“The first INR 20 lakh of contributions to support West Bengal’s bereaved children will be fully matched by Nandana Sen,” reads a Save the Children missive.
In the run-up to International Day of the Girl Child (October 11), we engaged Nandana Dev Sen in an e-mail chat about her role in the #SaveSupportSecure initiative. The writer-activist-actress daughter of Amartya Sen-Nabaneeta Dev Sen explained the crisis and the cause to My Kolkata from her New York address.
My Kolkata: If you were to introduce the #SaveSupportSecure campaign you have just launched with Save the Children, how would you define and describe it?
NANDANA DEV SEN: It is a campaign to ensure the safety and welfare of the most vulnerable children of my beloved Bengal, children whose lives have been torn apart by the deadly combination of Covid-19 and Cyclone Yaas. These children, most of whom have lost one or both parents, their homes and essentially their lifelines, have been left without any protection or means of sustenance. They need access to a safe living environment, food security, adequate healthcare, continued education, and psychosocial support. We will cover the essentials for every child enrolled in the #SaveSupportSecure programme until they are linked to state sponsorship schemes.
What drew you to the organisation Save the Children and what inspired you to spearhead this particular initiative?
I have long admired the work of Save the Children, internationally as well as in India, and I was pleased to accept an invitation to be the charity’s Child Protection Ambassador for India. I have a lifelong commitment to the cause of protecting children who are either victims of, or at risk of, abuse and exploitation, with a particular focus on ending trafficking, child marriage and child labour — all of which orphaned children stand exposed to. I wanted to focus my efforts in my home state of Bengal because the crisis is huge there. The marginalised children of my state need help now more than ever before, which is why I decided to start this programme for their protection, in partnership with Save the Children.
What are the ways in which one can contribute to help this cause?
Most immediately, by donating money to this initiative, For a Safe Tomorrow. It will ensure that these at-risk children survive, learn, and remain healthy and safe during these dangerous times. Save the Children has the local infrastructure to provide the on-the-ground care required by these children, but we desperately need financial support. Without it these bereaved children face a future without any hope, cut off from the protection of family, schools, regular meals, and for many, even a home. Every contribution will bring help to these orphans when they need it the most.
How many children are seeking our help and in what conditions are they trying to survive?
Our initial goal is to start by helping 200 of the most deprived children, who have already been identified by Save the Children, in the coastal areas of Bengal that have been worst hit by Covid as well as natural calamities like Yaas and floods. These are children who have lost everything in this double crisis, and I will travel to these areas to participate in the #SaveSupportSecure programme on my next trip to India. But we must remember that there are thousands more who need our help just in Bengal, so we hope to expand the scheme in the months ahead.
“We have a responsibility to help the millions of children in her home country of India who cannot take their personal safety, an adequate daily supply of food, or access to basic education and healthcare, for granted.” - Nandana Dev Sen
We are bracing for an impending third wave after Pujas; do you have a message for Kolkata?
Prevention is always better than cure. At a personal level, we all need to be meticulous about our own safety as well as the safety of others. And by investing time and money now in effective programmes on the ground, we hope to mitigate the impact of a third wave if and when it arises.
You have worked for child rights for many years. If your little daughter Meghla wanted to get involved in a few years, how would you advise her to go about it?
I started working with children at a very young age, and I’d advise her to do the same! I was brought up by my parents to understand that I was incredibly privileged to be raised in a safe and self-sufficient family environment. Meghla has been fortunate to enjoy that same security, and we often discuss the fact that we have a responsibility to help the millions of children in her home country of India who cannot take their personal safety, an adequate daily supply of food, or access to basic education and healthcare, for granted. Meghla misses India a lot, and we are very much looking forward to returning to Kolkata this winter.