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  Life   More Features  11 Jul 2018  The shelter of an embrace

The shelter of an embrace

Published : Jul 11, 2018, 12:27 am IST
Updated : Jul 11, 2018, 12:27 am IST

For children without a home, the right environment for growth can be alchemy.

Original mud-house from where the journey of  SAMPARC started.
 Original mud-house from where the journey of SAMPARC started.

Children without families are a vulnerable population. With no one to look out for them, they’re often subjected to abuse people at the hands of their so-called caregivers. Orphanages are treated as businesses, with foreign donations serving as revenue streams.

But not at SAMPARC. Located in the village of Bhaje, in Lonavala, SAMPARC is a clean, well-managed orphanage that aims to provide children with all the care and comfort that a parent would.

Amitkumar Banerjee, the founder-director and secretary of SAMPARC says, “SAMPARC is a home for children. Once they come here, it is our responsibility to help them overcome their past.”

A home for children to bloom
The children placed at SAMPARC typically arrive as toddlers from Mahila Bal Kalyan Samiti, Pune. Most of them are children of sex-workers or parents under imprisonment, and they have complex needs as a result of childhood trauma.

“Dealing with these kids is not easy. We help them grow, emotionally, through regular counselling,” says Amit.

As the children grow into teenagers, their caretakers have to ensure that they develop healthy relationships. “I am always alert. If I observe any change in the behaviour of a child, I sit down with them and help them understand the importance of education and the right time for certain things,” says Ratna Banerjee, a trustee of SAMPARC.

Children stay at SAMPARC until the age of 19, after which Amit and team help them find suitable jobs. One product of the organisation is Santosh, a 23-year-old B.Com graduate who works at a local bank. “I think uncle (Amit) likes my behaviour, which is why I’m still living here. I work and save the money I make. I will get a house and then get married,” he says.

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Saroj Roy from Manipur dreams of becoming a physical trainer, “I am aware of my difficult past, but I have to make a career and better life for myself. I am very strong,” he says, with poise. Prahlaj, who’s celebrating his birthday by distributing toffees to his friends, stops to say, “I want to become an engineer and a Yoga trainer!”

Little girl gang
A little away from the premises for the boys is the girls’ residence surrounded by a lush green garden. Here, it’s ensured that the girls eat good food, and have the right calorie and protein intake. “All the kids consume at least 1800 calories a day. And we keep them busy all the time so that they’re affected by what’s happening outside,” says Ratna.

All the girls are trained in martial arts, boxing and yoga. Many of them also have an aptitude for art and music. Ashwini and Shalini, budding boxing champions, are preparing for the upcoming district championship.

Moulding lives
Amit and Ratna, who’ve successfully run 16 children homes and training institutes in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, started SAMPARC in 1990 with seven orphaned children and a mud house in Bhaje. Today they’re the guardians of 153 little ones.

One aspect that they’re both very particular about is recruitment and training. “I do not hire anyone below graduation level. Every staff member is highly educated so that they can transfer the right knowledge to the children,” says Amit.

Unfortunately, today, the business of running a home is regarded with some suspicion. But it’s clear that the founders of SAMPARC have no ulterior motives. Amit himself lives in a modestly-designed house in the same premises as the children. “I am happy with where I am living, it’s very comfortable. I don’t want any luxury,” he says.

Children at SAMPARC have positive outcomes in terms of health, education, employment, social inclusion, and financial and emotional security. Health check-ups and film screenings are regular occurrences. “Their entertainment is taken care of, and we make sure that they do not have any infections. All the girls and boys undergo HIV tests,” assures Ratna.

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