Girish Kulkarni, Snehalaya: Building Heaven for Socially Unacceptable People
“When the whole world is Silent, even one voice becomes Powerful”
This is the story of a person who raised his voice when no one dared, and lighted a lamp in the darkest place. This is the story of Mr. Girish Kulkarni.
Girish founded Snehalaya in 1989 to help people from brothel live a better life.
When Mr. Girish Kulkarni was in school, one day he visited his friend’s home and found that she and her mother were working and living in brothel, dealing with the most negative situations of society. The brothel keeper was displeased by Girish’s visit. In a rage, he inflicted indescribable abuse on the girl and her mother, making Girish stay to watch. Appalled by the brutality he had been forced to witness, young Girish made a promise to himself. He resolved there and then devoted his life to end the atrocities faced by trafficked and enslaved women and children in India.
Also, the idea that their life has been determined to suffer just because of the place they are born in. Mr. Girish Kulkarni thought that even he could have been born there and would have been in the misery regardless of what he would have wanted.
They say, “It is not people’s choice where they are born, but it is their choice where they want to go.”
The first part of this statement is totally correct. But, the second part is not promising if they are born in the darkest places. Where the light never shows up, and hopes doesn’t exist. And people have only choices to die or to do what they are forced to. Girish realized that the people out of the brothel, if determined enough, could help them. And he took the responsibility to drive a change.
Being decided what his life’s purpose is, Girish started to find ways to help people. But he realized that it was extremely difficult to get near the victims of brothel. The brothel keepers raised the difficulties. Girish tried to go near the women, but failed for a long time.
The times when he used to successfully reach to them, they used to get emotionally disturbed and used to exile him. They hated him and they had every right to hate the men of this society.
But Girish didn’t stop trying, and his persistence started to be recognized, but it was still not enough. Mr. Girish realized that the children born in the brothel were the future victims. So, they needed to be taken out from there. He decided to take them out and give them a good place to live, this in turn allowed him to gain some trust among the women of brothel.
When he took the children from the brothel to another place, he found that some of the children genetically had HIV positive, this gave him another mission, and he started to collect people infected by HIV, to treat them and to let them live with dignity. This led to a never ending chain, and today Snehalaya has about 18 projects concerning many different social issues like areas like Rehabilitation, Healthcare, Education, and Awareness, situated at hundreds of places.
These projects run all over across India and also has centers oversees. I really want to write about all of them, but as the detailed information on these projects is easily available on their website, I am stopping myself from writing it.
http://www.snehalaya.org/project this is the link where you can find all the details, please visit it to understand deeply.
One more reason I am not writing about all their projects, is that I am going to write about the things I learned when I visited two centers of it.
A few days ago, I visited Snehalaya with my friends from SFD – Students For Development, a forum of ABVP, especially exists to allow students to do social work. And we all were very lucky to meet Mr. Girish Kulkarni. I am going to write what lessons he gave us at the latter part of this article.
Among the 18 projects, 4 projects are located in Ahmednager itself. So we had the plan to visit all 4 of them, but because of limitation of time, we were able to visit only two of them.
The first project, or place we visited was Snehalaya. Now the name Snehalaya is the name of whole organization, but there are different projects running in it. And all these projects have their different names, and among those projects one project which was also the first project is called as Snehalaya. We visited this place. Children from Red Light Area are being sheltered here, along with the HIV affected children.
We met Suraj, who is a volunteer here. He showed the place, and briefed us about its history. Snehalaya is not just a place which provides shelter, but it is a society. Here education is provided, for that school is built. Dining hall where all the kids can eat at the same time is built here. Special places for cultural events are built. Medical institutes are built here, and most of the medical treatments are done here.
Buses are there so that children may go for outings. And here vocational programs are also run, where these children and women living here learn different skills which they also use to earn money.
We were fortunate that we met Manjari ma’am. She comes here to teach the skills of pottery. The sculptures made by kids are so beautiful that Manjari ma’am takes them to many exhibitions to show off their skills. She showed us a place where some of their masterpieces were showcased.
Manjari ma’am told us that it is important to teach these children new skills. As most of the kids here miss their schools because of the problems they face, we must provide them the opportunity to work and earn.
Blessing, Love and Hope
I just mentioned that, Manjari ma’am took us to a place where sculptures made by kids are showcased; I found a corner where this was kept.
Blessing, Love and Hope; these are things, not only the kids staying here but also me and my friends found here.
After having lunch here, we then visited to Snehankur – A project where they adopt the children thrown by their parents. We saw and met kids whose parents don’t wanted them to live, or to born at the first place. But the complication doesn’t end here, because society will blame them if they give their unwanted children to communities like Snehankur, they try to throw them at places where no one could find them. We have seen a baby who was kept under stones, so that no one could find him. His body was full of bruises when the team of Snehankur found him. We saw a child who was thrown in the jungle wrapped in bag, and other kid was found near a river.
Now I know it is very unpleasant to read or write these things, but that is the whole point. When we went there, the care taker was telling us every detail of these kids, even he showed us pictures of the event when they found those children. Because of throwing them some of the body parts were so injured that they will have to live without them.
While he was explaining us the details, I understood that this is the first thing we should do, we should talk about this, we should spread the awareness, and we should tell people what they should if they ever find abandoned kids. And tell the parents, that this is the most inhuman thing anyone could do. If they don’t their own kids, they should at least donate them to an authentic institute.
The Lucky People
Before visiting to Snehalaya or Snehankur, I thought how unlucky these children are, they are suffering for no reason, just because it is written in their destiny. But when I reached there, I realized that these children are living like common children. Maybe better than common children, because these children were getting very good quality of food, good cloths, good education, opportunities to built their carrier, and a very big family who loves them. I thought these children don’t have social interaction, but here live hundreds of children together. And believe me these children know more about people than other children because they eat, play and stay with hundreds of other children with different age and different social backgrounds.
Most importantly, they are far away from the darkness of this world. The people, who take care of them, are the best people anyone can have in their lives. And having only good people around; is something that I would really like to have.
And I realized same with Snehankur, where babies that were thrown as soon as they were born, are actually the most fortunate children. First I thought they are very unlucky because their own parents have thrown them. But, now I think that, they are being adopted by parents who want to adopt them and raise them, and love them, despite of the place they came from or the disabilities they have. Some people say that parents are gods, don’t know about all the parents, but the parents these kids get are gods for sure. And these parents sometimes comes oversees to take these kids in their authority, and give these kids life of a person with the most amazing people in this world.
By realizing these things, I realized that I wouldn’t mind to be born in their place. But only if the team of Snehalaya finds me. I realized that Snehalaya is the thing, which changes a kid’s life from hell to heaven.
To make sure that they are able to reach to most of the children in need, they have their own helpline. This helpline works all over India. So, I request you to share the helpline number 1098.
Life of a Social Worker:
Finally we met Mr. Girish Kulkarni, who started this NGO about 30 years ago and today is known by the whole world.
When we met him, he not only inspired us to start working immediately for the things we want to achieve in our lives, he also gave us a glimpse of the life of a social worker.
First he told us to set priorities, to know what we really want to do, and to realize what the important things in our life are. We must omit all the other things. We need to learn to throw the unimportant things behind us and keep our hands full with things that matter.
If you want to live a life of Social worker, Girish sir told us the secret. “Learn to live with no possessions,” you should not be possessed by how much money your friends or relatives are earning, because you are choosing to serve your life to the underprivileged, and you are going to give up all your privileges to become one of them. You cannot have it all; you cannot sit on a bike and tell a person who need financial help that you don’t have anything. If you really want to help him, you will have to give your bike to him, so that he can get money by selling it.
People think that many hands are required to contribute to society. But to serve the people in need, one man is enough.
You need to stay with the people who are suffering and you must serve them, for that you must learn to do very basic things, like washing clothes, sewing them, to do basic medical treatments, to cook food, to repair household appliances, etc. By doing these things you get close to people; and they will trust you. Then only you can do something better for them. Because if you want to win the trust of people, your past work or your future promises aren’t going to help you. What you do in present certainly will.
“A social worker’s life is tough,” says Girish Sir. A social worker has to struggle. For this he needs to know how to stay without food as long as possible. To eat what he gets. To travel without luxurious vehicles and to wear very cheap cloths. By cheap cloths I just remembered one thing that he told us, “You must look like them if you want to help them.” “People must feel free to hold your hand by looking at you, don’t wear expensive things on you, this will take you away from the poor people.”
While we were discussing all the things going on in this society, how people react to it and what we should do for it. One of my friend asked Girish Sir that he want to do something for society. But his parents have many expectations from him regarding his career and that’s the thing holding him. Girish told us, “You are willing to work for people, convince them to follow you to lead them to better life. How you are going to do all these if you can’t convince your parents. A person should know how to talk to people how to share his feelings and his dreams. And most of all, you can manage to do all the things if you want; you can manage to fulfill your parents’ dreams along with your own. You just need to do things smartly.
While explaining us how intelligent one must be to change something, he said that, “You must outsmart the bad people.” And bad people are doing these things for decades, every part of system supports them, and you will have to defeat every one of them. With your ideas, your smartness, and your consistency.”
This thing is, this is not a movie, in which if you plan something, things will go according to it. Girish sir worked for the people in brothel, he managed to tackle all the gangsters and all the bandits there. You will get physically, mentally and emotionally challenged. Only your will to bring the change will keep you going.
“A Social Worker has to struggle. And that struggle is so much that a wise person cannot bear it. It takes craziness in the person to take that path. Wise person learns the history and crazy person creates the history,” he said.
It’s been 30 years, Girish Sir and his team are consistently serving the nation. They have got many awards and recognitions. Even popular personalities like Anna Hazare and Amir Khan (Satyamev Jayate) have honored them. After all these, he said that 30 years he worked just to build an infrastructure. His real work is about to start. “30 years is a big time for a man, but for an organization 30 years is very less time, and his organization has just started.”
Visiting Snehalaya and Snehankur, and meeting Girish Sir was an inspiration for me and all my friends. This post is not just to tribute Girish sir, but also all the volunteers who are contributing to this change.
I want all of you to remember Childline Number: 1098, and share this. This may help to transform a child’s hell into heaven.