Intending to educate and empower the slum children, social worker Dev Pratap has brought a wave of change for the kids of slum areas who are not able to afford education and in turn remain idle without any work. Through his NGO named 'Voice of Slum', Dev educates over 500 children. However, it has not been a smooth ride at all.
Prior to his NGO, he had his fair share of struggles since childhood. Dev, who hails from the Dabra area of Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, ran away from his home at the tender age of 11 and used to stay at railway stations. Later, he managed to get a job as a ragpicker.
Struggles Faced During Childhood
"I met a few kids cleaning trash and later segregating them to earn money. I too started doing the same and worked as a ragpicker in railway station. It was horrible to deal with the impugent smell of garbage every day. I like many other kids got addicted to the 'whitener'. I even resorted to thefts to fuel my addiction and eventually landed up in jail for 15 years," Dev told The Logical Indian.
Dev said that a stranger bailed him and other children and helped him get a job as a waiter in a Goa restaurant, where she was used to make and serve tea to customers. "After living there for sometime, I managed to get a job at beach shack . Few years later, I moved to Delhi and got a sales job," he said.
But in 2012, the unfortunate demise of his mother in a road accident left him shattered with no work and purpose in life. "That's when I met Chandni Khan, who also had a same story to share," he added. Both decided to build a team of people to help the slum dwellers, especially children, in their region.
Helping Slum Kids: Better Education Prospects
On January 15, 2015, they started 'Voice of Slum' which intended to educate and empower the slum kids.Though the initial period was hard, Dev and Chandni ensured to give better education prospects to more than 500 slum children a year.
Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, the social entrepreneurs have made sure to distribute more than 20 lakh meals to slum kids, besides providing education to them. "During this time, many people were left unemployed and their companies laid them off. Around 1000 slum children are fed on daily basis, hopefully we will try to reach people across the country," he added.
He has also bagged various awards like the Karmaveer Chakra Award and Sawera Award for his extraordinary efforts. Besides, he has been an influential speaker at TEDx and Josh Talks for being a voice of the slum people. Continuing the efforts, he makes sure his voice reach every nuke and corner of the country.
"It is the Voice of undeserved children. We didn't intend to start a school in the slums, we wanted to have a similar kind in Noida itself so that we could encourage these children to actually come to school. Today, Voice of Slum has 30 staff members, who teach these children and take care of the NGO," he explains.
The basics are taught to the children, with practical knowledge on mind and less focus is given on the theoretical part. The NGO enrolls about 100 children every year and the children are taught for two years until they can join a regular school. Their school fee is sponsored by donors and well wishers of the organisation.
There is also a bridge course that helps in filling the gap between childrens' lack of education and prepares them for the mainstream course, besides focusing on education it helps them build their confidence and empower them.
In addition, the After-school program provides academic support for all subjects to all the children who have joined the mainstream school who have been a part of the 'Voice of Slum' Bridge Course. "Our community mobilisers are regularly visiting schools and taking updates about the growth of those children. We have tied up with Government and Private schools, those children who are selected for private schools, our organisation sponsors 50-75 per cent fee to these children till graduation," he shares with The Logical Indian.
Actively Helped During Pandemic: Ration, Oxygen Concentrators
The NGO has already served dry ration and daily foods to more than 20 lakh people and actively helping people in the Covid situations by making oxygen concentrators available for free to save lives and through different initiatives like Covid-19 Relief Drive, Feed the Slum.
"We are way behind right now, we need to help more people. During this dreadful condition, we need more monetary support to serve more people. With folded hands, we request everyone to extend their helping hands so that we can help these destitute people and those who really need our help," Dev said.
At present, among the 500 children enrolled, 370 children are enrolled in formal schools. The remaining 130 are still preparing.
The NGO also has online portals where it crowdfunds money for these children's education. It has about eight regular donors, and are able to raise about ₹1-2 lakh every month. However, the operational expenditure is about Rs 1 crore every year, which is often met by online donations, "We don't know how, but we always get a generous donor who helps us out. The children of VOS also get about 1,000 tickets every year from Kidzania, Noida, an international entertainment centre for kids to role-play adult careers," Dev explained, adding that their aim is to completely bring these children out of poverty and change their next generation.
Dev recalls that money was a major challenge for the NGO. But a bigger challenge was that both Chandini him were uneducated. While many people promised to help organisational structure, eventually they backed out, leading to the loss of hard-earned savings. "We want to open a formal school by 2023, and further expand our operations to more places. We also are taking forward our work to Madhya Pradesh and help more kids in the days to come," he concludes.