After fundraising for The Hope Foundation (HOPE) for a year, and raising awareness about its causes, I witnessed with my own eyes for the first time what the organization truly works toward. I also learned about the circumstances of each group HOPE works to help. In truth, the information and context about each of HOPE’s efforts made my trips to their sites far more valuable than I could have ever imagined. I visited four HOPE sites in Kolkata, all of which cover different aspects of the organization’s mission. From toddlers to young adults, HOPE strives to guide street and slum-connected children through an educated life, to a successful career. We began by visiting the youngest group at the HOPE Creche in Kasba.
This facility is for 3 to 5-year-old street-connected children whose parents are unable to provide hands-on care for their children throughout the workday. What particularly affected me was the children’s various situations. Often both parents work all day to make a living, and these small children have no one else to look out for them. Sometimes both parents are unable to care for the child due to a medical illness or physical disability. These problems all lead to the stifling of a growing child’s learning and well-being.
Street and slum-connected children are not in the situation to be able to receive holistic support from both their parents, let alone financial support. This is where the HOPE Creche comes in, serving as a pre-school for street and slum children that do not have the resources to learn otherwise. Here, they utilize activity-based learning to teach the children.
As soon as I entered the Creche, all of the adorable little kids welcomed me with big smiles and outstretched hands. I felt warm and welcomed by everyone there, not only the kids, but also the teachers, who were kind enough to let me sit in on some singing, and also sit and play with the kids. I watched the children sing educational songs together, guided by the teachers. The songs covered fun and basic topics like the days of the week, months of the year, fruits and vegetables, and more. The kids all sang along enthusiastically, and even encouraged me to join them.
Afterwards, I sat on the carpet with the kids, and they taught me games they like to play, like making a “kola gach” by stacking fists on top of each other. A few children also sang and danced for me, showing me their 15th August celebration performances. They all had the warmest smiles on their faces, and I felt so lucky to be able to experience their happiness and enthusiasm for learning. The kids also made me a card, and gave it to me after everything was finished. Our next stop on the HOPE site tour was Chetla’s Nabo Asha, translated as “new hope.”
The Nabo Asha facility is for school-age street and slum-connected children. It is a type of “after care” for kids who do attend school but don’t receive sufficient extra support from their parents or at home. What I learned is that these children often drop out of school, unable to keep up due to a lack of support, or circumstances at home that do not allow them the time or space to receive an education. Nabo Asha works to prevent these kids from dropping out of school, by providing them with the various kinds of support that they require.
I noticed posters on the walls about several topics such as the premises of child abuse, good touch vs. bad touch, and even facts about health such as the Rubella vaccine, and COVID 19. The kids were also proud to tell me about their Child Vigilance Committee, or the Community Watch Group. Designated child leaders look out for the kids in the community, and keep them aware about their safety, which all helps avoid danger.
HOPE also works on “addressing the unaddressed.” I was told a captivating story about a sick patient who turned to a neighbor who claimed to have natural treatment, or a nearby medicine shop to treat surface level symptoms. However, the symptoms that the patient tried to treat was the beginning of a much more serious, sometimes even fatal, illness. These extreme illnesses go untreated due to the difficulty of obtaining free government health services for individuals who live in unregistered slums. HOPE therefore works to provide official addresses to these unregistered slums.
As I entered the Nabo Asha center, kids were sitting in lines facing the front of the classroom, and there was also a circle of kids in the corner surrounding a counselor. There were children of various ages, all with a book or notepad in hand, working on some kind of homework or activity. It was really nice to see all the children so focused, and it was clear that they felt safe and welcome in the environment.
I asked for some introductions, and students of all ages introduced themselves to me in English, which I was impressed by. Some told me about their hobbies, and others mentioned their favorite subjects. As I learned about the kids’ interests and identities, it was clear that they felt comfortable sharing in the space. One little girl came to the front and recited quite a long poem in Bengali, and another girl sang the national anthem, as we all stood up to receive the adorable performance.
The thing that I liked the most, was that each and every child was passionate about their studies, and had a genuine desire to do well and keep learning. They shared that they liked to study, and I truly believe a large portion of their desire to learn can be attributed to the friendly and welcoming teachers and services they receive at Nabo Asha. Seeing them working hard, and having goals, was truly inspiring, knowing the background that they came from. I know that they will have opportunities in the future due to their hard work and motivation.
HOPE Cafe: Life Skills Training Center
The Life Skills Training Center is for young adults who have finished school or are in college, to learn life skills that will launch them into an stable and successful job/career. On the top floor is a computer training unit. Here, the students learn about the hardware and software elements of a computer, and utilize these skills in various projects and presentations.
For example, I saw the students work on advanced Excel functions to create visual aids and logos for projects. The teacher explained to me that their computers are taken apart completely, and the students must figure out how to put it back together properly, which teaches them the parts of a computer, and how they fit and work together.
I also visited two beauty units. In one unit, I saw mehendi/henna patterns being taught to the students. In the other unit, the students were learning how to do makeup. In the tailoring unit, the students all were working at a station with a sewing machine, and learning several different kinds of stitches, patterns, pockets, styles, embroideries, and more. It was fascinating to see all the different things they learned how to design.
I learned how the students are set up for success from the center. Once the students are done learning all the aspects of tailoring, and complete their diverse portfolio, they are given a sewing machine for themselves. Just one sewing machine helps the students become self-sufficient in utilizing their services for profit after learning essential skills from the training center, the teacher explained.
The HOPE cafe also employs and teaches students skills including how to serve customers. Once these skills are properly learned, the students are sent to nearby cafes, restaurants, and eateries, to apply for jobs as servers, as explained to me by the manager. Overall, it was amazing to see that these individual’s futures were being shaped by the skills that they were learning here.
Brian's Way: Special Education Center
The Brian’s Way center ensures access to required therapies for children with special needs. This includes physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc. They are also given access to essential supplies, resources, and education that they do not receive in school or otherwise.
In the center, I noticed several posters on the wall that interactively educate the children about several important topics. One poster is a “touch and feel” interactive surface that has handprints with materials such as cotton, cardboard, glitter, and tape, all initiating different sensory reactions. Another includes rings of safety, which shows which people in the children’s lives are safe and trustworthy. I learned that these visuals create awareness of important lessons for the children in an interesting and involved way.
In addition to these services meant directly for the children, Brian’s Way covers another essential task, which is educating the parents and their community. This was a particularly interesting initiative to me. Parents are informed about the details of the child’s disability, and in which circumstances the child is able to thrive. One of the teachers at the center told me that many community members believe that if their child associates with a special needs child, they will somehow get that disability as well: Brian’s Way works to clear the misconception that these disabilities are “contagious,” to promote social interaction for the children.
At the Brian’s Way center, I was introduced to three children with special needs who were being helped in different ways. One was a boy with autism, who was in the middle of a physical therapy session, which included activities that focused on coordinated movement of the body. Another young child had cerebral palsy; he was also doing physical therapy, which included activities such as stretching of the legs, as his condition restricts free movement. It was great to see him smiling, and he even called his mother with a confident “Ayyy!” Another child was in the middle of a learning session. His teacher explained to me that he is very intelligent, but the pace at school is a bit too fast for him to be able to keep up. It was great to know that these children are being provided for, not only in the various therapies that enhance their personal lives, but also in adjusting them to the community and schools.
Through this experience, I learned that charity means more than just money for impoverished communities. Many street and slum-connected communities in Kolkata do not have access to healthcare, or schools, so oftentimes money by itself does not amount to a fulfilled life. HOPE works to create those resources for them that will add value to their lives. HOPE creates these opportunities for education and skill building, and gives people and places addresses and IDs, to claim the services they are entitled to. Now I know, my fundraising for HOPE doesn’t just mean giving money, it means enhancing the resources that furnish their lives with equal opportunity. From toddlers without parents who deserve to learn, to school-attending children deserving of a place to study and feel safe, to young adults that deserve the foundational skills for a job, to special needs children who deserve care and acceptance. Equal opportunity. That is what The Hope Foundation is all about. And in a world full of people in need, it is quite a promising glimpse of HOPE.