Raju, a porter at the railway station chooses to study after a hard day of work so he heads to the NGO VOICE for his daily dose of education.
VOICE (Voluntary Organisation In Community Enterprise)
was started in August 1991 by the husband and wife team Victor and Rajashri Bansiwar who began teaching beggars, porters, rag pickers, vendors and shoe shine boys at railway stations. VOICE started with just 20 children. After 18 years of serving street children, the couple has touched the lives of over 5000 children into becoming educated and independent individuals.
“During my MSW (Masters in Social Work) course, I was posted as a trainee at Matunga at a remand home. During that time, I felt sad to see the dehumanising conditions of the children who were not looked after properly,” says Virctor Bansiwar, founder of VOICE. “By the time we finished our course, our attention got diverted towards children on the railway platforms,” adds Victor. The Bansiwar couple completed their MSW course from Nirmala Niketan College.
“Initially it was very difficult to start the organisation as we neither had the funds nor the resources to do anything. We registered our trust and opened the office in our residence in Andheri,” says Rajashri Bansiwar, founder of VOICE.
The organisation provides not just non-formal education but also encourage children to join the mainstream schools. “Due to unavoidable circumstances, some children could not go to school hence we give them non-formal education at our centres. “We cater to the needs of the Mumbai street child. We do not focus on book learning but on all-round development of the child such as value education, computers, yoga and music. We start with literacy skills and if they become interested, we send them to municipal schools,” says Rajashri. From its inception till 1996, the volunteers and staff of VOICE were teaching at Churchgate, Dadar, Vile Parle, Andheri, Jogeshwari, Goregoan, Borivali, Bhayander and Virar railway stations. “We wanted to teach children at all railway stations but the railway authorities objected to us being there. Everytime they asked us to leave, we would come back only because of the children,” adds Rajashri. Due to the non cooperation of the railway authorities, VOICE could not continue at railway stations. Instead, they taught all the children in their 1BHK home cum office.
After years of struggle, with a grant from Sir Dorab Tata Trust, the Bansiwars obtained a one acre plot at Virar and have constructed a home in August 2006 called Sanjivani for homeless girls who are particularly vulnerable to rape and molestation. The capacity is for about 100 girls. Sanjivani now has 53 children aged between three years to 17 years, seven volunteers and team of teachers who work along with the Bansiwars. “At Sanjivani, in addition to academic education, we teach the girls cooking, tailoring, gardening, yoga, music, computers and so on,” says Rajashri. The couple has now started reaching out to the Adivasi community in and around Virar. Currently, 30 tribal children go to Sanjivani.
VOICE has devised several programmes for the benefit of children. “One important initiative we undertook is Prayas. Under this programme, bank accounts are opened for the children. This inculcates the habit of saving money. The children are expected to save a part of their earnings into their accounts,” says Rajashri. The children have been taught screen printing on gift wrapping paper, cards, letter heads and to make diyas (earthen lamps) which is sold during Diwali. The proceeds of the sale of the gift wrapping papers and diyas go to the children itself who save it in their bank accounts. So far four children have purchased new bicycles with the money they saved while 14-year old Santosh saved Rs. 15,000 over a period of three months.
Other programmes include counselling sessions, debates on social issues and current affairs, educational camps to places like Delhi, Rajasthan and Dharmsala, yoga, singing and playing musical instruments like the tabla, harmonium, guitar and keyboard.