A 14-year-old girl said she felt like a chief guest when she was greeted by undergraduate students at the gate of a college in the city and led onto the premises for a day of fun and games.
Sneha Maity lives in a home for children. Her mother cannot afford to keep her daughter with her.
On Sunday, Class IX student Sneha stepped into St Xavier’s College and at the end of the day, she said she could not describe in words how she felt. “Like a dream,” she murmured.
She was not alone. As many as 600 children in the age group of 6 to 14 attended Shishu Mela organised by the National Service Scheme (NSS) unit of St Xavier’s College.
The mela with games, performances and entertainment for children who barely get to enjoy such privileges returned after a two-year Covid break.
Children from 13 NGOs and two villages that undergraduate students of the college work with round the year came to the Park Street campus of the college. Four of the NGOs work with children with special needs.
“I told the children 10 years from now we would want them to come and study in this college and that would be our fulfilment. We are organising a fun-filled day for them but the final outcome is to educate them here and create opportunities for them. When we go to the villages or the communities, we tell them we want to see them in our college,” said Father Dominic Savio, principal, St Xavier’s College.
The mela was declared open by rector Father Jeyaraj Veluswamy.
Undergraduate students from various departments set up games stalls for their guests.
“Throughout the year, our students go to the NGOs and work with them and for one day, they invite the children to their campus. We are organising this after two years because of Covid,” said Cheryl Francis, director, social work department of the college, and programme officer of NSS.
This year, the volunteers focused on child rights and protection, domestic violence, human trafficking, menstrual hygiene and cyber crime.
A member of an NGO that participated said the mela gave their children the opportunity to open up.
“They have a lot on their heads because they know their life is full of hardships. Such programmes set them free,” the member said.
Some of the children walked up to their “didis” and “bhaiyas” and said how thankful they were.
“One of them walked up to us and told us they follow what we tell them in our sessions,” said second-year student Aniksha Das. “These interactions have made me more sensitive to the hardships that many in society have to face,” she said.
What struck another college student, Shruti Raj, was the bonding among the children. “They knew how to share and wait for each other, something that is lacking in many children from privileged families,” Raj said.