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Shining the light on children

There’s never a dull moment at Snehalaya as we run a varied programme to keep our children entertained and educated. Children’s Day on 14 November is also the birthday of India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who worked so much for the wellbeing, education, progress and welfare of children after the independence of India.

Beneficiaries from our Rehab Center and Balbhavan enjoyed a range of activities around the day and our Childline team were also busy with the national 'I'm a Childline Se Dosti (Friends of Childline)’ campaign, a week of awareness raising programs to highlight their mission of reporting child abuse or kids in danger by calling the helpline number, 1098. They also distributed of friendship wristbands, invited people to sign the Childline pledge, ran competitions, street plays, meetings with local groups and Childline demonstrations which culminated in a Children’s Day celebration with our Bablhavan children on 14 November.

We also have to say a big thank you to Ahmednagar Lions who helped our Rehab Center children celebrate Children’s Day by providing a magical afternoon of entertainment with an illusionist, artist and dance troupe.

Here, Snehalaya UK volunteer Nick Cox shares the highlights of just one of our activities to mark Children’s Day.

A day out with Childline is always full of thrills and the unexpected and 12 November was no exception. As part of the annual, national 'I'm a Childline Dosti (friend)’ Childline campaign held around Children’s Day, the team organized a week of awareness raising programs to highlight their mission of reporting child abuse or kids in danger by calling the helpline number, 1098.

Childline organized a special trip for children from our Balbhavan (slum community) projects to meet the world famous social activist Anna Hazare in his hometown of Ralegan Siddhi, Ahmednagar. Anna was instrumental in setting up what is thought of to be a model village of conservation and social change. Among its accomplishments, the whole village uses solar energy and has practiced programs such as tree planting and using biogas, generated from the community toilet. It is this unconventional way of sourcing energy that has perhaps been its among its best achievements.

Before meeting the great man, the children were shown around the 'Media Center', which houses many of the trophies, awards and accolades that has been bestowed upon Anna and his village. Through photos and captions on a maze of walls, they learned of the village’s progress and enjoyed a film of Anna's life from when he was a young man and the sole survivor of an enemy attack in the Indo-Pakistani war of 1965. After going through an almost suicidal depression, he came to the realisation that he had survived for a reason and decided to dedicate his life to serving others. And that is exactly what he has spent his life doing, fighting corruption and championing the under privileged.

The kids sat cross legged on the ground and waited in anticipation as Anna took his place on a chair beneath the shade of enormous Banyan trees. For the next hour he spoke as a grandfather would to his grandchildren, gently talking of achieving good values in society and ways of conducting one’s self to promote good health and well-being. This was not only done with conviction but also with a good measure of humour. The children were entranced as if watching a magician.

This kind man took the time and patience to answer all questions and pose for photographs with all who wanted evidence they had been in his captivating company. When the time came for him to leave, he bid farewell to all and, as he was getting in his car, gave one final glance and a wave to all of the children who were left in no doubt they had been in the company of someone extraordinarily special.

Being in the company of the ever astonishing Childline team, the day didn't end there! We boarded the bus for our next destination, the village of Supa. As we journeyed on, the bus had an almost party like atmosphere to it as Childline’s ever charismatic Ravi, Meena and Krishna led the kids in singalongs sending off howls of laughter. It's plain to see the team adore the kids and they are adored back in return.

Arriving in Supa we were treated to one of Maharashtra's most popular foods, the delicious Vada Pav,

by local business man Mr Santosh Kilari who enjoyed watching the kids tucking in to the snack almost as much as they enjoyed eating it. We got back on the bus for some more good old rowdy singing as we made our way on to our next event.

Ahmednagar Mid Town Rotary Club was celebrating 100 years of social and charitable work by lighting no less than 5,555 Candles which would make the shape of the Rotary Club symbol and Save the Girl Child emblems. If they managed to do this they would not only magically transform Firodya School in Wadia Park but also make their way into the record books. People came from as far away as Delhi to witness this amazing event and a drone ensured some spectacular aerial shots.

As we pulled in to the grounds, there was a great sense of excitement. Groups of people were carefully placing their candles in their given section that had been chalked out in a mere skeleton of what was to come. A local drumming troupe warming up added to the sense of drama as the Childline team directed the children to hundreds of tiny cups to be filled with sand then candles. It was great thing to watch the kids set about their tasks with humour and enthusiasm, still singing a song or two while doing it.

As dusk fell and the lighting time of 6.45pm approached, a huge moon rose in the sky illuminating the crowd. An uncanny silence crept over them as the first candle was lit and then another and then another. The Rotary Club symbol began to take shape with thousands of shimmering candles followed by the emerging Childline logo. As the final candle was lit, months of careful planning had paid off in a rare shared experience as the crowd of young and old alike marvelled at the beautiful twinkling spectacle of 5,555 candles that made into the Wonder World of Records and sent a message of peace to the world.

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