When we visit this small hall in a slum (Gosavi vasti in Kothrud), which is yet to see the light of day literally (although it has valid electric connection), we realise how despite the challenges, it is providing immense joy and making a difference in the lives of many underprivileged girls. The people responsible for taking up this onerous task belong to an NGO called Niramay founded by renowned professionals and businessmen to address issues such as malnutrition and child mortality in the city slums. According to Jyotikumar Kulkarni, honorary secretary of Niramay, the health of these slum dwellers can have a direct bearing on the health of urban people in whose houses they work as maids, cooks and so on. The Trustees of Niramay, inspired by the dictum of ‘Seva Paramo Dharmaha’ (which means Service is the Highest Religion), have embarked on an ambitious project to provide health services and medication to over 10,000 children from the 150-odd slums and shanties of Pune.
Through its Child Health Card Scheme (CHCS), Niramay is administering vaccines to children, against diseases such as measles, typhoid and polio according to the guidelines laid down by the World Health Organization. “With a team of doctors, nurses and three mobile dispensary vans, we have managed to administer 2,00,000 doses uptill now,” says Deepa Kulkarni, project coordinator, Niramay with pride. To make this vaccination programme successful, they diligently maintain records of registration of each child vaccinated, follow ups, counselling of mothers and so on.
Kishori Shakti project
Another ambitious project that Niramay has undertaken for adolescent girls from slums is to raise awareness about their health problems arising out of early marriage and motherhood. “Under our Kishori Shakti project, we focus on developing the all round personality of these girls through education, vocational training, life skills, pre-marriage counselling and curricular and career guidance,” explains Kulkarni. A total of 17 Kishori Shakti classes are conducted in 17 different slums of Pune, benefitting more than 1700 girls.
Niramay has mapped out a very efficient and comprehensive system to make this project work. Each class is run by a community coordinator who is selected and trained from the slums itself. This system has resulted in making these coordinators literate and confident besides giving their lives a positive direction. This is evident in the way Shobha Sarode, one of the coordinators, talks about the daily classes that she conducts for the girls.
Every day after school, from 3 to 6 pm, she holds Kishori Shakti classes to teach them prayers, spoken English, sports, value education, to name a few and the girls are in full attendance. Kulkarni elaborates, “We have assigned specific time for each activity, like 45 minutes for studies and one hour for sports and so on. We also hold Surya Namaskar competitions for girls as also matches for other sports.”
Picnics, treks and residential workshops are held wherein the girls learn about maintaining hygiene, developing good habits, obeying rules and behaving in a polite manner, specially with the outside world. These girls have been trained to perform Mangalagauri games (a ritual followed by Maharashtrian women during the month of Shravan) on a professional level.
“For the last eight years or so, we have not only been training them to perform these games in a professional manner but also teaching them how to speak and behave with the hosts who invite them to perform,” says Kshitija Agashe, a dedicated lady who works voluntarily for Niramay. The amount of Rs 7,000, earned as professional fee for one performance, is spent on fulfilling the girls’ needs — buying a school bag, books and so on.
The happy faces and confident behaviour of the little girls participating in the Mangalagauri games are a testimony to the success of the Kishori Shakti project. When asked if they like coming for these classes, a rousing yes echoes from the girls.
They have seen many positive changes in their lives after learning life skills and values. It has made them realise the importance of thinking for themselves, living a dignified life and nursing an ambition of their own. “I want to join the military,” says Radhika Gaikwad, while some girls say they want to emulate their coordinators and become teachers. Having a beauty parlour of their own, becoming a singer are some other aspirations of these enthusiastic girls. And fulfilling the same should be possible, for they have a very dedicated and passionate team of Niramay to guide them.