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For hundreds of children forced into begging and manual labour, Vaibhav Kamble is a veritable saviour. By ensuring that they are enrolled in city schools and are provided food and shelter, the 22-year-old has rescued scores of street children — a majority of them young girls — from the shackles of poverty.
Born in Basarge, Kolhapur, Kamble was always passionate about education. An admirer and follower of Dr BR Ambedkar, he always believed that education was the most effective instrument for social change. “When I came to the city in 2009, I saw several children, sometimes as young as three-four years, begging at traffic signals and in public places. Some people religiously dropped in a coin or two, but I wanted to do something that would reach out to them in a more significant way. I realised that if we give them education, an entire new generation will be able to earn a living. They’d be free from the cycle of poverty,” says Kamble.
Kamble remembers that the first case he came across was that of seven-year-old Salma (name changed). He found her on the footpath opposite Ruia College, Matunga. Salma’s father was an alcoholic and her mother had sent her to beg on the streets. She was weak and her skin was patchy because she lacked haemoglobin. Vaibhav called 1098, the ChildLine helpline number, from where she was allotted a shelter in Sion. His work, however, did not end there.
Salma’s family did not have any of the documents required to get her admitted into school. Vaibhav’s Facebook page, which he uses to primarily find logistical and financial support, proved priceless. He urged people to help with basic legal formalities like affidavits. He was flooded with calls from lawyers all over the city and in the next few days, Salma found her name on the rolls of a school. She now says Kamble is her ‘best friend’. “We usually have a lot of trouble in completing formalities for street kids after they are rescued. But once we give the responsibility to Vaibhav, he takes it from there,” says Manisha Parle, a social worker.
The Salvation Army orphanage in Sion is home to several girls who met Kamble on some footpath or the other. They are now studying in nearby schools and they no longer have to worry about where their next meal will come from. Another such case is that of Sunanda (name changed). Sunanda’s mother set herself on fire in 2011. She had had enough of the domestic violence that was being meted out by her husband. Sunanda, who was 14 then, witnessed the tragedy but could not do anything. Sunanda testified against her father in court. He was immediately arrested, but was out on bail in a few months. “Once he was out, he drank all day and harassed me. One day, while returning home from school, I saw Vaibhav talking to some street children. I told him my story. Within a week, I was out of that hell and amongst people who loved me and cared for me,” she says. Sunanda is now pursuing her BA from a reputed city college. She aspires to become an IPS officer. “Vaibhav just told me one thing. You won’t have to sacrifice on anything from now. And he has been true to his word.”
Kamble lives in the Babasaheb Ambedkar Worli boys’ hostel and travels to his Lonavala college twice a week. Besides pursuing a BE in mechanical engineering there, he has also signed up for a distance learning programme offered by the Yashwantrao Chavan University. He soon hopes to have earned a BA in Political Science. Kamble is trying hard to juggle his studies with a small-time recycling business that he is launching and his work for the city’s poor and needy.
In the last three years, the young altruist has created a vast network of lawyers, doctors, social workers and government servants. They all help him pro bono. Kamble has even expanded his reach by providing higher education to several girls. “Most orphanages keep these girls till they are 18, but after they leave, most of them end up working as domestic help or in small factories. They discontinue their education. This is why I am concentrating on enrolling them into colleges and providing them with a hostel where they can also earn a stipend,” he says.