"I had moved to Delhi from Jharkhand's Ranchi for graduation. That was the turning point in my life. I had started volunteering with several NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) but the incident that triggered the notion of helping the underprivileged street children was my experience with them while waiting for a green light at traffic signals," said Rashi Anand, the founder of Lakshyam.
Lakshyam is a not-for-profit organization, established in 2012, with an aim to provide 'normal lives' to the street children by providing them access to better health and education opportunities and to empower women with employment.
The organisation has provided technical education, skill development lessons for the street children and those residing in slums in Delhi. Lakshyam also works towards empowering women of the marginalised communities by imparting them training on vocational and professional skills which will aid in creating employment opportunities.
With constant efforts aimed at improving the lives of the marginalised section of the society, the organisation has impacted more than three lakh lives and now operates in 17 states including Delhi, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh.
"On traffic signals when travelling in an auto or e-rickshaw, I encountered several street children reaching out begging for money. They used to try to physically touch my hands while asking for money or if they wanted to sell something. But, as soon as the lights would turn green they would go back to their corner and start playing with empty bottles, tyres and sticks," Rashi told The Logical Indian.
This incident made her notice a number of toys being discarded by the children in her family either because it was broken, the children had outgrown them or were plainly disinterested. It was the existence of two conflicting scenarios which caught her attention when she decided to work towards it.
During her college days, Rashi started with a campaign to collect toys and books in an attempt to connect with such children and to prevent them from getting involved in activities involving begging, pickpocketing and drug trafficking.
When planning to formalise her campaign and take to scale the efforts, Rashi mentioned to The Logical Indian that she faced several major roadblocks.
"I was young and at first very few people took my vision and plans seriously. Most of them were of the opinion that running an NGO would be an old person's job and not of a youngster like me. I also had to strive hard to build goodwill for my organisation.
With my mother, who has also been a social changemaker, onboard for the organisation, plans started taking shape," said the social entrepreneur.
However, the initial strategies and attempts failed. Rashi stated that she had a tough time figuring out the approach to provide a long-term solution to the challenges that sprang up once her team started scratching the surface with such marginalised communities.
"It was a vicious cycle that I confronted with when I reached out to the children and their families trying to engage them for classes to develop skills so that they would not have to resort to jobs like shoe polishing, rag picking and selling pens.
The parents asked me to pay on an hourly basis if we wanted the children to sit for classes instead of working and earning to feed the family. During the discussion, the fact that a young child can earn more through begging than an older man also came to the fore. It was disturbing," said Rashi.
Meanwhile, she also recognised that the mothers of such children have a crucial role to play in their lives and realised the significance to empower the women of such communities to free the children from the shackles of poverty and helplessness.
"We started with our skill development programs regarding handicraft products and stitching. Additionally, to ensure the women are capable of taking financial decisions, we started financial training along with counselling sessions," described Rashi.
The organisation has been working towards their social goals with three initiatives — the Butterfly Program which provides 'Remedial Education Centers' for street children and dropouts, Toy Library to provide toys & books to each child and the Rooh Program to educate and empower the women with skill training to equip them to lead a life with confidence.
Speaking on the socio-economic condition of the people who are forced to reside in slums and put their children into beggary, Rashi explained that one of the slum communities located in one of the affluent neighbourhoods of the national capital lacks access to water, sanitation and quality living. They are crammed into small spaces and the fight for survival takes over the other things.
"We had to start from the beginning. Getting the kids out and grooming was the first step. Later, we used the toy library to gain their attention and interest. Eventually, we moved to the education aspect. There are two models that we follow to rope maximum students and minimise dropouts.
The Bridge Education model aids in bridging the gap and making up for the years the child might have lost. We impart those lessons until the child is equipped with lessons to qualify for school admissions. Remedial Education model follows imparting the lessons at our centres till Class 5," explained Rashi.
Rashi also pointed out the problems she faced on her social entrepreneurial journey. While trying to empower women with livelihood opportunities the team realised that it was important to teach marketable skills to the women which would make them self-reliant and also reduce the dependence on anyone.
Turning the conversation to times amid the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the young activist told The Logical Indian that her team has been pro-actively working towards helping the worst-hit communities due to the lockdown.
"We distributed cooked meals and dry ration to the needy but people started asking us for work to feed their families, buy medicines and necessities. These people were daily wage earners and the lockdown had been brutal to their lives.
Later, the team decided to get into the work of making masks which would help these workers and also be useful in the time of crisis. We got orders for approximately 10,000-15,000 masks which were stitched by the women associated with Lakshyam and were paid for the work they did," Rashi said.
While distributing the ration and the meals, plastic bags were being used so the organisation keeping in view the environmental impacts decided to stop the use of such bags and started using cotton bags stitched by the workers. They also started educating other organisations on the same.
Considering the setbacks posed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and plans to adopt the changing education system, Rashi said, "All the efforts and plans seem uncertain with education going online. It has been three months that the children have not attended classes in schools and families with bare minimum cannot afford smartphones. Online classes include digital infrastructures like smartphones, laptops and data connectivity."
"We have realised that digital and technology education is crucial in the dynamic social structure and been prepping up to conduct online classes. We organised an online fundraising event to arrange for the gadgets to begin the classes.
Secondly, we would be focusing on employment generation. We are working on ideation of marketable employment opportunities amid the pandemic since as an NGO we have been confronted with the situation with comparatively fewer donations or companies tied with us pulling out of CSR partnership," Rashi added.
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