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A smile package for destiny’s children

- Madhur Muskan, the new YMCA centre at Tatanagar, offers street kids hot lunch to warm up to schooling

Mera pet aaj bhar gaya hai, pura din nahin khane se bhi chalega (My stomach is full. I’ll be fine even if I don’t get to eat for the rest of the day),” grinned a 14-year-old homeless boy in Tatanagar.

He was among the 30 street children who relished khichdi, mixed vegetable, paneer, salad and pickles at Madhur Muskan, a centre of Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Jamshedpur branch, launched on Tuesday morning.

Inaugurating Madhur Muskan, 150 metres from Tatanagar station, Jamshedpur MP Ajoy Kumar lauded the outfit for reaching out to street children in a pragmatic manner.

The centre will provide beggars and daily wage earners between the ages of four and 16 free food, clothes, educational content on computers, books and pencils. It will also encourage them to save their earnings. Later, the YMCA will arrange night stay for these children, most of whom are orphans. The centre’s landmark — Shiv Durga Hanuman Mandir — is known to all, making it easy to reach.

To make the model financially sustainable, the YMCA has drawn up an estimate of Rs 7,000 per annum per child. Smile Foundation will grant Rs 2,000 per child per year while YMCA members and donors registered as foster parents will bear the rest.

MP Kumar added he would donate two used computers from his office along with educational VCDs for children.

For children whose main luxury is sniffing commercial glue, computers are as unrealistic as pencils.

But Tuesday’s menu platter — a vast improvement from the leftovers they hunt for — did a lot to convince these hardened sceptics that the centre was a good place to be.

YMCA general secretary Anand Sahu said food, clothes and other freebies would hopefully lure the children to study.

“Conventional schooling centres don’t work with street children. When you are perennially hungry you regard education as a waste of time,” he said.

That is why the YMCA opened this centre after a two-month survey on the needs of these children at Tatanagar.

“The survey revealed that schooling had to be part of a holistic package. The package had to provide respite from their hard life. So, we identified around 30 children whom we persuaded to attend our centre regularly. We told them they would get free food, clothes, stationery and education,” he said.

Children have also been told that they could “bank” their money safely with the centre’s two teachers. They can take it back anytime but after giving reasons.

Normally, children deposit their daily income of Rs 40-Rs 80 with vegetable vendors or petty shopkeepers who take a cut as “service charge”.

“If they keep their money with us, it will curb their tendency to spend on gambling, sniffing commercial glue or smoking,” said Margaret Peter, one of the two teachers at the centre.

Madhur Muskan will be open between 11am and 1pm everyday. “We consulted children on what suits them. They said they eat or rest during this time,” Peter added.