign Jain came across an auto-rickshaw  driver in Indore whom he gifted a shirt and in his excitement shared his campaign idea with him. “To my surprise, he volunteered to take me door to door for the collection drive if he was allowed to keep 20 per cent of the items. But no one will believe what he did with those items — he distributed them all among his neighbours,” says Jain.  
In one year, they collected and distributed more than 2,000 clothes, books, furniture etc. “Our collection drive gained many dedicated volunteers within one-and-a-half years, and our campaign spread like wildfire involving more than 100 active volunteers,” he says. Following which Jain decided to address the issue of gender inequality. 
 
After he became a member of the Commonwealth Youth Council in 2017, he was able to meet a lot of social workers from over 40 countries at their annual conference in Malaysia. “My idea of gender equality and rehabilitation of widows influenced many of them and they incorporated a similar campaign model in their own countries,” he says adding that today the global wing of Mitti Ke Rang is working with widows in various African nations. “Often without skills, support, or opportunities, these women succumb to poverty. Some are forced into servitude or beggary, and those with children are forced to surrender them to an orphanage, traffickers, child marriage, or to the streets,” adds Jain. 

Mitti Ke Rang has centres in Pakistan, Zambia, Gambia, Kenya, France, Nigeria, Fiji, Nepal and India, with primary centres in Pune. Jain says that a woman should have her own identity. With this vision they have strived towards gender equality and widow empowerment. “We achieve this by implementing poverty-reduction strategies and providing educational opportunities for widows and their children. In this way, we give these families the fundamental right to secure their own future.”

Ask Jain what he has learnt while working for the upliftment of slum dwellers and he promptly says that he has got great insight on how everyone out there deserves a life, respect and, most importantly, opportunities.

To learn more about the initiative, visit milaap.org/fundraisers/helpustobuildaworld

Five projects
Project Women

Under this project, they have been organising skill-based workshops like rangoli designing, cloth and paper bag making, creating idols for Ganapati festival and handcrafting Diwali gifts for women.
The other segment of this project involves making women aware of their rights and benefits; guiding them with the necessary paperwork to avail the services of banks and other government offices. 

Project Reading — De Coding
For the children, they have started a community centre with a library. Every evening, over 30 children in the age group of 6 to 16, are taught to read. Recently, Project Reading integrated the uneducated widows and senior citizens from low-income background. 

At Mitti Ke Rang, they believe that every student and individual should have the tools and information needed to make reading aloud a daily routine, and that all children should be given a foundation for success at school and beyond. 

Project Advocacy
Very few people are working towards the upliftment of widows, and India has almost 42 million widows. So it is imperative to create an advocacy to involve more people in helping them.

Project — Generating Curiosity
The speakers meet twice in a week to interact with the students and guide them with the correct knowledge of what they wish to become in the future.

Project Hi Tech Community Learning Resource Centre and Co-working space
This is a unique set-up for a slum area and won’t be less than an actual corporate office/ co-working area.

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