Health, education, employment training programmes, micro-credit projects, night shelters… In villages and urban areas, from the platforms of Sealdah station to the swamplands in the Sunderbans. Children and adults, women, adolescents and farmers. Sabuj Sangha has only one jurisdiction— to do what it can to improve the lot of those who are struggling against all odds to make a life for themselves, thus “enabling them to help stand on their own two feet”.
The NGO works in tandem with other city-based and national organisations to get the job done, like collaborating with CINI Asha’s children’s projects in the districts, Sasha’s vocational training programmes for young women, and agencies like Childline, a 24-hour national emergency helpline for youngsters in distress. The Sangha’s primary aim, however, is not just to lend a helping hand to those who need it, but to pass on the baton of responsibility after establishing a firm foundation. So, instead of becoming a crutch to lean on, it encourages people to take charge of their own futures.
Therefore, while a night shelter for 30 adolescent girls in a red-light district, from 6 pm to 8 am, provides the vulnerable youngsters with a safe haven and a warm meal, there are other projects that help them break free of the boundaries and court a different destiny. For instance, training programmes in embroidery and tailoring for girls, and in the use of surgical equipment for boys.
The Sangha’s work with urban street children, particularly those living on railway platforms, has seen it build eight preparatory schools in the fringe areas of Calcutta, from Diamond Harbour to Canning, currently with 750 students. The Sangha has been assisting these children to be integrated into mainstream schools since 1998.
With an urban office in Sonarpur, the members, comprising a wide range of professionals including engineers, technicians, grass-roots-level social workers and agronomists, the NGO branches out to the villages with sanitation and health projects providing medical assistance and safe drinking water plans for local people, and agriculture tips and monetary help for farmers. Its micro-credit programmes for women to set up self-help groups has so far established 200 groups with 3,000 women.
Twenty-seven years later, Sabuj Sangha is still going strong. Surojit Neogi, programme coordinator, explains that the Sangha is constantly re-inventing itself to come up with new ideas and proposals, and also reworking and extending its existing ones. “We have just extended our Childline project in Baruipur, and are looking at starting new children’s schemes in Diamond Harbour and other areas, to continue and expand our work with urban street children,” he adds.