The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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United to make a thousand flowers bloom

Amar samanya baganta dekhe jabe na (Won’t you see my humble garden before you leave)'” These words from the tiny, solemn Sanju were magnetic. The garden, a tiny heap of soil in Rishi Aurobindo squatters’ colony, had only a few weeds growing on it. But it was loved and tended like any prize-winning roses would be.

This is the latest project taken up by Ek Jot, a children’s centre run by Prayasam, an NGO working in the Dakshindari slum that has thus far been “a breeding ground for goons”. The green dream is not the first this group of 40-odd boys and girls has dreamt. Cleanliness and eradication of disease have, so far, led the agenda.

Their enthusiastic efforts are soon to be recognised by Unicef New York in a book titled A Life Like Mine to be released in October. Published by Dorling Kindersley, the book focuses on child leaders across the world, and this is the “only project selected from urban India”.

The two-page colour spread looks at the place and the project through the eyes of “expressive” Shibashish Ghosh, one of the group leaders of the “area health minder” project. The child-led health-awareness campaign had caught Unicef’s attention. “We go from house to house telling families to vaccinate the kids against polio,” explains the 13-year-old. “Sometimes they don’t believe us, but they go to the local vaccination centre to check if what we are saying is true.” Malaria, diarrhoea and dysentery are other target diseases, and the kids have proved persuasive, with a survey showing the incidence of these going down.

Shibashish seems most excited about the green scheme. “I have loved plants since I was a kid… I know all their names and how to grow them,” grins the lanky boy. Chumki dreams of the slum off VIP Road being overrun by green. “There were plants and flowers everywhere. It was so exciting,” laughs the frizzy-haired 12-year-old. Sugarcane, papaya and guava trees, as well as flowering shrubs are planted wherever there is room – the inches available beside the open drain or inside the tiny huts they live in.

Ek Jot has “inspired” local youth to step into action, too. A kishore bahini had been formed in the area a few years ago. “ But then we forced some country liquor shacks to shut down,” recalls 18-year-old Pintu. “We got beaten up, and the police refused to do anything about it. So we had to shut down.”

But now, seeing the kids take the lead, they are hoping to start work again later this month. “We now have the strength to stand up to the goons. We want to do something for the para,” concludes Raju.

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