Save a Child
Registered UK charity 328218 - Registered US Non Profit 501c3 - Tax ID: 80 055 6546
What We Do
Since 1986, Save a Child has been giving deprived children in India a fresh chance through long-term sponsorship.
Today, several hundred sponsored children live in security, enjoy life and advance their education to fulfill their potential as adults. Each child has their tough life story. All share one need: to have a fresh chance. Who makes this happen? The sponsor who gives long-term support. And the general donor, who enriches that support.
Join the Save a Child family by sponsoring a child or giving what you can towards our special projects and our small administration costs.
Who We Are
Save a Child is the vital link between people who want to help deprived children and the children who need that help.
Save a Child has volunteer trustees, board members and administrators. Funds gathered for sponsorship, as well as one-off donations for programs and general work, are sent to the Residential Homes in India where sponsored children live. Save a Child requires confirmation from each Home of the end use of all funds it sends.
Save a Child’s low administration costs mean that over 93% of all funds gathered benefit the children.
The sponsored child lives in a Residential Home in Delhi, Kolkata or West Bengal, each run by professional staff. The sponsor’s money contributes to accommodation, health, clothes, education, other practical needs and, of course, to celebrating Indian festivals such as Durga Puja and Diwali. Every child’s religion is respected. Where a child has a family and home, the parents agree to the sponsorship and the child can return home for holidays.
One-off donations help pay for general projects such as ceiling fans, first aid equipment, computer lessons, learning English, or just a fun picnic outing.
Save a Child in India
The Residential Homes and the children
Children sponsored through Save a Child live in established Residential Homes in Delhi, Kolkata, Barrackpore and rural West Bengal.
The Homes receive children who may have been abandoned, orphaned or come from a poor family unable to cope. As they grow up, good grades in school open up the opportunity for further education. Equally, teenagers can learn practical skills for reliable employment. The aim is that a child leaves the Home self-reliant. Sometimes, their families’ economic situation improves and the child can return to live with them and go to school nearby. All these outcomes are success stories.
Save a Child keeps in close contact with the director and staff of each Home, so it can be involved in discussions over policy and can positively respond to a Home’s needs and concerns – perhaps funds for a computer teacher, Braille books for blind boys, or a concern about a child’s development. Being a small charity, it can focus on specific needs.
In its commitment to supporting a child for the long-term to the conclusion of education and training, Save a Child funds a number of older children who sometimes progress to college where they live in hostels - a great achievement.
Save a Child Field Trips
Save a Child funds two people to do their Field Trip, usually once a year. Representing Save a Child and all sponsors, they visit all four residential Homes to photograph and meet with each sponsored child.
This is the moment to learn, face to face and one by one, how each child is progressing in social life, health and schooling, and to take an official photograph which is a visual document of the child’s development. Field workers also see Save a Child’s general projects in action.
On return to the UK, the photograph and report are sent to each child’s sponsor.
Save a Child Residential Homes
Save a Child’s representatives visit each Home on the field trip, usually once a year, to spend time with the Home’s administrators and staff and to meet with each sponsored child. These relationships have been nurtured since Save a Child was founded in 1986. Here is a short profile on each Home.
President: Mrs Ratna Sen
With a long history of providing support for destitute and exploited women and children, ABWU celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 2010. Its central Kolkata campus is near the well-known Khaligat Temple. The Children’s Welfare Home houses some 160 girls between the ages of 5 and 18 who are either orphans, abandoned, abused or from destitute families. In addition, some of the girls have been through police court protection as a result of the sex trafficking or domestic slavery of their mothers or, occasionally, themselves. Girls attend primary school within the Home, then the able ones attend secondary education at a local state school.
The After Care Home on the same site provides accommodation for girls over the age of 18. Here SaC’s sponsored girls can continue their education – even sometimes to college – or train in practical skills.
In addition to sponsoring girls here, Save a Child supports projects. Artist Val Armstrong worked with the girls to design and paint a mural in their dining hall; a joint project with the Dragon School in England raised funds for insecticidal mosquito nets and fans for dormitories. In 2012, Edwin Taylor’s gift kick-started the voluntary and popular Spoken English classes which continue. In 2014 SaC initiated four-year-long support for counselling for girls in trauma due to their background or experiences. In 2015-16 Deborah Harse made a series of documentary films there.
General Secretary: Swami Nityarupananda
The Mission, also known as RKVM, was founded as a residential Home for deprived children in 1976 at Barrackpore on the banks of the Hooghly River, north of Kolkata in West Bengal. While the Barrackpore headquarters sprawl over a large campus, RKVM now also runs smaller satellite Homes across West Bengal for boys and girls, each with its own school and practical training workshops.
Save a Child sponsors children at Barrackpore and in some of the rural locations. These include Purulia in the impoverished western part of the state; and Joyrambati which is a major pilgrimage destination for the Ramakrishna Vivekananda followers. SaC also supports RKVM’s Home at Suryapur, near Barrackpore, which is for girls with visual and hearing impairments.
RKVM is mainly run by monks and nuns who follow the teachings of the pioneering and globally respected Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). He believed in helping deprived children through two gifts: love and education. RKVM’s renowned education is endorsed by their acclaimed on-site schools; many students continue to college.
Swami Nityarupananda, General Secretary since 2013, grew up at the Mission. He understands what it is to be a deprived child arriving at a big institution, away from the village. In his devotion to give better service to the poor, he wins the help of the state government and ex-students.
In addition to sponsoring boys and girls from all situations, Save a Child is a strong supporter of Swamiji’s efforts to reach out to the extremely poor, reclusive, forest-dwelling Sabar tribe, to help their children. Other projects include spoken English and bringing therapeutic music into the dormitories.
Shridigamber Jain Mahila Ashram
General Secretary and Treasurer: Mrs Ritu Das
This small charitable institution in central Delhi was founded in 1953 by Mrs Das’s grandmother, to give education and protection to girls and women, to provide ‘all the love and care of a family home’. For the hundred or so girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who live there, it does just that. In the pristine home, with an on-site temple, the girls take full part in the spice-grinding, cooking and cleaning. They often excel at their nearby school. Some progress to advance education while others train in such skills as tailoring and embroidery.
Outside of formal education, the girls do yoga, dance, cooking and learn how to use the Home’s computers to maximize their employment opportunities so they can be self-reliant. The Home prides itself in promoting family values and encourages girls to maintain contact after they leave.
Each year Save a Child wholly or partly funds the ashram’s trip to a different part of North India, when girls, teachers and staff all enjoy sightseeing, picnics and ice-creams as they encounter new landscapes, peoples, and customs of their great country.
The Children's Stories
Every child has a personal story – here are some from Save a Child’s 30 years of work. Long-term sponsorship to transform lives.
Shyamali was a child sweeper in a hair salon because her mother could not cope. Aged 7 she became the first Save a Child sponsored child. She lived in the ABWU Home in Kolkata and ended her schooling with a beautician course – a useful skill for village woman. Today, she and her husband, who works in a restaurant, have two children and their own home. In the photo, she is with her sister Metali, also sponsored by SaC, and their families. Louise Nicholson, her sponsor, stands behind. It was meeting Shyamali in 1985 that inspired her to found Save a Child.
Debadri Sekhar won a place at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, one of India’s best colleges, to do a PhD in zoology starting in 2016. He is the first SaC-sponsored student to achieve this. As a first-generation student at RKVM’s high quality schools, Debadri used his talents and his determination to transform his prospects. He takes Save a Child’s core mission to dynamically change a deprived child’s opportunities through long term sponsorship to its highest conclusion. Debadri also had the encouragement of his mother, despite being abandoned by her husband and bringing up four boys.
Bandana, the daughter of an impoverished rickshaw driver who abandoned his family, came to live at ABWU Home in central Kolkata when she was five years old. There, she is safe, well fed, healthy and loved. In the creche she learns alphabets, numbers, rhymes and craft. She has settled well and is happy and healthy.
Anima came to RKVM’s Home at Joyrambati as a shy 4-year-old; three years later she is settled, confident and studying in Upper Kindergarten as a first-generation schoolchild. Anima belongs to the extremely poor Sabar tribal community who live West Bengal forests – her father earns about Rs400 ($8) a month, not enough to feed his family. Today, she enjoys her studies and likes playing badminton and eating mangoes in the summer. She dreams of becoming a teacher.
Arundhati, sponsored by Save a Child for some years, lives at Jain Ashram in Delhi. She is now taking her BCA (Bachelor of Computer Application) at Indira Gandhi National Open University established in 1985 to build a more educated society by offering quality teaching through open and distance learning. Having suffered a tough start in life, she is blossoming to her full potential.
Ghanashyam is one of four children whose father, a laborer, earned so little the whole family was destitute. His parents brought him to RKVM’s Home at Purulia in West Bengal, asking them to give him a secure life and an education. Ghanashyam is in Class 6, excels at math and wants to be a math teacher. Surprising for an Indian, he prefers football over cricket.
11-year-old Riya’s mother had no option but to bring her daughter to ABWU Home in Kolkata for care and protection: having been deserted by her husband, she had to work all day. Riya is now healthy, happy, sociable and is a good student in school – she is already in Class 5.
Bappa is an articulate 25-year-old who speaks good Bengali and English. This belies his early years: he and his brother, aged 5 and 3, were left orphans by their impoverished parents. Fortunately, an uncle brought them to RKVM at Barrackpore. Bappa thrived, especially in his studies. He went to college, studied hard and became a physiotherapist.
Sneha lived at the Jain Ashram in Delhi since she was young. By the time she was 15 she was achieving high marks in science and arts. She also took part in the Ashram’s dancing, stitching classes and basketball, and loved painting. Sneha had become a confident, well-rounded, happy, healthy teenager. The contrasts with her arrival as a young child from a Bihar village where her father had abandoned the family and her mother was earning just Rs2000 (about $40) a month, inadequate for feeding three daughters. What a change in circumstances!
Rimu came to live at ABWU Home when she was 10 years old because her parents could not afford to feed her. For six years she benefitted from the love, nutrition, well-ordered life and education at ABWU. In 2016 her father’s earnings improved. Rimu returned to her village to live in the joint family home with her grandmother and aunts. There, she continues her schooling in her community, building on the experiences she benefitted from at ABWU. Save a Child sees this as a success story.
Chirashree is a kind and soft-spoken 9-year-old studying and living at Rama Krishna Vivekananda Mission. She is originally from West Bengal where she has one older sister. She is currently in Class 4 and her favorite subject is English. When she is older, she wants to become an English teacher. In her free time, Chirashree likes to dance and play kabbadi with her friends. Her favorite food is chili chicken and her favorite animal is the rabbit because she has a pet rabbit at her home. If she could go anywhere, Chirashree would go to America to see all of the nature there. Chirashree is the happiest when she is playing with friends.
After Soma’s father, a tea-seller, died of kidney failure, her destitute mother brought her to ABWU Home in Kolkata and entrusted her to their care. Soma loves life and is now fully healthy and enjoying school in Kindergarten class.
Ashim lives at Joyrambati, a countryside Home run by RKVM. When his laborer father could not earn enough to keep three children, he entrusted Ashim to Swamiji’s care at RKVM. There, he grows healthier every day, is already in Class 2 and especially loves his history lessons.
Kinker, now 11, has lived most of his life in acute poverty. His father, a cultivator scratching a living on seasonal earnings, could not adequately feed his wife and three children. In 2015 he brought Kinker to RKVM’s home at Purulia, not too far from their home. Kinker is settling well, eating well, gaining confidence. He is in Class 2 at school and especially enjoys English.
Jaya lives at Jain Ashram in Delhi and has been sponsored for six years by Save a Child. Now 14 years old, she studies hard. Her dream is to be a doctor. Meanwhile, in her free time she enjoys dancing, playing the table game carom, and watching Indian movies starring the great actor Shah Rukh Khan.
News & Events
All the latest news from Save a Child and the children you support!
Our annual field trip validates Save a Child and reassures you, the donor.
We’ve been keeping in close touch with the residential Homes where the children live.
Hilka and Louise brave monsoon deluges to meet more than 400 sponsored children.
When sponsors visit the children, they see results for themselves!
Our annual field trip validates Save a Child and reassures you, the donor.
Save a Child funds the annual holiday adventure for all girls and staff at the Jain Ashram in Delhi. Enjoy their story and photographs here.
Our annual field trip validates Save a Child and reassures you, the donor.
Our annual field trip validates Save a Child and reassures you, the donor.
Our annual field trip validates Save a Child and reassures you, the donor. This is how it works.
Long-term sponsor Margaret Woods finds out just how important sponsors can be to the children.
The SAC Field Trip 2015 - Why Save a Child does an annual field trip
Our annual field trip validates Save a Child and reassures you, the donor. This is how it works: volunteers representing SaC board members and sponsors go to India where they visit the four residential Homes we work with to meet and photograph every sponsored child, note the progress of the children and SaC’s special programmes, and sit with the administrators to discuss problems, needs and, of course, the wish-list for future projects!
This year, Sonia Pizzi and Julie Mehta, both from New York, led Save a Child’s 2015 field work trip in late November. Julie’s Indian origins and baskets of candies were a winner in gaining the kids’ confidence. Shortly, each SaC sponsor will receive from board member Jane Kotlyar the photograph and report for their sponsored child or children.
A big thank you to Sonia, Julie and Jane who give their time and skills with unstinting generosity.
Julie gives her summary of the field work trip
Over the past few years I have spent a lot of time in India. Each visit, I leave the country a little more humbled than when I arrived. This year was no exception.
Sonia and I started our field trip work in Delhi. First we visited the Jain Ashram to meet SaC-sponsored girls living there. Most are first generation learners, many with promising futures. This is not only a testament to the young women, but also, to their families who see the value in sending their daughters to school.
Sonia and I flew to Kolkata to visit the two other Homes. We were met at the airport by the monks from Ramkrishna Vivekananda Mission (RKVM) which has its expansive headquarters at Barrackpore outside the city. Meeting with younger students who come from underprivileged areas was inspiring. Although young, some dream of becoming doctors and police officers, hoping to make improvements in their villages. At RKVM Save a Child has also been sponsoring a large number of older students through college. We met with them, too, and it was in many cases equally inspiring. Some students traveled for hours to meet with Sonia and me, and we learned that many traveled up to three hours (round trip) to go to class and receive an education. This definitely puts sitting angrily in NYC traffic for an hour to go to work in perspective!
The last home Sonia and I visited was The All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls (ABWU). It gives refuge to women and children who have suffered all manner of abuse. Some of SaC-sponsored girls are excelling in school, while others are finding their aptitude in sports. Each has to overcome past experiences and look forward: one girls we met has overcome depression through creating art, and is now studying for a law degree with the dream of becoming a lawyer.
In a span of just thirteen days, Sonia and I met with over hour hundred children and students with diverse backgrounds. They taught me to appreciate all I have. They also gave me hope for the future of India.
Seeing the benefits of sponsorship first-hand
Margaret Wood writes
It was not the trip that I had expected. I’ve been a Save a Child sponsor for some 20 years now, and this was my fourth trip to visit the children I sponsor. A certain routine had developed on previous trips and I expected this one to fit the same mould. It didn’t.
On the first few visits the children had been friendly and polite, but I was an auntie from England who came bearing gifts, no more – although I did become aware that some children (I sponsor a number) kept and treasured my annual Christmas cards and the photos I sent after previous trips, which I thought rather sweet. This trip however, it hit with full force just how important sponsors can be psychologically to the children, not just financially.
I’ve been sponsoring Amit for about 10 years. I first met him in 2008 as a shy lad living at Arya Bal Griha Orphanage Home for Boys in Delhi. It was immediately apparent that he is an exceptional artist. The most stunning portraits, still life, abstracts. When I saw him again in 2011 he had grown (of course!) and his ambition was rearing its head. I suggested to him parking an easel outside a 5 star hotel and offering to do portraits of wealthy tourists! Trouble was how he would get to the hotel and who would pay his bus fare…
When I saw him on this trip he had blossomed. Thanks to the efforts of Uma Rani, who works for Divyachaya Trust with whom SaC liaises, he has now completed a Computer Graphics course and is about to interview for a job at Adobe, the global software company! I am so proud of him. To express his appreciation of my sponsorship, Amit had bought me as a gift a picture frame in which he had inserted a print of one of the photos I had taken and sent him after a previous trip…
Jharna is another 10-year-long sponsoree living at Arya. She had lived there since she was 4 years old, finished school there and when I saw her in 2011 had a job in the kitchens making chapatis. She was saving most of her wage in a bank deposit account and wanted desperately to break out into the big world. As single young woman in India, she would have needed a lot of support. We talked at length about the problems and I raised with SaC the possibility of getting her transferred to another part of the home. And she was (although not due to my efforts at all). When I saw her on this trip she too had blossomed. Her new house mother is looking to find her a husband; Jharna’s eyes sparkled!
When she took me to see her dormitory, she shyly took out a little bag from which she took a necklace that she had bought for me after my 2011 visit, confident that I would return to see her again. So moving…
Dhaneshwar lives at Institution for the Blind in Central Delhi. Despite being blind he loves playing cricket with a ball that has a little bell inside to alert him to its approach. He printed my name in Braille, punching the letters with a sharp instrument through the square holes in a hard plastic sheet that he overlays on special paper.
I then flew across to Kolkata to visit children I sponsor at All Bengal Women’s Union Home for Girls. There I met with Mina and Sima, whom I sponsor. Mina is now training to be a nurse, a job that she will do consummately well with her bright smile and engaging manner.
Young Sima is still struggling to figure life out. As a young child, she witnessed her father and brother being shot and killed, and her mother being badly abused. Sima is still an angry little girl, understandably so, but the love and patience of the ABWU team in Kolkata are clearly bearing fruit and a mischievous smile is often to be seen peeking out.
My final visit was to the Ramkrishna Vivekananda Mission at Barrackpore outside Kolkata. There I met with more of my sponsored children, whose progress is further testimony to the care and endeavours of those who have assumed responsibility for their lives. One example is Madan, now studying to become a barrister. Another is Bhadhu, who was a soulful little thing the first time I saw her, cutting paper for making exercise books. She is deaf and dumb. When I saw her in 2011 I didn’t recognise the young lady who came dancing towards me. She had discovered computers and been promoted to teaching I.T., a position she still holds as she happily confirmed to me in sign language on this trip.
What has been so lovely for me is to watch the children emerge from impoverished, sometimes tragic circumstances and to see them grow to realise their potential.
This has only been possible thanks to the endeavours of Louise Nicholson, founder of SaC, and her team – Bill Baker and the other board members in London and New York, and the staff of all four Homes SaC works with. In particular my thanks for this trip go to Swamiji in Barrackpore, Sumita Roy in Kolkata, and Uma Rani and Kamal Chugh in Delhi. I take my hat off to all of them for the wonderful job they are doing transforming lives. They deserve sponsor support.
The SAC Field Trip 2016
We have been blessed again with our volunteers! This year Cameron Lang and Anaihita Singh, both students at Durham University in the UK, spent their Christmas vacation doing our Field Trip. Between December 18 and January 9, with a pause for Christmas celebrations in Delhi, they met and photographed most of our 400 or so sponsored children and students. Each report and photo goes on Save a Child’s database record and is sent to the sponsor as an update on the child’s progress. Cam and Ani achieved this complex job with impressive commitment, energy, efficiency and smiles! We are deeply grateful to them.
Please enjoy their reports below – the overall experience and then their visits to all four residential Homes we work with.
Our field work trip – a rollercoaster experience
Having done some in-depth volunteering experiences already, we both grabbed the opportunity to work with Save a Child. We strongly believe in education as a tool for change, and it was wonderful to see this in action throughout our field trip.
It was SaC trustee Louise Sykes who suggested the idea in September. The next thing we knew our CVs were being reviewed! Shortly afterwards, we met with Louise Nicholson, Save A Child’s founder, in London to discuss the field trip’s objectives in detail – she made no bones about it being hard work but we were even more excited. Then began the preparations, ranging from acquainting ourselves with SaC’s database which we’d be using for the work to a shopping trip around Durham to buy gifts and plenty of local sweets to give the staff and children we’d be meeting.
We set off on December 18 into a real adventure! For Cam, it was a first visit to India; for both of us it was the first visit to Kolkata. The trip brought many new experiences - with a few challenges along the way. We adapted to each new situation as we went along, testing our skills, sharpening our character traits. One day, for instance, we discovered a discrepancy between our updated name lists of the children we were about to meet, fairly alarming, but by stretching our problem-solving and diplomacy skills we sorted it out. Throughout the trip, we met and worked with people of all ages, religious backgrounds and spiritual beliefs, and with three different mother tongues, so our communication skills developed hugely.
The success of our trip would not have been possible without support from many people at Save a Child and in India – we could not have done it without you! Louise and Bill at SaC: thank you for your consistent encouragement and your prompt responses to our long, questioning e-mails. In India, it was inspiring to see the wonderful work at each Home and to meet the dedicated staff; we thank them all. Uma-ji and Kamal-ji, our work in Delhi went smoothly thanks to you being by our side throughout. Swami-ji and Sujit-ji, you made our stay at RKVM very special – you took great care of us and taught us about the Mission’s work across West Bengal. Susmita-ji and all at ABWU, thank you for helping us get everything done so efficiently.
We wish every child we met the very best future. We’ve left India with many memories to treasure, and hope to return one day. Meanwhile, we hope to continue to be a part of Save a Child’s amazing work.
Jain Ashram, Delhi
Here we met Mrs. Ritu Das, who oversees the running of the home – her grandmother founded it. We sipped tea while she told us about the history of Ashram, its mission and purpose. One of the SaCsponsored Further Education students who lives at the Ashram then showed us around. We were impressed by its open and relaxed atmosphere, its good maintenance and its tidiness. After a delicious home-cooked lunch – the girls help with the cooking - we got down to meeting and chatting with the sponsored girls on return from their annual school function. They told us about their progress in school, their many extracurricular activities, and their ambitious hopes for the future!
See the girls perform dancing-yoga
Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission, Barrackpore and across West Bengal
The Mission at Barrackpore is a large complex beside the Hooghly River outside Kolkata. We stayed in a quaint residential block near their head office building from where Swamiji and his monks oversee 47 centres throughout India! We would visit several over our eight-day stay.
Our first two days were taken up meeting with the sponsored children living at Barrackpore and nearby Suryapur. Then we went into rural West Bengal to Joyrambati to see more SaC-sponsored children. It is a very spiritual place. We attended the morning and evening prayers at local temples and the monks taught us about RKVM and the beliefs it was founded on. From here, we journeyed deeper into the countryside to Purulia, our final RKVM stop. While we stayed here, we visited a local village to understand better the conditions that lead parents to bring their children to live at RKVM Homes. It was an eye-opening, humbling experience to see how very little some families have, and yet how warm and welcoming they were to us. This visit sharpened our appreciation of what RKVM offers children of the very poor. Seeing the progress of the children in the Homes was even more uplifting and encouraging.
Back at Barrackpore, we met Swami Nityarupananda, General Secretary of RKVM. He shared with us some of the core beliefs of the mission, which mirror his own because he was brought up there. One that stuck out to us was that while RKVM obviously encourages nourishing and looking after the body by providing food, water, clean clothing etc. for these children, they put equal importance on nourishment of the mind through education and spiritual understanding.
See ‘Indiawalla’, RKVM’s Bollywood-style musical about Swami Vivekananda
All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls, Kolkata
Our last stop, right in the middle of huge Kolkata city, was ABWU. On arrival, we met Mrs Susmita Mitter who is a volunteer deeply involved in every aspect of ABWU. She told us how ABWU helps children from unfortunate backgrounds, from orphans to those who have suffered domestic violence at the hands of their own parents. Despite these misfortunes and thanks to ABWU’s staff, when we met the children we found them thriving, stable and happy. The centre-city campus is very spacious, with a lovely learning environment and space for sports. In addition, the Aftercare Unit gives appropriate care to older girls with slightly more complex troubles.
When we met with the sponsored children we were greatly impressed by their future aspirations and extra-curricular activities - which range from classical dance and singing, to state-level hockey and karate! We also witnessed two of SaC’s sponsored projects in action. At Zohra’s Spoken English class we saw her hold the young girls’ attention for an hour and a half, their eyes fixed on Zohra the entire time. With this charismatic rapport, the girls make great progress even in one lesson! The next day, we met the three counsellors part-funded by SaC to work with the more traumatized girls. They explained to us how they approach their work with the children, and what a difference consistent help can make.
See several films Deborah Harse has made at ABWU – on dance, self-defence, and Saathi’s story
The SAC Field Trip 2017
Juli Oliver and Shawn DeCoster travelled to all four Homes that Save a Child works with. At each one they were greeted with flowers and blessings.
‘The experience of a lifetime.’ That was the way volunteers Juli Oliver and Shawn DeCoster summed up the 2017 Save a Child field trip. Embarking on their adventure from New York City, where they live and work, they traveled to India and in just two weeks met with and photographed more than 400 children sponsored through Save a Child in Delhi and West Bengal. It was a feat of sustained energy, organization and focus.
Both Juli and Shawn have a passion for travel and volunteering. Juli, a professional organizer and entrepreneur, as well as an ambitious traveler and photographer, had already helped organize fundraising events for SaC. Shawn, who works in digital marketing, is an aspiring adventure writer, a photographer and a trained yoga instructor who volunteers with special needs children. Shawn described this opportunity as ‘a childhood dream come true’.
Here is their story in their own words:
“Our field work began on November 1st in Delhi, visiting the Institute for the Blind and the Jain Ashram. Juli had every detail scheduled, the check list in place and things were going to plan. There were inevitable unforeseen bumps in the road – one was the laptop not working, so we improvised with Google Sheets, Shawn’s MacBook and a borrowed laptop. Thanks to our travel and tech experience we persevered! Then, there was a bout of illness, but we pushed through and had a great experience.
“We were off to the Jain Ashram where we met some very bright and talented young women. We toured the whole building and found it to be organized and well run. In our interviews with the SaC-sponsored girls we learned that some are talented and aspiring artists. One sweet girl gifted us handmade cards. Another gave us a painting of the Buddha! We gave her Shawn’s favorite metal architect pencil to return the honor, to encourage her to continue creating and designing.
“The second leg of the trip was in West Bengal state. We flew to Kolkata where staff and children from Ramkrishna Vivekanada Mission (RKVM) met us and took us to its headquarters at Barrackpore. It was a lively place with boys everywhere playing football (soccer) and cricket. Swami Vivekananda, the mission’s inspiration, brought yoga to America in the 1800’s along with the revolutionary idea that all religions were created with an equal aim. Located on the banks of the Hoogley, part of the Ganga River delta, RKVM is a holy place.
We made many special relationships here – chatting with the boys and girls about climate change, how to clean up the River Ganga, the city of New York. We signed autographs, shook lots of hands. One day they dubbed Shawn ‘Babe Ruth’ after he hit the cricket ball out of the complex on the first pitch and had to climb on the roof to get the ball down! They roared and cheered with applause and excitement. We met almost all the many boys and girls at the mission through SaC. They either live at Barrackpore or travelled to meet us from the different RKVM satellite Homes in rural West Bengal. Our visit to the girls living at the Suryapur Branch School for Deaf, Dumb and Blind Girls, who have a great sense of humor, was particularly special.
Our last stop was in bustling and cosmopolitan Kolkata where we met the amazing staff All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls (ABWU). Susmita told us that many girls had had traumatic experiences, such as escaping human trafficking, or abandoned by their parents who couldn’t care for them. One brave girl, having escaped to ABWU after her father put her mother into prostitution, was about to receive a national honor for bravery. She feared her fate would be the same and wanted an education instead. ABWU opened their doors and she is safe, happy and progressing well at school.
At ABWU we checked on their special programs, some supported by SaC donations. These included the Spoken English classes run by Zohra Khatoon, and nightly dance therapy which helps girls who have been abused connect back to their bodies. We met two of the staff's counselors who provide daily emotional support, one-on-one and group conflict counseling for the girls, who often struggle with anger and aggression issues following their abuse. And we visited the Infant Room which holds up to 15 babies and little children, mostly found by police abandoned on the street.
Our successful trip and the work we did could not have been made possible without the extensive organization, planning and leadership of Louise Nicholson and Bill Baker. In Delhi, thank you to Uma-ji who provided immeasurable laughs and support. Special thanks to Swami-ji Nityarupananda and Sujit-ji who made our stay at RKVM comfortable and who continue to work tirelessly to find better ways to help so many children in need. And our admiration to Susmita-ji at ABWU for years of service helping to give these damaged girls an opportunity for a brighter future - and for the side highlight of taking us to the wonderful Indigo Sutra Textile exhibit at ICCP.
Great news for Swamiji: grants from locals
A few of the Save a Child sponsored children living at RKVM’s Joyrambati Home in West Bengal. RKVM has satellite Homes across West Bengal, where the maintenance is a huge burden to Swamiji and his team of monks. One of the biggest rural Homes is Joyrambati where Save a Child sponsors many children.
It was, therefore, a wonderful moment when this month Swamiji received the good news that the Governor of West Bengal has awarded funds to repair Joyrambati’s boundary wall.
The same week a second gift arrived, this time from a Member of Parliament for building more rooms in the boys’ section there.
Save a Child does not fund capital projects such as there. It is good to know that RKVM has an international support team for its needs, and that it includes the state government and individual Indian people.
Devon Armstrong at RKVM to teach with words and signs
Under the auspices of Save a Child, Devon Armstrong – who starts at university to read religious studies this September – spent a few weeks at RKVM’s big campus at Barrackpore outside Kolkata, teaching English and theater at some of the several schools.
Devon experienced first-hand today what Vivekananda aimed to do: ‘uplift poor children through education’. She was especially impressed by girls in their mid-teens whose written English, she found, ‘astounding, so articulate and such good grammar too’; and who were so aware of women’s social issues – and wanted to solve them!
Here are three extracts from her diary:
The school at No 39, on RKVM campus:
One of my most challenging teaching tasks was with a group of 7-10-year-old girls who spoke barely any English yet. They had all been taught to say ‘Miss, can I go to the toilet?’ and ‘How are you? What’s your name?’, but they didn’t know words like ‘color’, ‘draw’, ‘copy’ or ‘sit down’, so instructing the class had to be done almost entirely through gesture and demonstration. The teachers and staff didn’t speak any English either, so I was totally on my own. First I got them to draw some animals and after a while the language barrier didn’t seem such a problem because we all enjoyed drawing and painting and we found ways to communicate. These girls really charmed me with their enthusiasm, and their pictures were wonderfully fresh.
A morning journey near Barrackpore:
From the Jeep driven by one of the monks I saw all life in the streets – cows, pigs, a chicken crammed into large crates, commuters in shirts and suits waiting for a bus, lots of schools, little shops frying up rotis (unleavened bread) to be served to hungry customers for breakfast, run down shacks, men in bandanas shoveling gravel into a truck, a baby precariously scaling straw bales (unknown to his mother). And the smells…wow. Such an array of different smells, every few yards a new smell would blast through my open window… some good, some horrendous. I got fresh flowers and cooking meat, rubbish and sewage, urine and mouth-watering spicy scents, petrol fumes and animal manure.
Suryapur Home for Girls:
The girls are mostly deaf or blind, and SaC sponsors a number of these doubly disadvantaged children. On my arrival, the hearing-impaired girls were very excited and signed ferociously to try and get to know me. Amazingly, it was easier to communicate with these deaf girls than with children who could speak but had no English, because they always use signs and gestures instead of words. One girl would not let go of my hand; she had been abandoned by her parents when she was only three years old, yet she was full of energy, enthusiasm and love.
I joined them for breakfast, watching the deaf girls helping the blind girls navigate up and down the steps to the canteen area. Then I attended some lessons. The deaf girls could be quite cheeky – every time the teacher’s back was turned they’d have whole conversations in sign language, and because they didn’t make any noise the teacher had no idea!
In the afternoon we watched a music lesson. The girls sat crammed together and sang in unison with beautiful, powerful voices – they were so happy to sing. Then we headed to the temple to see an incredibly vibrant dance session where the deaf girls danced in groups to music played very loudly so they could pick up the vibrations. They were fantastic dancers, full of joy.
At Suryapur, the positive attitude of these disadvantaged girls rubbed off on me. At university, I plan to find sponsors for Save a Child children at RKVM.
The SAC Field Trip 2018 - The Jain Ashram’s Annual Adventure
This holiday mixing education and fun is meticulously planned by Ritu Das, who runs the ashram her grandmother founded. Here is their report.
A Sweet Journey to Rajasthan
About 50 girls plus staff and teachers went by coach to Ajmer, 400km south-west of Delhi. We were in a very happy and enthusiastic mood. At Ajmer, we stayed at Sidheshwar Mahadev Mandir ji’s dharamshala (pilgrims’ inn). Neat & clean, all arrangements for meals and stay were generously organised by Shri S P Jain, one of Ashram’s donors.
When we toured Ajmer, in addition to seeing the beautiful Soniji Ki Nasiyan Jain temple and museum, we visited the important Dargah (tomb) of the Persian Sufi teacher, philosopher and mystic Muin al-Din Chishti (1142-1236). It was exciting to visit inside the Dargah where we covered our heads with scarves and listened to qawwalis (devotional songs). We took lots of photos!
In the evening we drove to Pushkar, not far away, which is known for its lake and Jain temples. We especially liked the Digambar Jain Mandir Pushkar Ji, in the heart of the city. After our visit there we had fun exploring the markets - always an exciting event for women!
The next day we set off for Jaipur. A few miles outside Ajmer we stopped to have a good look at the newly-constructed Nareli Jain temple. It is famous for its modern neo- classical architecture, its quantities of marble, its deity Rishabhanatha, and its row of 23 mini-temples on the crest of the forested Aravalli hill behind. It was donated by Dinnath ji Jain and the Deepak Jain family.
Closer to Jaipur we stopped at Sanganer, a historical city known for block-printing on cotton cloth and for some very fine Jain statues dug up from the ground. They had been part of the magnificent seven-storey, red-sandstone Sri Digambar Jain temple dedicated to Lord Adinath and completed in the 10th century.
In Jaipur, we climbed up the old Amer fort and a guide told us all about its history. In the city centre we visited all the big sites – the Hawa Mahal, City Palace, Jaigarh fort and more – and explored some of the markets.
Our visit ended with deep happiness and enthusiasm. We returned to the Ashram safely, tired but happy. All of us who went on the trip thank the management, particularly to Mrs Ritu Das who made it such a success, and Save a Child who funded it.
SaC 2019 Sponsors Visit
When sponsors visit the children, they see results for themselves. ‘What great good fortune for the children who find their way to RKVM and ABWU’, said one.
Jane from Boston meets Ramesh
“What a treat to visit two of residential homes that Save a Child works with in West Bengal. The kiddos were happy and thriving – the faces are still with me. Each receives the nurturing, love, encouragement, support and “hand-up” that at-risk children need to prepare them for adulthood.
I watched Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission (RKMV) boys and girls of all abilities joyfully display their love of the arts through drama, dance and music. I met the gentle young man I sponsor and saw how all the children are surrounded by love, and thrive in their child centered environment.
At All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls (ABWU) I saw little girls, big girls, girls everywhere, so enthusiastic - Girl Guides preparing for an encampment, a dance performance, an English class taught by an enthusiastic young teacher…… teens “hanging out” in their dormitory …. laughter, smiles, warmth and joy.
The support and kindness children receive from the staff is, in turn, given by the girls to each other. It is contagious!”
Kate and Chris from California meets Jiyaur.
“I enjoyed very much meeting Jiyaur’, writes Kate. “Indeed it was an honor. Although we were visiting RKVM, where he lives, I had not expected to actually meet him! It was a lovely surprise. I was happy to see that he is well-settled, interested in math and thinking of becoming either a doctor or a teacher. He has high aspirations and I hope he reaches his goals.
I now look forward in a different way to receiving Save a Child’s updates about his progress in the future. I’m thrilled to have the photo SaC Board member Hilka sent after the annual field trip. Here it sits on my desk!
Save A Child has lifted so many children out of poverty, giving them accommodation and education. I am thankful it has given me the opportunity to help in my small way. I realized on this trip more than any other visit to India how essential and effective small NGOs are.”
Carolyn from Chicago meets Pratibha
“Fifteen years ago I visited ABWU with Louise Nicholson and was inspired by the women and girls I met - some were beautifully turned out Girl Guides.
In 2019, I revisited and again. The Guides were there again, a different group, and had made a great camps! We enjoyed a Bollywood-worthy display of dancing, a serious in-your-face show of the girls’ martial arts, then yummy cakes and tea made by the girls. A place to witness joy, fun and love – life-enhancing, and always with a smile and great cakes!
To visit is a privilege because the strength, determination and beautiful smiles shine a light in your soul.”
Juliet from New York meets Ratna
“When I visited it was a truly uplifting experience. The girls gave us demonstrations of dance and sporting activities, all performed with great precision and teamwork, demonstrating a pride in their achievements that should help them throughout their lives.
When had a chance to chat with many of the girls over tea, one thing stuck with me: their comments that they will always have a contact at this school, always return to visit, and this will give them a security even after they leave – a home from home.”
Honor from London meets Debashish
“Last January, part of my adventure to Kolkata was to visit RKVM at Barrackpore, about which I had heard wonderful things. I was not disappointed. Indeed, I was blown away!
On arrival all the boys were lined up in rows, filling the large courtyard, and started to sing their morning songs. They looked so fine in their school uniforms and when I talked to a few they spoke beautiful English, and were polite and respectful kids.
Some teenage deaf girls danced to music, their teacher giving them signals. They were poised, graceful dancers and it was a joy to watch – we applauded with gusto so they saw our hands and felt the vibration. Later, when we visited a girls’ school, the cacophony of noise was deafening, there was such excitement. They barraged us with questions about where we live and our lives. They were a gorgeous bunch of kids, polite, smiling, happy and spoke good English. They love their school.
How superb that RKVM is helping these kids live a life which otherwise would be denied.”
Nancy Winter from Vermont encounters Save a Child’s work
“My visit to ABWU was a truly inspiring introduction to Save a Child’s commitment to giving long-term help to very deprived children – in this case girls.
The gleam in the girls’ eyes and dazzling smiles expressed great self-confidence and inner pride reflecting the successful nurturing and loving dedication of the entire staff. It was marvelous to witness such a successful facility.
My visit has motivated me to lend support, through Save a Child, to this institution which is deeply committed to developing the full potential of underprivileged girls through the arts, education and a healthy life, preparing them for successful adult lives.”
The SAC Field Trip - 2019
US board member Hilka Klinkenberg and UK board member and Treasurer Louise Sykes undertook the challenge to meet more than 400 sponsored children in India in about two weeks.
Hilka and Louise had not met before the trip but hit it off immediately, which made the concentrated hard work enjoyable, too. This was Hilka’s second field trip, Louise’s first.
They divided up their responsibilities: Hilka took the terrific photographs, while Louise did the perceptive interviews to find out how each child is developing – these we keep on our database and send to each sponsor. Louise had a good knowledge of cricket and football (‘soccer’ in the US) and could chat with the boys about them. As for the girls, when Louise learned the festival Durga Puja (Bengal’s version of Dussehra) was approaching, Bengal’s biggest holiday, she right away thought ‘Holiday? Clothes!’. It was amazing the way this broke through any shyness and girls chatted about their holiday finery and the details of their dresses.
Because of the torrential rain, Hilka’s job was really difficult. The monsoon season in West Bengal is supposed to last ‘until September’, so the trip was carefully timed to start on September 22. But the monsoon stayed on with gusto. As a result, she usually had to photograph the children indoors. The spaces were often small, and to achieve a smile Hilka had to overcome natural shyness that was exacerbated by classmates standing right there watching. However, the promise of a post-photo lollipop helped!
All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls (ABWU), Kolkata:
From the welcomes by Mrs Sen and the ABWU ladies and staff, Hilka and Louise were impressed by all aspects of this wonderful facility.
As Hilka noted: ‘When you see the happy girls staying at ABWU and then consider that almost all had been rescued by the police or brought there by Child Welfare Services, it is hard to believe that they come from such traumatic backgrounds. The girls are surrounded by love and care, given unconditionally by the volunteer staff and the house mothers and teachers. Many girls consider Mrs Sen their grandmother – she has overseen ABWU since at least the 1960s. They are given a home that is nourishing and safe, professional counselling when needed, and they learn to be strong in mind and body while practicing karate and krav maga. And all the while they receive a solid education.
‘Last year I saw the dance therapy program. This year, we heard about the new art therapy program. Lasting eight days, it focuses on qualities such as hope, perseverance and strength, helping girls use these to overcome the results of trauma. The inspirational teacher said one reason for the program’s success is that the girls found it great fun.’ Textile printing is popular, too, and girls are printing their own saris (read more here).
Both Hilka and Louise were really impressed by the strong focus on education, leading girls to a good career. They sat in on some classes, including the SaC-funded program for Spoken English and saw the girls’ bold efforts. They even overheard some gentle chiding to girls who preferred to play rather than study. One new development: Classes 1 and 2 are now taught in English, which is increasingly required to secure a good job in India.
Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission, West Bengal (RKVM):
The Mission, headquartered in Barrackpore, has satellite residential homes and day schools across West Bengal and other states, where each day it teaches over 10,000 students. Hilka and Louise had a heavy schedule to meet the more than 200 SaC-sponsored children living in several locations, and talk to them about how life was treating them.
This peaceful oasis, with its large pond brimming with fish, is another heartwarming story. Here all the girls have either a sight, hearing or speech impairment… and often a combination of them. Each has her own communication needs, so the staff and instructors use a mixture of sign language, touch and speech. Again, what struck us most was the loving, caring environment that gives these girls a chance to learn to create lives for themselves.
Building on her visit last year, Hilka continued to be in awe of the work being done with the girls at Suryapur. She started wearing glasses and hearing aids in her thirties, so she has an appreciation for the difficulty in communicating with visual and auditory impairments. ‘That
these girls have these challenges from a young age’, she said, ‘and are being helped by such a caring and well-trained staff, was very moving.’
The girls at Suryapur do not let their sensory challenges stop them. Priya demonstrated some of her dance moves while Prokriti showed off her gymnastic ability. Hilka helped Rupali send birthday greetings to her sponsor, who is a friend of hers.
This is a small home of just 40 resident girls, some of them SaC-sponsored. Here both the girls who board and the local children benefit from the excellent education. A Swami from RKVM Barrackpore came too, who overflowed with joy and made every one of the girls laugh by quickly devising a pun on their name as he handed out sweets.
A three-hour drive through West Bengal reached Joyrambati. Here, the children were very excited about the upcoming Durga Puja festival, and the girls were keen to show their new, brightly-colored, sparkly dresses. In contrast, the much-respected and remarkable Swami Prabuddahananda who oversees the home was happy to chat late into the night about philosophy and physics.
Driving deeper into rural West Bengal, Hilka and Louise reached Purulia to be greeted by eager boys and Swami Tilak, who oversees this home. As he comes from this very poor area, he could speak movingly and with compassion about the number of needy children in the region. In the girls’ excellent school, some of the day students are part of SaC’s Sam’s Project (read more here), which funds very deprived local village children to have education, uniforms, shoes and tiffin (lunch). Hilka and Louise attended morning assembly with prayers and songs led by the girls. Then it was time for lessons. Although the classrooms appear basic - simple benches, tables and blackboards -, judging from the lessons we saw written on the blackboards the teaching is impressive. Indeed, RKVM is known for having some of the state’s finest education. In a rare moment of free time, some of the boys showed Hilka and Louise round the temple and its beautiful garden, identifying the portraits of past Swamis hung on the walls.
This is the headquarters, a huge and spacious campus of British-built bungalows, spreading banyans and shade-giving rain trees beside the Hooghley River. Here, Hilka and Louise met Swami Nityarupananda, RKVM’s general Secretary since 2013. Known to all as Swami-ji, he grew up at the Mission so he understands that it is to be a deprived child arriving at a big institution, a long way from the village home.
Swami-ji is constantly improving the RKVM’s education standards and asked Hilka and Louise for suggestions. His new plans include additional training for teachers in the rural schools, opening an on-site college for girls from deprived backgrounds to train as auxiliary nurses, and introducing karate training classes for all children in Class 5. To fund them, he is adept at winning help from both state and private individuals. So, Save a Child is part of a big project here.
Jain Ashram, Delhi:
This was the final stop, and a total contrast to RKVM. Hilka and Louise were welcomed by Ritu Das, whose grandmother founded the small but very special Shridigambar Jain Mahila Ashram just outside the southern walls of the Mughal city of Old Delhi. Mrs Das is General Secretary and Treasurer, and takes such a personal interest in the development of every girl living there that she is like an ‘auntie’ to each one.
Louise and Hilka spent time with the girls, learning about their many achievements in sport and yoga (with proud displays of multiple certificates!), their skill in arts and crafts and their subliminal message to the cook not to serve pumpkin four times a week – ‘We became suspicious when every single girl mentioned she did not like pumpkin’, said Louise. ‘However, we met the cook at lunchtime when we helped with serving their girls’ and saw there was far more than pumpkin and all the food was eaten up. We had some too: delicious.’
What made this trip especially heart-warming for Hilka was how many of the children remembered her from last year. Even better, they were happy that Hilka remembered them and could share memories. Also, Hilka reconnected with the 10 children she supports who live in several different homes. For Louise – who has sponsored children since 1989 and been a trustee since 2013 – the experience was very moving. ‘The sheer enthusiasm of the children coming from difficult and sometimes distressing circumstances into secure and loving environments, and the dedication of the staff at all the homes, will remain with me for a very long time’.
Covid 19 and the children we support
We’ve been keeping in close touch with the children's residential homes
Friends of Save a Child,
Please know that great care is being taken at the Homes where Save a Child-supported children live. Some went home to isolate with their families, others stayed. I am keeping in touch, and no extra help is needed at this time. Here is a note about each Home.
Jain Ashram, Delhi
As Ritu Das said: ‘It’s amazing how this tiny little protein has brought the world to its knees, but maybe it was necessary – Delhi sky is actually blue and all the pollution is gone’.
At the ashram founded by her grandmother, all the staff and girls are isolating there and food stocks are good. The girls had just completed their exams when the lockdown began. As you see in the title photo, they all wear masks while lessons and activities continue as usual, and they do puja in their on-site mandir - temple. Nobody visits.
All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls (ABWU)
Mrs Ratna Sen and Mrs Susmita Mittra are isolating at home but closely overseeing the wellbeing of the incredible House Mothers and about 65 girls – only about 20 could go to their family homes when the lockdown was announced. Nobody visits.
Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission
Swami Nityarupananda is General Secretary of the mission, emailed a handwritten note to ‘all friends and well-wishers’. He said that although there had been time for most of the staff and students to go home before the lockdown, about 50 children remain with some staff and himself. He urged us all to drink a hot infusion of ‘tulsi (basil) leaves which will keep your immune system much more active’. He ended his note with this thought: ‘See how much we are weak to a small virus even at this day of advanced medical treatment’.
Covid update from each home, January 2021
1. JAIN ASHRAM DELHI
Keeping spirits up at the Jain Ashram during Covid lockdown
Ritu Das’s grandmother founded the Shri Digambar Jain Mahila Ashram for girls in Delhi, nestled outside the southern walls of the great Red Fort built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century. Save a Child has supported the Ashram for many years. Ritu shares how the girls have been keeping their spirits up during lockdown.
“All the children at the Ashram are healthy, safe and studying well through their online classes.
Fortunately, just before lockdown the staff and girls went on their annual adventure which is funded by Save a Child. This year, it was to Hastinapur on the River Ganga, north-east of Delhi. The city was capital of the Kuru Kingdon (c.1,200-900BC). As one of the subcontinent’s first state-level societies, it was here that Vedic hymns and rituals were adopted to became fundamental to Hindu philosophy and culture - described so vividly in India’s great Mahabharata epic familiar to every Indian child, which recounts the war between two branches of the Kuru clan. So, the girls had lots of history and archaeology to explore, some fine Jain temples to visit, and time for fun and games. They returned with plenty of happy memories.
Back in Delhi, another stroke of luck: the end-of-year exam dates were right before lockdown, when all exams were cancelled. Only two girls could not complete their exams.
Then, lockdown began on March 23. Throughout, the girls were kept safe inside the Ashram, and supported by the entire neighbourhood. Noone went in or out. Deliveries were left at the gate, washed, then taken inside and treated with salt, alum and sanitizer. The girls were fully informed about Covid and all the precautions and rules. They took special care with hygiene: masks, social distancing, washing hands. Each girl made her own mask.
To help with mental balance, the Ashram took many initiatives. The girls were encouraged to call their families. They practiced yoga to calm their minds from anxiety. They kept a daily routine with extra bathing, hand-washing and incense burning. Counseling continued for those girls in need of this, but now online.
In addition to having online schooling, the girls continued their education through TV news and documentaries. The Ashram has its own computer room, so IT tutoring continued but online.
For entertainment, and always wearing their masks, the girls created big puzzles on the blackboard, made paintings, read stories, played chess and ludo, competed at musical chairs and watched some TV cartoons and films. Some made beautiful rangoli (meditative patterns made with coloured powder). For every festival – all religions, all national holidays - they organized a special event with great pomp, with dance, a seminar, a painting competition, special food, and more. They were very inventive!
The Jain diet is very healthy. It is strictly vegetarian and rich in proteins and vitamins. But now the girls also took preventive herbal and vitamin-rich decoctions, as advised by the doctors.
The girls know that everyone in this Covid-19 pandemic should take care of themselves and each other so that everyone can be safe.”
2. RAMAKRISHNA VIVEKANANDA MISSION (RKVM)
Schooling does not stop for Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission’s children during Covid
Swami Nityarupananda, Secretary of Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission (RKVM), oversees the extensive campus at Barrackpore and some smaller satellite Missions across West Bengal. In all, several hundred children live in RKVM’s residential homes. The Mission is known for its quality schooling, some of the very best in the state. Swamiji explains how he has kept the education flame alight through Covid.
“When Covid lockdown started, to avoid mass infection at the Mission the government instructed us to send all children home who have a family, even a single parent or a relative, however modest their means. So we have less than 120 children with us, mostly those with no family to go to. It is heartening to tell you that none of these or the children who went home have had Covid so far – one staff member caught it, went to a Covid care home and is now fully recovered.
Maintaining the children’s education, wherever they are, was our priority. All the children are attending classes and doing lessons online, using WhatsApp and following our schools website to download study materials, ask questions and submit answers - wifi reaches across India to almost all villages and the vast majority of Indian people have a mobile phone as the cost is very low. This way, the children could have a routine and keep to a time frame. I am happy to report they are progressing well, despite the difficulties of many personal situations for distanced learning.
We have already conducted two exams sessions for all subjects, semi-annual in August, final in October. Students could mail their papers or submit them online. We shall publish the results and class promotions in November. We are happy that Covid could not prevent us from imparting education to the children, and the children are happy too.
We also conducted online cultural programmes for all students, to inject the atmosphere of school at their own home. Many children participated and more than 700 children got prizes and certificates. We dedicated this special festival to the late Pranab Mukherjee, former President of India, a champion of education who came from West Bengal and was a close friend to the Mission.
The children who have stayed at the Mission have school and music classes. For sport, they have volleyball – the popular Save a Child football training project has been paused as has Sam’s Project for village children. We could also celebrate Bengal’s favourite festival, Durga Puja, together but distanced.
Looking to a brighter future, during the pandemic the whole Mission at Barrackpore has been painted and renovated. So when schools start to open in January – we hope – the children will return to a spick and span campus.”
3. All Bengal Women’s Union Welfare Home for Girls
At ABWU, online schooling and baking Christmas cakes beats Covid blues
On a spacious campus in central Kolkata live about 160 girls aged about 5 to 18, many of whom arrive deeply traumatized – SaC funds the much-needed professional counselors. Susmita Mitter, a long-time volunteer, reports on ABWU’s positive action plan for lockdown.
“This is how we have been coping with the Covid crisis. On March 24, 2020, Prime Minister Mr Modi gave a televised address ordering a total lockdown. We had to send home all our girls who have a family, however impoverished they may be. The remaining 60 stayed here because they have no family or nowhere safe to go. We isolated our whole campus. Now, in January 2021, we are very happy that these girls and the staff have remained Covid free, as have all those who went home.
We were aware how important it was to give mental support to all our girls. So, our counselors continued their work through WhatsApp video calls, explaining the risk of the virus, and helping the girls cope with fear and the pandemic’s restrictions. The dance movement therapy classes, which the girls love and are helpful, continued online.
For their schooling, we faced a real challenge because the school is off-campus. But, by the end of April teachers were making daily assignments, giving them to our gate-keeper in the morning and collecting them the next day. We were on a roll! Additionally, in July the school started online classes using zoom and WhatsApp, so children who had gone home could also join in. We are happy to report that all the girls caught up with the syllabus and sat their annual exams in December.
Throughout the pandemic the girls continued learning their much-loved karate, classical Indian dance and singing with online classes, then presented a show after their exams.
Our most exciting annual project is making our famous Christmas cakes, the best in Kolkata! Orders come from across the city and this year was no exception. In fact, it exceeded our expectations and really cheered us along. Amar, our head baker, started prepping in October. Selecting the girls who have the inclination to learn to bake these sumptuous cakes, his sous-chef team diced heaps of dry fruits, soaked them in brandy, then preserved them in big jars to mature. Three weeks later the cakes were baked. Usually the rest of us visit the bakery during every stage but this year Covid prevented us – though we did enjoy the mouth-watering aroma as the cakes were baking!
We begin 2021 with the hope of normalcy returning."
Why do we do a Field Trip?
One of Save a Child’s USPs is its annual Field Trip when two people, representing Save a Child and its supporters, visit all three residential homes we work with. They meet each supported child, discuss their progress and interests (a staff member interpreting) and take a photo. They write up each report and put it, along with the photo, on Save a Child’s database for reference. They also send the report and photo to each child’s supporter.
It’s a big job. But we believe this is essential affirmation and reassurance to supporters that donations reach end use, the children, and that the children enjoy happy, healthy, safe, well-nourished and stimulating childhoods.
Our last Field Trip was in 2019. Covid prevented the next two. So, after a three-year gap I decided that I should do this Field Trip. I am Founder and Director of Save a Child so the responsibility is mine to see that the children are well-cared for and that supporters’ funds are well used. In October-November I visited the homes and sat with the children one by one, took the photos and caught up with the staff, some of whom I’ve known for 37 years since I founded Save a Child. I was often giddy, so many kids and staff! Every day was exhausting but it was also extremely heartening. Those dynamic kids! I wish you could all have been there, too. But please know it is your support that will help their dreams come true.
My take-aways from this Field Trip.
The children Save a Child supports, around 300, are thriving. They receive constant love, security and encouragement. They are happy, smile and laugh a lot, and have plenty of fun together in their free time. They benefit from full schedules of school and interests such as art, dance, yoga and, of course, football and cricket. Staff ensure they are developing a strong sense of community responsibility. I saw how they care for their friends and are building core values of sharing, duty, respect.
The children are very keen on school, and very keen to talk about it. They fully understand that through education they can have opportunities to follow their dreams – engineer, policeman, nurse, teacher, doctor, lawyer and one boy hopes to go to the moon! The schools they attend are some of the best in their area.
It is remarkable how the staff have managed to oversee the boys and girls through Covid. The Indian Government instructed all children in residential care to return to their villages, unless their family was unknown; most girls remained at the Jain Ashram in Delhi. Schooling was switched to cell phones which are very cheap in India so most families have one. End-of-year exams were taken online in spring 2021 and 2022, exam results were good and in some cases exceptional. Now the children are happy to be back at the residential homes with their friends. However, some remained with their families who found they could now manage to support them. They go to local schools, and we know they take with them all the benefits they received from the home. Meeting the children.
Look at it from their perspective: an Indian teenager is told to sit and chat with a random old lady with curly wild hair from the other side of the world. Understandably, most started off quite shy but with a few smiles and jokes they soon opened up. Some recited poems, others talked about their football stars, others brought their art to show me. A lot talked about their science lessons in relation to climate change. A good number said English is their favourite subject and that its grammar and vocabulary is easy, which astonished me until I remembered that the Bengali alphabet has 50 letters (11 vowels, and 39 consonants) to master before you even start on the grammar.
Three girls happened to be returning from the Diwali holidays escorted by their mothers. This was my first chance to meet a mother of a child Save a Child supports. From each woman I learnt her story (always tough, mostly now alone), her hopes for her daughter and her reason for entrusting her to a residential home: she is determined that her daughter will have a better life by having the skills to control it and be self-sufficient.
Many of the students are now in classes 10, 11 and 12, and thinking about what they might want to do at training college or university. I used memories of conversations with my own children at this age to guide them, while encouraging the pure fun of curiosity and learning. Some dreams needed to be grounded a wee bit. Sadly, it was not possible to admit new children to any home during Covid, so we support fewer young children now but each home is making up their numbers so there will be more youngsters to support in future.
This is where I founded Save a Child. It’s bang in the middle of Kolkata, the buildings set around a large courtyard where the children play, meet for Girls Scouts, have karate lessons, chase about playing kabaddi (a bit like ‘touch’), dance and sing, or just hang out.
Save a Child’s Spoken English program
In school, the move into the better English Medium schools that we reported in 2019 is increasing class by class, year on year, putting girls into a stronger position for further education and the jobs market. Additionally, Zohra’s imaginative Spoken English classes, funded by Save a Child are voluntary to attend and popular. This plucky, instinctive teacher has now commandeered a whole room which her students have decorated with posters. They gave me show displaying their English capabilities; impressive.
If you would like to contribute to this programme, please email me .
Save a Child’s Counselling Program
Most children who arrive at ABWU have suffered acute trauma in early childhood, been rescued and then assigned here by the courts. They need professional help. Some years ago Save a Child worked with staff to initiate a counselling programme. There are three counsellors, sharing their cases with each other and with the staff: Sudeshna Dey, who has a degree and MSC in psychology and 15 years of experience, also works in a hospital for the mentally disturbed and a rehabilitation centre; Sudeshna Chowdhury, similarly qualified and experienced, stays current by taking courses at the International Justice Mission; and Nilanjana Putatunda, the resident ABWU Child Welfare Officer, who studied social welfare at Jai Prakash Institute for Social Change and is continuously upgrading her skills. These women are crucial to each girl’s wellbeing and progress. So, too, are the teachers who help the girls find peace with themselves and gain confidence through dance, crafts, cooking, meditation: there is Amar Koley in the bakery, Uma Chakraborty for sewing, Sumanta Mukherjee for karate, and Snuhi Chaudhury for music and dance. One evening, six girls led me into the big dining hall and I sat with all the other girls while they gave me a beautiful dance display.
If you would like to contribute to the counselling programme, please email me.
So many girls said geography was their favourite subject that I met their teacher, Soumita Ghosh, and asked her why. ‘I started showing them videos and photos’, she said, ‘not just reading books. When they see volcanic eruptions and snow-capped mountains and the Sahara Desert they are interested.’ Simple. We discussed showing them their city river, the Hooghly. By the next day Soumita had written a ‘field trip’ schedule and budget breakdown including breakfast, lunch, and bus and river ferry tickets. £300 all in for 40 girls plus 7 teachers so they don’t lose anyone.
If you would like to contribute to this programme, please email me.
Barrackpore, the headquarters
From the 18C until independence, wealthy British and Indian families relaxed in their country retreats in bucolic Barrackpore. Its ancient spreading trees and gardens ran down to the Hooghly River along which they boated to and from the Calcutta city. Those spacious bungalows, trees and walled gardens survive, many occupied by some 37 charities including RKVM, founded in 1976 by Swami Nityanendaji. He raised funds to buy the Maharaja of Gwalior’s home when he set up Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission at Barrackpore to give new life and education to a handful of very deprived boys. (You can see the house in Jean Renoir’s 1951 movie, ‘The River’).
Two years later he founded RKVM homes and schools at Joyrambati and Purulia. He later raised more funds to buy several other bungalows, each with their walled garden. Save a Child started working with RKVM in 1997. Today, his successor Swami Nityarupananda, known to all as Swamiji, is General Secretary of the vastly expanded Mission that spreads across West Bengal and around the world, and whose discipline, values and education are renowned, always evoking Vivekananda’s vision: uplift of the very pool through education’. Swamiji, an orphan, was brought up at Barrackpore and Joyambati, then read English at Calcutta University. During Covid, he set up a museum in one of the old buildings to tell RKVM’s story. The photos show the first handful of boys flanked by their very different successors whom I met this year.
Save a Child supports some 170 children at RKVM-run homes. On my arrival, Swamiji assigns Polash (teaches maths at RKVM’s boys school) to assist me by rounding up the kids, checking I meet them all, ticking off the official lists, and translating during interviews. He’s efficient and organised. Swamji also assigns Rabi Das to be our driver, an orphan who spent much of his childhood at Joyrambati; ‘RKVM is my family, my home’, he says, which is just what RKVM’s founder wanted the kids to feel. A key part of our team, he not only drives with great purpose but decides to help with organising the interviews, his English is very good. We make a good trio and, importantly, we all agree that good roadside chai will keep us going.
Meeting the boys at no.7 Riverside
That original complex, no.7 Riverside, is now RKVM’s central administration with large riverside temple and auditorium. It also had a boys’ home and school, Ramakrishna Vivekananda Vidya Bhava. I met the boys who are supported by Save a Child, including Rajib who makes detailed sculptures of Hindu mythological stories, Marful who performs gymnastics with yoga in the temple, and Rudro who recited with melodic rhythm Rabindranath Tagore’s poem from Chatrutho Bhag, part of Sohoj Path, urging people not to cut down trees because they control pollution and make the world a good place. A moving moment. The boys were keen to tell me that it’s proof of Bengalis’ being football crazy that Barrackpore has a biryani restaurant called Arsenal – an outing on my next visit?
Meeting the girls at no.53 Riverside
On to no.53 Riverside where gaggles of very lively girls live around their and central on-site school. Many of them were brimful of confidence and had focused ambition. Take Kiran, 18 years old and in class 12. She intends to study financial banking and accountancy at Calcutta University, while enjoying in her free time both classical kathak and the four folk Ravindra Nitia dance-song dramas composed by Rabindranath Tagore. She plays badminton, too. What a girl! Then there’s Riyanka, aged 13 and in class 7. In beautiful English she told me she wants to read biology and sciences at university and train to be a doctor. It is important that all the schoolchildren Save a Child supports know that that support will continue through their further studies or practical training until they enter the job market to live their dreams. I emphasized this. I also met with some students whom Save a Child has supported for many years. Pritam told me he is ‘pursuing a web development course, platform and website’ with certified recognition, and he’ll have plenty of job opportunities. Debu is studying for a degree in geography at Mahadebananda Mahavidhyalaya College, five minutes’ bicycle ride from RKVM; he wants to be a land surveyor. Shyamali, who lives with his aunt because he has no parents, is in his second year of a history degree where he’s chosen to specialise on ancient Indian history; his ambition is to get ‘a government job in the West Bengal police department to keep women safe, give protection in the community’.
The short drive trundles through Barrackpore town, bustling with women shopping at a ribbon of roadside market for fish, grains, papayas, apples, bananas, grapes, aubergines, pumpkin, and new-season cauliflower and peas. Huge billboards announce the must-see Diwali release at the town’s landmark cinema, the Hindi-language fantasy comedy ‘Thank God’ and its handsome heroes. There are cupboard-sized IT and travel shops (mostly for pilgrimages), and advertisements for learning English, dyeing greying hair back to black and, always, gold jewellery. But the road out to Suryapur steps back in time, more tuk-tuks, bicycles and pedestrians than cars.
Suryapur is a large oasis of calm. The red-orchre buildings, large lake, mango orchard and big trees are home to 86 girls who are doubly disadvantaged: they come from poor families and they each have a high degree of hearing, speaking or sight impairment.
But these girls: what positive attitude! This is generated by Keya Sarkar. ‘I am hostel super’, she says with gusto, which means she runs the girls’ hostel. ‘I’ve been here 30 years, I’m unmarried, I’m bachelor but I have 86 children to care for!’ Swathed in a heavily starched Bengali sari woven in the sophisticated jamdani weave so that delicate red tendrils and blossoms swirl all over the white cotton base, she helps a Save a Child-supported girl present me with four red roses. Keya has overseen the growth of Suryapur’s special library where girls go and read with the librarian and enjoy plenty of Braille books, a project Save a Child has helped realise.
Meeting the girls at Suryapur
In addition to school, the girls told me they enjoy computer lessons, football, badminton, kabaddi, cricket, and put together team games. Lots of them enjoy swimming and tailoring. But it is their dance that is of a particularly high standard. They perform classical kathak and Bharatanatyam and the Bengali favourite, the four Ravindra Nitia dance-song dramas composed by Rabindranath Tagore. They also perform Nazrul Giti which are dramatic dances inspired by the 4,000 songs written by Nazrul Islam, the 20C national poet of Bangladesh adopted by freedom fighters. The girls have won many prizes and performed at Kolkata’s prestigious Bikash Bhawan hall.
To talk to the girls Save a Child supports, Keya is our translator and info resource; Kalyan Sarkar, Suryapur’s account, helps with translation. Rima, 14 years old, writes her name on the blackboard. Unable to speak or hear, she loves her English lessons, playing football, learning Bharatanatyam dance, and block-printing. Neha, aged 15, does not speak either but launches into Bengali sign language she expects us to read! We soon learn that a child telling us her favourite school subject will touch her waist for Bengali, wave her hand for science, wiggle her fingers for maths, write across her chest for history, and draw around her head for geography (to indicate the world). Parama Biswas is 20 years old and blind. She’s in her first year at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata, reading political science, and a mixes Braille and headphones to do her course work. She’s the only blind student in the department of political science, but there are other blind students in this university. The students help her, make friends with her, so do the teachers. She’s full of confidence, wants to be a journalist. As Keya Sarkar says, ‘The girls are very protected here, in their own world. They feel inferior when they go out, so doing class 11 and 12 at an outside regular school is important for building self-esteem.’
After we have seen all the girls, Kalyan Sarkar, a keen foodie, oversees the arrival of a sumptuous lunch. He explains the character of each Bengali dish in detail, and even shares a recipe.
A three-hour drive into rural West Bengal, pausing for steaming restorative chai on the way, and we arrive at the large complex of Joyrambati. Established in the village where Ramkrishna’s wife came from, making it a pilgrimage centre, my first stop is the temple accompanied by the highly-respected and formidable director, Swami Prabuddahananda. He oversees the lives and progress of 200 ‘Joyrambati boys’, of which SaC supports 43 and, about a kilometre away, about 100 ‘Joyrambati girls’ of which SaC supports 15.
The children’s schooling has its own structure. They live Barrackpore for their kindergarten years, then come here aged 8 where they do classes 3 – 12. Each day, at 11am all children stand and sing the Indian national anthem written by Tagore, then devotional songs to Rama and Krishna. Once they complete their schooling, there is training college or college/university. I visited an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) nearby, run by RKVM and full of dynamic students doing 1-year courses to be electricians, plumbers, machine menders; jobs for life.
Save a Child’s football program
A few years ago Save a Child worked with Swamiji to start a football programme. In West Bengal, football is as popular as cricket and it’s an ideal teenage group sport: hearty exercise and team work for a large number of boys, enjoyment for spectators, and a break from the school schedule. SaC’s funding provides a trainer (often a former professional player), kit and footballs for Barrackpore, Joyrambati and Purulia homes – although boys I watched and Joyrambati’s sunset training at were playing barefoot by choice. Indeed, when the ball came near Swami P he quickly slipped off his shoes and gave it a whacking kick back into play.
Joyrambati is currently holding RKVM’s 8-team league trophy won in February, which the boys paraded for me. Purulia won in 2019 and their trainer, Sasanka Mahato, who has a physical education degree and played for Nagpur University’s team, is keen to set up a second training batch ready to move into the first team later. Meanwhile, he reckons Purulia will win the league this season! Competition is tough to get on the training programmes and SaC wants to double its funding so more boys can get on the pitch rather than just watching.
If you would like to contribute to the football programme, please email me.
Meeting the boys
The influence of the widely read and intellectually curious Swami, who always enjoys a post-dinner philosophical chat with visitors, ripples through Joyrambati, encouraged by a new science building. Ripon, 15 years old, enjoys life science classes ‘learning about human body, like the system of the heart pumping round the body’, and wants to join the Indian army ‘to serve my country in the Border Security Force’ – he was fine with the idea of being very cold in the Himalaya. Swastik, also aged 15, says ‘I’m reading in Class 9’ and continues in unusually good English (encouraged by his mother) to tell me he enjoys all the sciences, reading books, playing chess and wants to be a computer engineer. Shandip, 16, also enjoys all the sciences and hopes to go to one of RKVM’s ITI colleges for a practical training, ‘I like to make things’, while Supriya, aged 20 and living with his uncle, is already taking an automobile engineering court at one so he can ‘work in a garage, get further training, communicate mechanical problems with the customer, encourage them to maintain their cars’.
Meeting the girls
First, we all enjoy their variety show. With their instruments amplified enough for a rock concert, they sing songs including Ramakrishna’s ‘Prem Vore Monre Gaho’, dance classical Bharat Natyam and Tagore’s ‘Oye Ujjala Din’ in full dress and dramatic make-up (requiring a trip to the local market), and recite poems. The girls favourite sports are badminton, volleyball and skipping, while hobbies range from drawing and singing to crafts and gardening, and almost always dance. Bhagyashree, aged 14, enjoys most of these as well as learning English in school, but talked more about her yoga and meditation – this is done in a group in the lofty temple hall for two hours twice a week, ending with prayers and then back to studies, but she also finds time for private practice. The older girls are focused on their futures. Rita loves sciences and wants to be a nurse; Pratima, also keen on science, wants to go to Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University at Purulia and then be a nutritionist. Anusuya, who loves her maths lessons, wants to teach little children in an ‘anganwari’ (courtyard shelter), a program started by the Indian government in 1975 as part of rural child care to help combat child hunger and malnutrition; there are more than 35,000 anganwaris across India.
It’s a long drive up to Purulia. On the way, we not only sipped excellent roadside chai from fast-disappearing but eco-responsible terracotta cups but also played truant to visit someone I know. Turning off the new smooth highway, we bumped along narrow lanes through the forest to seek out ‘the honey man’ and buy jars of his undiluted liquid goodness which he collects in July from the forest trees. One pot went to Swamiji in Barrackpore.
On our arrival at RKVM’s big estate on the edge of Purulia – a modern town unrecognizable from the messy village I first visited - Pradip Chattaraj, recruited himself onto our team. A senior science teacher for classes 1-10, he explained the solution to having no wifi at the school: students just use their phones. In India, it’s always a case of being ingenious with what you have, as Purulia’s good exam results prove.
Meeting the boys
I meet with 31 SaC-supported kids. Here in thoroughly rural India, where the kids are drawn from isolated villages and the tribal areas, I had to dispel a lot of shyness to find great personalities, thoughtfulness, and wit. Radheshyam, aged 12, tells me he loves his Bangala (Bengali) lessons and gave me an impromptu recital of a Tagore poem, a magic moment. He yearns to get into the football training program, so perhaps expanding it will make that happen. Prabin tells me right away that he absolutely does not like Bengali grammar, starting with its 50-letter alphabet, but he loves playing defence in football! Nayan, in class 12, hopes to do a B-tech qualification for engineering. Nikhil, 20, is in his final year of a mathematics degree; ‘First I want to learn higher mathematics, then I want to be a mathematician, then work in a company’s R&D department’. Shubhankar is in the final year of his 3-year BSc in chemistry; ‘Ma’am, I want to be an optometrist to help people with eye health’.
Then there is Dharmadas, aged 16, who loves science and all kinds of maths. He’s a striker in the football training group and bowler in cricket – and points out that although he supports England cricketer Sam Curran, India currently has the most wins in a calendar year. Polash, my assistant, has a theory about the Indian overarching love of cricket: when they watch cricket they dream, escape. This need is partly due to parental pressure on education as the key to opportunity, and partly because exam results are published in the newspaper for all to see. Mothers are often at the school gate checking up on homework to bring home. Polash should know: as a teacher he sees the students and the parents.
Meeting the girls: their school and Sam’s Project
A few years ago a young British graduate decided to bicycle across India inspired by the Indian history course he’d taken at university. His name was Sam. We helped make Sam’s dream come true. As he peddled and peddled, he visited all the homes where Save a Child supports children – in Delhi, rural West Bengal at Kolkata. He also raised some funds to start a project. His vision was to help very deprived village children access the quality education RKVM offers, and he chose Save a Child as his partner to realise it. Swamiji and I made a trip to Purulia to devise a way of achieving this. Sam’s Project was born. Sojan, senior administrator and a teacher at RKVM Purulia’s girls school, is team leader. This is how it works.
Girls selected from seven villages lying close to RKVM Purulia’s girls school attend as day students, with their parent’s encouragement. SaC funding pays for their uniform, shoes and books, and for a stipend given the mothers to provide tiffin (lunch) - this involves the family. Interestingly, when girls return home to help with household jobs, their chat about their school day inspires some mothers to learn and the whole family to adopt the RKVM ethos. After Covid lockdowns contracted the project, Sojan has it expanding again.
On my arrival to visit the school, some of the 200 pupils give an entertainment of precision-rehearsed folk dances and amazing poetry recitals including one long Bengali poem about an elephant, with enough mime for me to follow the plot. Shrijoye, in class 5, receives the most applause from her fellow pupils when she recites a muchloved hymn to Bengal, ‘Sokol Desher Sera’ by Dwijendralal Ray, a contemporary of Tagore.
Afterwards, I meet the Sam’s Project girls. I ask them what they think of the structured and demanding RKVM school, compared to their little village one. ‘We love everything’, they reply, especially ‘payer time’ (a peaceful moment at the end of the day when all gather in the prayer hall for quiet thought and meditation) and playtime with the other girls - who are very inclusive towards their fellow pupils from very modest villages. Most of the fathers are day labourers with no job security, yet these bright-eyed girls already have big ambitions: teacher, science professor in college, cancer doctor, police (father a policeman), school teacher, science teacher, English teacher. The RKVM school only goes to class 10, but Sam’s Project will ensure these girls can go to a good high school for classes 11 and 12. After that? Let’s see….
I also visit Shivdi, a village that is part of Sam’s Project. Purulia’s Swamiji, Pradip Chattaraj, Polash, Sojan and I all pile into my car. We pass fields of ripe golden paddy to reach the small fairly isolated village. Most houses are built of mud, each with a mud boundary wall, a courtyard (with goats and chickens) and two or three rooms along one side behind shade overhang, very clean and tidy. Villagers move between courtyards, their communal spaces. We are welcomed by one family: father (schooled to class 10), mother (no schooling), their three daughters, one son, loads of women relatives swathed in dazzlingly printed cotton saris, their kids, and half a dozen goats. More people continually squeeze in to enjoy the event. The mother is the big motivator for their four children to have a better life, but the father is clearly pleased. Their capable eldest daughter was an early member of Sam’s Project and is now doing her MA and teacher’s training so she can go for a high-end teaching job; the middle and younger daughters are now part of Sam’s Project; the son, aged 4, will join later.
Expansion of Sam’s Project is thanks to the efforts of Sojan and her team. This visit, she showed me a large register book where she’s listed 33 girls with their ages, village, and school class. She would like to take them all on. So would we at Save a Child. She gave a few clear examples of their families’ need. Dahi (yoghurt) and garlic, basic ingredients for Indian cooking, are luxury items; these families use the cheaper turmeric to cook cheap yellow lentils. Eating meat or even fish is rare; rather, egg is eaten with home-made mango pickle, foraged herbs, yellow dal, chappatis. Most families do not own land so they cannot grow their food; many keep goats to fatten up and sell at market. Some fathers are absent, having had to migrate for day-labouring work. Sam’s Project is an established, well-run project that transforms rural children’s lives and benefits whole families.
If you would like to contribute to Sam’s Project, please email me.
Jain Ashram, Delhi
Tucked away in the shadow of the 17C Red Fort’s soaring red sandstone walls, Shridigamber Jain Mahila Ashram for girls is a haven of tranquility. Run by Ritu Das whose grandmother founded it, there are two other key people who give it its beautiful rhythm and order: Sunita Jain, Superintenant of the Ashram for 25 years, and Babita Jain, Resident Social Worker for 12 years. What differences have they seen over the year? Both agree that the girls are less disciplined, but in a good way. Their individual personalities and natures are more developed, stronger, which is necessary if they are to sustain themselves in the world. Nevertheless, the Jain Ashram is very protective of the girls living there, of whom 22 are supported through Save a Child.
During my visit, the Ashram hosted an awareness workshop by the Centre for Water Sanitation and Health for Women (www.cwshw.org ). Abha Bahadur and her nephew talk about women rising in India society – the first woman truck driver made the news a few days earlier. They also tackle menstruation (quelling fears), the importance of washing hands before meals and after going to the toilet (a hands-up poll confirms most girls do), the merits of using soap. When they invite questions, only when the nephew discreetly leaves do the girls come up to the desk with their questions, which are plentiful and frank, answered by Abha and the Ashram staff.
Meeting the girls
Schooling is moving from the traditional Hindi Medium to English Medium from class 6. This will give the girls more opportunities including places at good colleges and better jobs. Already, Anshu Yadav, aged 14 and in class 10, speaks beautiful English in whole sentences and nice accent. ‘I like the grammar and stories, I try really hard in English’. Kajal, 12, finds learning about the environment interesting; she’s a lead performer at the Ashram dance functions. Kalpana, aged 20 and at college reading for a BA in English, Hindi and political science, is concurrently doing a computer course and a diploma in accounting, but lets off steam by dancing to Hindi songs played full volume! To contrast, Urvashi quietly reads The Times of India each day and wants to be a beautician, while Somya smiles broadly as she tells me how much she enjoys both maths and the group yoga performances. As Sunita and Babita say, these girls are developing their own personalities and passions.
Here are some for you to enjoy – you will really feel you are visiting the children!
Hearing impaired girls dance at Suryapur
‘Indiawalla’, RKVM’s ‘happy new year’ celebration, a Bollywood-style performance about Swami Vivekananda
Girls together, dancing and sharing’, about Jain Mahila Ashram, Delhi
‘Happy Holi! Sham Rang Bhat Do’, celebrating Holi festival at ABWU
‘Chak De! India’ ABWU’s cricket team win a Kolkata league
See why our sponsors chose to support Save a Child
Whenever I visit a country I try to leave nothing but footsteps and a legacy, and take away fantastic memories. I also love children and nothing is more important than to give a child a safe and happy childhood. So after two fabulous walks in the Indian Himalayas, I decided to look for a charity that would give severely disadvantaged children long-term support to see them into adulthood. If you give a child a home, an education and love you are sowing the seeds for a productive and happy life. Save a Child seemed the best charity to provide all three and I have been supporting them since 2008. I receive regular updates and am totally satisfied that my money is extremely well spent and benefits all children concerned.
Pia — London
Out of the hundreds of organizations that I could have chosen to sponsor a child in India, I chose Save A Child America. With Save A Child America, I know that 100% of my donation goes directly to the child who I am sponsoring which provides me with confidence that my donation is being used as I want it to be. The sponsorship process is simple and quick and I was provided with the child’s picture and the biodata, which allows me to see exactly who I am helping. Most importantly, I know that the child I sponsored will be given an education that she otherwise would not have had the opportunity to have without Save A Child America’s involvement.
Joshi — New York
Of all the organizations through which one can sponsor a child, Save a Child helps children in all the ways I wish I could help them: providing stability; giving them hope by giving them a chance; and most importantly an education to make them self-sufficient. But just as important to me is seeing how much care Save a Child takes to make sure that every child is looked after well and that the funds sent to sponsor each child really do reach that child and are spent appropriately. There are so many destitute and needy children in the world. And I’ve often thought, “If I could only help one…”. What an incredible privilege to be able to help through Save a Child America not just one child, but help an organization that helps so many.
Erika — New York
Some years ago, while working in Kolkata with Louise, founder of Save a Child, I took the opportunity to visit the child I sponsor. We simply called and went along to the city-centre All Bengal Women’s Union Home. We also made a similarly informal day trip to the Ramakrishna Vivekenanda Mission on a sprawling riverside estate at Barrackpore. At both, I saw how much the children blossom in protective and nurturing Homes, and in each other’s company – in the classroom and playground. My experience of seeing children sponsored through Save a Child at work and play was so inspirational that by the end of the journey, I added another four children to my sponsored Indian family.
Penny — London
Here are some of our sponsors’ replies to the reports and photos of the children they support and the overall Field Trip Report.
“Thank you so much for this report and the great photo. Our little girl looks healthy and obviously your work has saved her from something dreadful. I'm delighted that she is making good progress”
“I am delighted to see how well Subhankar looks. It is a good few years since I first saw him when he was a very shy boy lacking in confidence. I wish him well in his ambition to join the army.”
“I much enjoyed reading the Field Trip Report and am delighted to see how much progress has been made with so many of the children going on to college or university. The short films are an excellent way of 'spreading the word'.”
Save a Child UK was founded in 1986; Save a Child (America) Inc in 2010. They are run by Trustees (UK), a Board (US) and Supporters.
Director of Giving
Founder and Chairman SaC UK, Founder and President SaC (America) Inc
(if you wish to email Louise direct, please do so here)
I founded Save a Child in my London kitchen in 1985 after my first book, a guide to India, was published. The aim was to give some of India’s deprived children a better chance, and to enable other people to do the same. It was a practical way of ‘giving back’.
Save a Child has seen several hundred children gain confidence, health and happiness so they can blossom to their potential. And we want to help hundreds more. What can be more satisfying than using a small sum of money to enable a child from a deprived family to have security, food, education and become self-reliant? I have even watched some achieve a college degree.
Living in New York since 2001, I work as an arts journalist and India travel consultant and hold both UK and US citizenship. In 2010 I launched Save a Child (America) Inc, with 501c3 tax status.
The Save a Child model is long-term sponsorship. We also raise funds for special projects such as education and health. My job is to be the bridges between the volunteer UK and US boards of trustees, the sponsors of children and the children themselves living in residential Homes in India – I visit most Homes each year. I also oversee the annual visit of Save a Child volunteers to meet with each sponsored child, a key component of Save a Child’s work.
In 2017, Ramakrishna Vivekananda Mission Barrackpore, the largest Home we work with, awarded me their annual Swami Nityananda Memorial Nara Narayan Seva Award for Outstanding Performance in Child & Women Welfare. This inspires me to work harder for deprived children, to merit that recognition.
Save a Child UK
I am a barrister specialising in employment law, particularly discrimination and equal pay. I first went to India when I was 20 and have been going back ever since. I had supported Save a Child for some years, but it was only when I was invited to become a trustee in 2009 that I became aware how much work this charity does and how many children we can help by ensuring that they receive a good education and are equipped for a future as young adults.
It is such a pleasure when I visit the Homes and see how the children are growing and developing though the assistance we can provide for them. I hope to persuade new sponsors to sign up because of the real effect a small amount of money can have on the lives of these children.
Treasurer & Trustee
I am currently Global Head of Transfer Pricing at XL Catlin, having previously worked in the banking and technology sectors and at PwC where I specialised in finance and tax. I have lived and worked in many European and Asian countries during my career and bring experience of working in diverse cross-culture teams, with a focus on getting things done.
I first came to know Save a Child in 1990, in a newspaper article written by Louise Nicholson. Since then, I have sponsored three children through to the end of their education. What has struck me most about SaC is the strength of the personal connection that sponsors can feel with their children.
As a Trustee, I bring my professional skills to help SaC’s volunteers in the UK, US and India. I help them gain strength in our cross-culture teamwork, so we can increase the number of sponsors for needy Indian children to benefit from a good education and vocational opportunities that will allow them the best chance in adult life.
I have been travelling to India to visit the Save a Child Residential Homes since I was the same age as many of the children in our care. Indeed, long enough that my first sponsoree has since graduated, gone to university and become happily married!
As Digital Lead, I am responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Save a Child website and the charity's wider digital communication strategy.
Save a Child (America) Inc
CPA, Board member and Treasurer
I have sponsored a child through SaC (America) Inc since 2011, when I also joined the Board of SaC (America) Inc and became its Honorary Treasurer.
I am currently working at Ellington Management Group. I have held multiple controller positions in not-for-profit organizations in addition to working over six years in public accounting and tax practice. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting and am a Certified Public Accountant licensed in New York State.
I bring my Indian heritage and Indian philanthropic experiences to SaC (America) Inc; I am a founding Board member (2010). When I am in India I can liaise with our Indian colleagues and sponsored children; during my New York stays I offer an up-to-date cultural connection between the West and India.
I was raised in India and hold an MA graduate in business administration from Rutgers University. I have 20 years’ experience as a consultant in the non-profit sector. Today, I live in New York, London and New Delhi. I have worked with the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, INTACH (Indian National Trust for Architectural Conservation and Heritage), and Spic Macay. I run the Trisaraa Trust set up by MGL Corporation, whose mission is to encourage the classical performing arts in general and those of Tamil Nadu, my home state, in particular. In addition, I am actively involved in primary education and health care through the humanitarian work of the Mata Amritanandamayi Trust.
Beth Rudin DeWoody
I have been to India several times and seen the many needs that exist there, especially of deprived children. I believe strongly in the importance of taking care of children worldwide, that every child deserves a good chance. I support SaC (America) Inc in these efforts, most especially in encouraging sponsors to commit to long term sponsorship and leading by example – I sponsor several children through SaC (America) Inc. I am a founding Board member (2010).
Born and raised in New York, I am President of the Rudin family foundations. These support many educational and children’s charitable organizations, focusing on giving practical and responsible help to children. I also sit on various philanthropic boards including The Whitney Museum of Art (Chairman of its Education Committee), New School University (Trustee), New Yorkers for Children, Inc (Board member).
My passion to help children has grown since I have known Louise and learned about Save a Child. I believe we all have an innate desire to help others. So, what better than to sponsor a child long term and see that child’s mind be opened to education, sports and other interests, and then watch potential be realized as the years progress?
Save a Child is a great gem that I stumbled upon. I want to do more than sponsor. As a Board member my aim is to showcase the work it does and to help spread knowledge to my young generation about its mission – giving deprived children in India a fresh chance. Using my management and communication skills gained in the real estate business, I want to arouse the seed of humility that lies with each and every one of us.
I support a child through Save a Child (America) Inc. and am a founding Board Member.
Having grown up in Mumbai, I have an intimate understanding of Indian culture and the immense needs of those living below the poverty line. I am passionate about supporting underprivileged children in India, and committed to helping move them towards a sustainable future through secure care and education, so they can live happy and healthy lives.
I came to live in New York city in 1995 and was a corporate banker for 22 years until 2019. Alongside my career in banking, in 2009 I founded Marigold Living and now I am a full-time entrepreneur. Through it I offer high quality home textiles and accessories made by skilled artisans in India, who use traditional craftsmanship and techniques.
With a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Bombay, an MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School of Business, and my banking career, I can give Save a Child (America) Inc financial advice and, through Marigold Living, I can raise awareness and support for it’s important work for the future generation.
Sponsorship & Donation
Your act of kindness changes the child’s future. You lift a child out of poverty to live in an established children’s residential home run by local people.
A £216/$300 a year sponsorship will fund most of a child’s needs.
That is around £4/$6 a week to change a child’s life forever.
Sponsor a child through Save a Child UK or Save a Child (America) Inc now and make a real difference.
You can pay in GBP sterling or USD dollars – just complete the appropriate forms below.
Sponsor from the UK
You can sponsor or make a donation by completing and returning the forms below. Before doing so, please read SaC's policies.
You can also sponsor or make a donation online via CAF (Charities Aid Foundation).
Sponsor from the US
You can sponsor or make a donation online via the Network For Good. Before doing so, please read SaC's policies.
If you would like to discuss sponsoring or donating to Save a Child please email us or complete the form below.
GDPR & Safeguarding policies
To read SaC's policies and understand how they affect you, please click on the links below: