Regular passers-by don’t stare any longer… they are accustomed to the sight of the young teacher with her brood of rag-tag students sitting on the suburban skywalk, engrossed in their lessons. Young Haimanti Sen is an inspiration to all the many who feel the pangs of compassion but walk on and forget all about trying to help the masses of unfortunate children begging at Mumbai’s signals and stations. “I always wanted to bring about some change in society and I have also been closely related to children in terms of work,” shares Haimanti. “Also my mother has always been a very giving person and I look up to her for everything she has done. I think the combination of these three aspects inspired me to start working for the people who actually need it.”
The result was Junoon Foundation, a non-profit organisation. “We aim at providing the underprivileged children an all-round development in terms of communication skills, hygiene, personal space, safety and education of course which consists of basic Hindi, English and Maths.”
Sen adds, “We understand their potential and skills and aptitude and based on that, take the necessary steps which would be suitable to the children. Like in the last year of my teaching these 15 children, I realised that only four children would actually benefit from going to school whereas some of the others would entirely lose interest in studies if put into school. We plan to teach the older kids reading and arithmetic and get them into skill training workshop and assist them in getting jobs.”
Junoon faced its fair share of challenges, first and foremost, the issue of space. “No one was ready to grant a space for me to teach these children, schools were not ready to admit these children for various reasons, the parents of the kids would often send them to beg instead of coming to class, and kids had to bribe their parents at times just so they could come and study. Another major challenge was the environment that the children grow up in, surrounded by people we wouldn't want our kids around. There were passers-by who would tell me that what I was doing was a lost cause. I completely understand why they would think that way, however I also think it's important to do something about it instead of just complaining and pointing fingers!” she declares.
Junoon eventually found its space on a skywalk, which most frantic Mumbaikars choose to skip, preferring the traffic-clogged roads. Haimanti smiles, “I have set the skywalk as the centre as there is shade and space for us to sit.” The results have been slow but encouraging. “After teaching these kids for almost a year I finally found a school that would admit four of our students. Things are better now. We give the children constant sessions on safety and what they should do in case of a situation. The parents have also bonded with me so they don't interfere too much.”
Her motto is clear… “I think believing in yourself is the most important thing a person can do. I keep giving the example of how so many people believe in different religions and different godmen. They believe they will make a bad situation better and it works for them. What are the chances that if you put the same faith in yourself, it wouldn’t work? And another thing I strongly believe is if you are planning to start something just do it. There are a million books which will give you the steps but ultimately it’s you who has to do it. So just go for it!
Haimanti knows what she wants for the children… “I want these children to be independent individuals who know the difference between right and wrong. Who know they have a better chance at life compared to the one they are living. I want to see them doing what they are passionate about and helping one another,” she declares.
Dealing with these deprived children can be disheartening. “The work that we do has a lot of emotional weight that comes with it. Listening to stories about the children and families is very disheartening. However, the joy that you get after teaching them, seeing them open up to you is great. I would love if people do their bit educating the underprivileged in their spare time. Because they are people who are completely ignored by our society. I plan to inspire people by being consistent in what I do and updating our society with our triumphs,” she says.
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