Shaila Baijnath, the woman, who after spending 40 years in the UK returned to India to change the life of street children. She founded an NGO Aasraa trust in Dehradun, to transform the lives of the unprivileged. Starting with 35 children, the number has now grown to 1,100 children in 11 centres of Dehradun, Shaila is committed to empowering street and slum children with education. She discussed her successful journey with The logical Indian in an exclusive interview
How do you frame your journey of 40 years of life in abroad, and now Aasraa in Dehradun?
I have worked as an European Equity Trader in London, Paris and New York and also was a member of the New York and London Stock Exchanges. I left Investment Banking to follow my dream of returning to India and work with underprivileged children. Subsequently, Aasraa Trust was established in 2009 to empower and nurture slum and street children of Dehradun. Today, we work with more than a 1,000 street and slum children everyday across 11 centres in Dehradun.
What was the idea behind the formation of Aasraa trust? Could you tell something about your activities?
We started to work with 35 children from the river bed community to promote the need for education and started an after-school project to augment school education. This after-school Project called ‘Wings of Doon’ is meant to provide street children with concept and homework support.
Project Street Smart was started in 2011 with a group of five street children. The objective of the project was to keep the children off streets and provide them basic literacy through art, craft, music and audio-visual medium along with nutrition, clothing and medical care. Our mission is to level the playing field for children who have not had the opportunity to attend school or learn skills with which they can earn a decent livelihood.
The children we work with come from extremely impoverished backgrounds and are mostly rag pickers, beggars, addicts, runaways and orphans. Aasraa Trust seeks to alleviate poverty in Dehradun by providing the many disenfranchised children in the city with the opportunity to pursue education. Then the children are initiated into the first step of our ‘Street Smart’ education project where we conduct classes within the neighborhood to foster trust and basic education. Committed students move to the next step of the program at a facility that provides a more structured classroom environment where the children learn basic Hindi, English, and Mathematics. Once they’ve achieved an elementary level, we help to mainstream them into formal schools by providing scholarships that pay their school fees and living expenses.
Children who have achieved entrance into formal schooling, they then attend our other project, “Wings of Doon”. The children who attend this program take advantage of tutorials in a wide range of subjects. These complementary projects work to provide children access to schooling and the tools and support to later thrive academically. Those children, who for various reasons are unable to gain entrance into mainstream schooling, we provide them the option of NIOS ( an exam and study center for the National Institute of Open Schooling for its ‘Open Basic Education Program), alongside vocational training in sewing and block printing.
In 2015, Aasraa launched a new project called ‘Education on the Move’ which is a Mobile Learning Centre for street children who beg and pick rags for a living and are not able to attend school. These learning centres are buses which have been modified to become high-tech classrooms.We reach out to almost 150 children every weekdays through this initiative. One of the buses is a part of the Anti-Begging Campaign focused on child beggars. We firmly believe, that a child cannot be educated if they are hungry, sick or cold. Hence, we provide nutrition ranging from hot meals to fruits; medical care covering immunisation drives to complex surgeries and clothing to our children across our centres in Dehradun.
What challenges do you face every day? How do you find solutions to overcome.
Migratory nature of the children we work with, initial opposition from the community, irregularity, substance abuse, are some of the issues we deal with. But we like to focus on the positives and find solutions to every roadblock to improve our work. Computer education has helped in increasing the regularity of children. It is interactive, fun and engaging. Daily outreach and community awareness programs are conducted to build good relationships with the parents and family members of the children. Most of our children works to earn a living and support their families. Hence, our programs have been designed according to the schedules of the children so that maximum number of children can be benefited as per their availability. All mainstreamed children attend the after school programs run by Aasraa.
How do you see Aasraa trust in the next 10 years
We wish to expand our flagship project ‘Education on the Move’ in the coming years. Currently, there are 2 buses operating in Dehradun as a part of this project, educating slum children through interactive E-Learning material. In the future, we wish to expand our fleet of buses which will cater to various needs like computer labs, vocational training etc.
Are you satisfied with the government and administrative schemes to reach out to the poor?
We are working with the government to reach out to poor children to bring them into education or vocational training depending on their needs. We run an anti-begging campaign for child beggars in conjunction with Dehradun’s District Administration & Child Welfare Organisation Childline. This campaign empowers children through basic literacy, vocational training, grooming, nutrition & medical care. We have mainstreamed 180 children into schools, many of them in government schools.
Any message you would like to share to our community members?
Select a cause close to your heart, research for organizations working in your area and be a part of their work and support them in their endeavours. Be ready to give a second chance to people in need.