A mother-daughter duo takes us through the process of sponsoring underprivileged Indian children.
Saving a child from abject poverty may seem like something only movie stars can afford to do. However, there are also numerous, affordable ways to help fund a child’s education and improve their quality of life. What’s more, saving and improving children’s lives doesn’t have to involve a paperwork-filled process and can still make the sponsors feel close to the children. One of the easiest is through sponsorship programmes designed to meet emotional needs of the giver as well.
A couple of months ago, Dr Kiran Bedi, India’s first and highest-ranking female police officer–turned–social activist, returned to Thailand and spoke at length about Navjyoti India Foundation (NIF) at a coffee meet hosted by the Indian Women’s Club Bangkok (IWC). She spoke passionately about the non-governmental organisation she set up in 1987 with other like-minded police officers.
Navjyoti India Foundation has, for over two decades, helped underprivileged communities in the rural areas of India. They have created job opportunities for women and youth through vocational schools, helped women inmates of Tihar Jail through addiction rehabilitation centres and projects that provide them economic opportunities. Later, the foundation diversified into schools, accredited by the National Open Schooling of India, and community colleges. Through continued patronage of the corporate world and foreign embassies, NIF has built libraries, medical centres and dispensaries, rehabilitation centres, shelter homes, and many other projects to ensure sustainability.
President of the IWC, Dr Rani Phlaphongphanich believes in the work that Dr Bedi has been doing, especially in the School After School project, which provides educational assistance to children. “The rate of school dropouts is very high in the rural community. Sometimes children cannot cope with the lessons and are too afraid to ask for help. This programme helps children who lag behind. This way, they remain in school,” she says. Dr Rani had been previously involved in a similar programme through the International Support Group, an organisation where she has served as President for 30 years. When Dr Bedi visited Bangkok looking for sponsors for NIF, the two immediately joined hands on the project. With the support from the IWC, NIF has gotten over 250 sponsors in the last four years.
Bangkok-based Indian-Indonesian social worker and board member of IWC Manjit Walia has been actively involved with the NIF since Dr Bedi’s first visit to Bangkok. She first heard about the foundation when Dr Rani set up a private gathering to introduce the IWC members to the child sponsorship programme. “I was very interested because I have always been involved in charity organisations and, in the past, have sponsored Thai children through support groups.” She recalls that Dr Bedi’s visit created more than 100 sponsors. The ex-substitute teacher from Bangkok Patana and former president of the Lions Club Bangkok—who received a Diamond pin from Lions New York for her work—spends most of her time volunteering and doing secretarial work for the Bangkok Breast Cancer Support Group. As of press time, Manjit is waiting to be assigned a child through the sponsorship programme.
Charity runs in the family, and Manjit’s daughter Jasveen, a client service manager at Syndacast, got involved in the foundation. “I encouraged my daughter to sponsor from her own salary because I wanted her to learn to give and have that responsibility,” Manjit says. Jasveen had no prior involvement with sponsorship but had heard about the programme through an ad campaign. “I have always admired [Dr Bedi’s] work. So I decided to attend her presentation three years ago. She talked about sponsoring the children and how we can make a difference by providing them with good education and healthy living.” Jasveen filled out an application on the spot.
The process, she explains, was very simple and straightforward. “A few days after registering and paying the fee (Rs 6,000), I received an email thanking me for my contribution. The email also gave details of the child I had been assigned. My first child was a 14-year-old named Pushpa.” Even though at the registration, one has the option of choosing the gender and age of a child they wish to sponsor, both Manjit and Jasveen left the assigning to the foundation.
Many similar child sponsorship organisations do not allow any sort of personal contact between the sponsor and the child, except for a yearly update. They argue that this is beneficial for working people who don’t have time to keep up with the correspondence. But at NIF, communication is encouraged. After Jasveen was assigned a child, she would get regular updates on Pushpa’s health, her academic progress, and even photos of the activities she had been part of. Jasveen admits that she does not personally have any direct contact with the child but does through the foundation via email. “I would send my wishes to her on Diwali and New Year’s, congratulate her [for doing well in school].” Correspondences between Jasveen and NIF have also been great, she says. “They are very prompt at replying to my emails and also on providing updates about their work and success stories of the children.”
Since her involvement with the foundation, Jasveen has been assigned two girls. “When Pushpa passed out of 10th grade, her family started looking after her studies, under NIF’s guidance. Now I have been assigned to another young girl named Israt who is in fourth grade.”
Other than financial support, Jasveen, and her mother—who often goes to India—take clothes, books, stationery, and other presents for the children. On one of Manjit’s visits, she was able to meet with some of the children through a fashion show that Dr Rani had helped organise in Delhi in November of 2011 and the year before that. Through a telephone interview, Dr Rani explained, “Kids on Ramp-age was a big event that gave the children the opportunity to walk the ramp alongside their sponsors. The event was held at Select City mall—which has been hosting the event since then—and was sponsored by big Indian corporations such as Apollo Tyres. There were thousands of attendees, and the event was given live television coverage.” Bangkok designer and Dr Rani’s daughter Jasmine Ruanglertbutr of children’s clothing brand Play It, who has sponsored the event for two years in a row, donated over 100 kg of clothing and accessories to dress the children, which they were later allowed to keep.
Manjit says, “It was an amazing experience. The kids had rehearsed for it and had a great time. Some of the children were shy, while others danced on stage, enjoying the attention they had gotten that day.” Ramp-age is on its third year, with one coming up in November, which Jasveen hopes to be a part of.
This programme has been a positive experience for Jasveen, who says that she intends to continue being a part of the foundation. “It has been wonderful, knowing I have taken part in a good deed. It is a good stepping stone to when I have my own kids.” She hopes to be able to encourage her friends to join and sponsor a child in the future. “It will definitely make a difference to their lives, as it did to mine.”
Published in Masala magazine, August 2013