Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Nayantara N | The News Minute | December 11, 2014 | 14.57 pm IST Young, gleaming eyes trace any unfamiliar face that enters the building which they call their home. They smile, they greet you, they ask for your name with much respect. They are curious to know what brought you there and what you have for them, but the affection they show is something one cannot describe. On the outside, they look like any normal school-going children their age, but all the kids have one thing in common - these are all children of jail inmates. While cycling to work every day, RBI officer Mr. Venkataraghavachari Mani would pass by Bengaluru Central Jail and see small kids crying outside for their loved ones. Deeply affected by it, he decided that he would take such kids under his wing after retirement. And he did. But the journey wasn't an easy one. Once the kids were identified, Mr. Mani had to make several trips to the villages to convince the parent. Eventually, he started receiving applications through jail authorities and in April 1999 the journey of Socare Ind (Society's care for Indigent) began. He brought these kids to his home and gave them food, education, shelter and taught them values. Today, the organisation is home to 180 children in different places in Bengaluru and Kallaburagi (formerly Gulbarga). The youngest one is all of four years still unaware of what brought him there. After Mr. Mani’s death, M. N. Rao took up the responsibility of holding the organisation and the children together with the help of five other trustees. A retired DGM of Power Grid Corporation, M.N. Rao took up this role the very next day after his retirement. Another member has completed a service of 20 years in Kendriya Vidyalaya before dedicating himself to teaching and caring for the children. The girls and boys are housed in different hostels. “Most of these children are from Gulbarga region mainly because the crime rate and poverty is so high. We have also taken 10 Manipuri children due to the unrest prevailing in the Imphal region. They are brilliant in academics and sports,” he said proudly. The organisation prefers to take younger children under their care as it helps the child settle faster. He gives the instance of one Manipuri child having participated in the South Asian Championship in Taekwondo. Apart from the regular school work, the facilitators encourage children to take part in extra-curricular activities. The children go to nearby local schools and colleges and some offer upto 50% concession in the fees. “We have children we are doing engineering, commerce and diploma and a few are already employed and they come back and contribute to Socare, which is extremely touching,” said Mr. Rao. When asked why did he not opt admission for children under Right to Education (RTE), he said they were ‘lucky’ enough to not have depended on government funds. “The school or the government will ask for many documents. How can you ask these children or parents to furnish those when you are aware of their background?” he asks. Besides, he says, it a tedious process and one loses faith in the system. Fortunately, there have been no instances of discrimination against the children in the schools they are studying. “There is a driver available round the clock to rush the children to hospitals in case of medical emergencies. For the girls’ hostel, there are 2-3 wardens who ensure the safety of the children,” he said. “Every month, the organisation spends about four lakhs in meeting the expenses of the children, their food and their needs. In the beginning of every academic year, it is an uphill task as the expenditure is more due to purchase of books, school uniforms, bags, shoes etc. But we are managing through voluntary donations.” Additionally, Sringeri Sharada Peetam, a mutt, donates Rs 50,000 a month and some companies contribute as part of their corporate social responsibility project. During summer vacations, the organisation sends the children back to their native place for about five weeks to spend some time with their loved ones. For those children whose parent/s is lodged in Bengaluru jails, the care-takers ensure that they meet with them at least once in a month. They also have a counsellor and a few children are regularly counselled to prevent them from going into depression. “So far, we have consulted a psychiatrist only in two cases, but otherwise the children are coping very well,” said Mr. Rao.

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