The 146 children at Nisarga Grama, a residential centre in Hesaraghatta, which is about 30 kilometres from Bengaluru, are busy going to school, learning new computer skills, reading new books, leaning taekwondo and performing various traditional arts, including Karnataka’s Dollu Kunitha (drum and dance).
Sounds quite usual, but until a few years ago, this was nearly impossible for these children. They were forced into rag-picking, bonded labour and child marriage; others were sexually abused and neglected by the parent(s). Things changed when a Bengaluru-based non-government organisation (NGO) called Sparsha Trust, with the help of Child Welfare Committees in India, rescued these children, brought them to Nisarga Grama and sent them to school.
For one year after they are rescued, the children are kept at Nisarga Grama, which is also a multi-dimensional centre for rescued children. During the first year of their stay, the centre gives these children educational activities like reading books and writing English alphabets, in addition to engaging them in sports and other activities. After a year, the children are sent to government and private schools and colleges in the neighbourhood.
At the centre, they have access to a library, a computer room, a science lab and a sprawling backyard to grow their own vegetables and fruits, rear cattle and of course, to play.
At the helm of this organisation is Gopinath R, the founder of Sparsha Trust. Having come from a similar background, wherein he was forced to drop out of school and work with his father before he was enrolled in school again, Gopinath wanted to help other children who have been through such situations. Some people like Shashidhar Kotien, who is also a Trustee of the Sparsha Trust, spends their free time running the center.
Watch the video to know how this initiative has helped children like Pallavi, Sahithya, H Sujatha and Kanaka.
Here’s the full transcript:
This is dollu kunitha, a traditional art form of Karnataka, where the performer drums and dances (dollu).
This has traditionally been performed by men, as these ‘kunitha’ or drums are bulky, weighing about 10 kgs. It requires a lot of stamina to drum and dance. But these girls are showing that gender does not matter. They say, it gives them a sense of empowerment. But dollu kunitha is not our story. It is only one of the aspects that changed hundreds of lives here.
I am at a residential centre for children called Nisarga Grama, in Hesaraghatta, which is about 30 kms away from Bengaluru city. More than a residential centre, Nisarga Grama is a multi-dimensional development centre for children who have been neglected, abused and exploited in the past.
Nisarga Grama is run by an NGO called Sparsha Trust, that works closely with Child Welfare Committees in several Indian states, and provides education to rescued children.
For many children here, education, friends and new skills were impossible until a few years ago. They used to pick up trash on the roadside, were forced into bonded labour, orphaned at a young age...some were even sexually abused. Today, they go to various schools in the neighbourhood, come back to Nisarga Grama and learn more skills.
Pallavi, class 10: My father used to drink a lot and would not allow me to study. I was put in a hostel near Kammasandra village, but my father would come to the hostel and fight with the authorities there…. One day, my father, in a drunk state, killed my mother. When I was in Class 8, after my exams, I was dropped to CWC...
Sahithya, class 8: Some people saw me at the construction site and asked me, what I am doing here. They called BOSCO (an NGO working with children in Bengaluru city) and took me to CWC. I stayed there for seven months and was brought here, to Sparsha Trust… I am studying well now. I could not speak English also; but only Kannada. I changed my personality
Nisarga Grama is one of the flagship initiatives of Sparsha Trust… The NGO also runs five other similar education and development projects for children in and around Bengaluru. They have about 430 children under them, with 146 at Nisarga Grama.
At the helm of this organisation is its founder, Gopinath R. Hailing from Manchigana halli in Kolar district of Karnataka, Gopinath and his siblings were forced to drop out of school when their father abandoned them and their mother. Later, his father took him to Bengaluru to work with him, until his stepmother enrolled him in school again.
With the aim to help children who have been through such dire circumstances, Gopinath set up Sparsha Trust, along with many like-minded people… like Shashidhar Kotien, who dedicates his weekends to run the centre.
Shashidhar Kotien, Trustee, Sparsha Trust: In Bengaluru Rural area, if any child is in distress, anyone can call us on childline 1098, and our team will send a rescue team. We rescue nearly 700 children per year… Child labourers, beggars, rag-picking, child marriages, children who have been abused, drug addiction at a young age, Juvenile Justice (Act) cases… We have stopped nearly 100 child marriages in and around Bengaluru. We start with activities like sports and games, and slowly give them educational activities. They start writing and reading books… For one year after their rescue, we will keep them at the centre and then enrol them in proper schools.
Private organisations, through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, sponsor most of their projects based on the needs, like setting up libraries and computers, etc.
Apart from textbooks and computers, children here engage in sports, leisure activities and take up self-sustainable practices like rearing cattle and growing their own vegetables and fruits.
H Sujatha, First Year, Pre-University: Today, the way society has become, people have to stand on their own legs. Instead of relying on others’ charity, people, through their own knowledge/intelligence, can run a business.
Pallavi: Education is important in a child’s life. We have the right to speak, the freedom, to receive education and to protect ourselves.
Kanaka was among the seven children in India who were selected to speak at the Parliament on Children’s Day in 2017. She highlighted the atrocities against children and requested the government to ensure their rights.
Kanaka: “I beg you.... all to take care of the 40% of the population who are defenceless children, like your own child. To make India strong and more powerful because children are the nation builders of tomorrow”