In 2010, a colleague urged me to accompany her to Dhinka-Chika, a children’s home which she visited every Sunday. She taught the children English and Mathematics or just counseled them on simple life issues. I’ve been a Rotarian for 10 years and we’re constantly on the lookout for new community service opportunities. So I agreed, and today I consider this among the best decisions in my life.
This home, run by an NGO, Charlie Help Universe Trust, housed orphaned children or those with single or extremely poor parents who couldn’t even feed them, leave alone educate them. But for this initiative, these children would have been destined to live a life of begging, crime or worse.
There were 35 children residing there when I visited it that Sunday. The sparkle and love that I saw in the eyes of the children made me want to contribute in some way towards providing a better future for them. I decided to introduce this as a permanent project in my Rotary Club — RC Surat West. The response I got from other club members was very encouraging and we decided on a long term and continuous engagement with the Home and its inhabitants.
We believed that only sustained and concerted efforts could make any significant difference to the lives of these children. The Trust running it was already doing a lot in providing food, shelter, clothing and basic schooling to all the 35 children. But they needed all the help they could get to sustain and improve this service.
We decided to take up a multi- pronged approach and focus on health, hygiene and literacy, which were essential to ensure a better future for the children.
I often wonder whose life is changing; their’s or mine?
We learnt that none of the 35 children had had any vaccination till then. With the help of one of our club members, Dr Vijay Shah, who is a paediatrician working with the Government Civil Hospital in Surat, we designed a complete immunisation programme for the children, raised the resources and successfully administered all the necessary vaccines to protect them against life threatening and crippling diseases, and held regular health and dental check-up camps.
As the children were drinking water directly from the municipal supply, which made them vulnerable to water-borne diseases, with the help of a donor, we installed two water purifier machines. They now have 24-hour access to clean drinking water. The Trust ensures healthy and nutritious food for the children, and our club members also contribute towards regular food grain supplies. Many of our members now celebrate birthdays and anniversaries at the Home and sponsor a meal for the children.
Health and hygiene addressed, the next step was to ensure that the children have access to good education and also get vocational training which would help them build their careers. The trustees have now shifted the children from municipal schools to private schools, but this meant additional expenses in terms of higher fees. Our club members now regularly contribute towards school fees, books and uniforms. We also encourage friends and relatives to do the same, and we’ve also set up a small library by donating many books.
Computer skills are a necessity in our digital world. With the help of another generous club member, who runs a computer training institute, we organised a basic computer course for the 35 children, and now all of them can use a computer. To help them improve on this skill, we’ve donated three computers to the Home. Once again our club members showed their generosity.
Our and the Trustees’ aim is to build a solid foundation for these children, so all the children will be encouraged to study at least up to graduation or do any vocational training course of their choice.
One day all the children will hopefully be ready to face life on their own, build a career, start families, and live a life of dignity and self respect. More children will continue to be admitted and new children will replace those who move on with their lives. We hope to continue this life-changing engagement.
But I often wonder, whose life is changing. Is it the children’s or mine?
(The writer is member of RC Surat West, D 3060.)