Investing in the future

Updated: Nov 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
Together well make a difference: India Inc
Jyoti Verma & Sulekha Nair

An adolescent from Salam Balak Trust, Dilip Kumar, had not seen the coffee pot until he went for stewardship training at the ITC Mariott Hotel in Delhi. As he grew up, he started looking for guidance on apt career avenues. The mentoring advice came from executives of DSP Merrill Lynch. As children grow up, the right direction shown by experienced hands is needed the most. With the blessed ones secure under the guidance of their parents, an interaction of few hours in a week means a lot for those who dont have anyone on their side, says Kumar Shah, chief financial officer, DSP Merrill Lynch.

The mentorship programme is carried out by Mumbai-based child welfare body Akanksha Foundation. The programme, for children around 13, offers them focussed and individualised attention. Its corporate partners include DSP Merrill Lynch, Voltas Ltd, IDFC, HSBC, RPG, HDFC, ICICI and Forbes Marshall. Through regular interactions (2.5 hours per week), the employees of these firms help children in their studies and encourage them to complete school and identify further vocational or academic training programmes.

India Inc, under its corporate social responsibility, focusses largely on children. The projects range from contributing a small sum in the form of scholarships or books and stationary, campaigning on issues like child labour to adopting children. Some corporates have even launched outfits to support children. These include Pratham, supported by ICICI among others, and Tvesha by Bangalore-based 24x7 Learning.

Most corporates contribute in the field of education. Says Neel Chatterjee, senior vice-president and head of Corporate Affairs, Standard Chartered, The philosophy is to teach children fishing, rather giving them a fish for a day or two. Anand Nayak, head, Corporate Human Resources, ITC Ltd, too believes in this. ITC provides poor children the greatest asset that they can aspire to education for a brighter future. Our education support programmes are aimed at overcoming the lack of opportunities available to the poor, he says.

ITCs initiatives are in the areas of universalisation of primary education, female literacy, enrollment and creating enabling conditions like a facility where children can assemble to do their homework and revise the days teaching, setting up coaching arrangements and establishing rural libraries. The initiatives are running across various districts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) has entered into a cause-related marketing tie up with SOS Childrens Villages of India. The grant given under the project will be used towards infrastructure development in its schools. SOS hopes to reach out to many more children in the community through this project.

Sify, one of the largest Internet network and e-commerce service companies in India, has adopted a corporation primary school in the Thousand Lights area of Chennai. The project, christened Bala Alambana, motivates children and their parents to appreciate the value of education imparted at school, empowering them with knowledge in a holistic manner, including personal hygiene and fitness. David Appasamy of Sify says, Our focus has been on youth with the Alambana Vidya programme, and on children with Bala Alambana. These are the future citizens of our country, and if we can ensure their early development with a healthy curiosity and love of learning, as well as good habits for their physical well being, we will have set them up for lifetime of productive employment and socio-economic growth.

With the Rotary Club of Madras, and Pratham, Sify also supports the Eureka Mobile Science Van to support quality elementary education in corporation schools. The project aims to create interest and excitement about science in middle school children in Chennai. The Mobile Science Van project is coordinated by AID-India, a voluntary organisation working in the field of primary education, health and science popularisation.

Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt Ltd (TKM) also plays a role in promoting literacy and in the creation of employment opportunities in the automotive industry. It partners with organisations, schools, universities and other businesses. A residential school at Bidadi, reconstructed by Toyota, now houses 75 students, mainly belonging to backward communities. The company also contributes textbooks, bags, used computers, chairs and writing pads for school children. Says A Toyoshima, MD, Toyota Kirloskar Motors, Education plays an important role in shaping our future. Toyotas goal is to brighten the minds of children by supporting educational institutes and promoting literacy.

Another company Procter & Gamble (P&G) has joined hands with Child Relief and You (CRY) to launch project Shiksha. The programme supports education of underprivileged children across India. During April, May and June, P&G donated a part of the proceeds from the sale of its consumer products, which amounted to Rs 1.26 crore, to CRY. Says Shantanu Khosla, managing director, P&G India, In India we chose to support childrens education because the country is home to the worlds largest number of illiterate children and that makes education of these disadvantaged children the most fundamental need. Adds Ingrid Srinath, CEO, CRY, Thanks to this partnership, more than 11,000 children across seven states in India can secure their fundamental right to education. We have also provided opportunities to lakhs of consumers across India to participate in the movement for child rights.

Many firms, especially in the IT sector are passing their IT expertise to children who otherwise dont even have proper food and shelter. Recognising innovative teachers (Microsoft India), giving away old computers (almost all the IT companies), and setting up scientific kiosks for children (TryScience programme by IBM) are a few of the noteworthy practices.

Another sector that focusses at capacity building of adolescents is the hospitality sector. International catering chain, Yum! Restaurants, supports a few NGOs working for the upliftment of the deprived children. The company, in association with Salam Balak Trust and the Sriram Learning Centre, gives an opportunity to street and working children to work in its restaurants for a certain period of time. This training prepares them for similar job openings in the sector. Our catering brand, KFC, sponsors education for 10 children for a year, says Sandeep Kohli, managing director, Yum! Restaurants (India).

Few Delhi restaurants like Chor Bizarre, Shalom Bar and Lounge, Laidback Waters, Olive Bar and Kitchen and Oriental Octopus have pledged to donate a certain percentage of the billed amount to the relief of children affected by the recent quake in J&K and the health programme in Delhi. They are working in alliance with Youthreach, which works to bridge the gap between corporates and NGOs, to benefit underprivileged children. The alliance also puts up health posts to provide basic healthcare and to spread health-related awareness.

Other corporates, which undertake short-term projects like training disadvantaged youth to learn income-earning skills, include ITC Marriott, Radisson and Cafe Coffee Day. Besides these, corporates like Sapient, National Geographic and Ballarpur Industries Ltd have engaged their employees in activities like going on a picnic, playing games and visiting museums in an attempt to sensitise employees on bridging parallel worlds, says Anubha Rawat, a senior coordinator at Youthreach.

Companies like Dr Reddys and Airtel have taken the pledge to work for child rights in the country. Says K Srinivas, CEO, Airtel, Delhi Zone, We are focussing on the rights of survival, development, protection and participation. The company, in association with CRY, has devised the chakri programme, which will be launched on November 14, also Airtels 10th anniversary in the Delhi circle. Under the child rights awareness campaign, the company will buy chakris (pingwheel a symbol of free child) from CRY and distribute to people free of cost. The chakris will impart our message of a free childhood among people.

Bharti Foundation and DSP Merrill Lynch sponsor mid-day meal programmes. Bharti Foundation, the CSR arm of Airtel, supports the mid-day meal programme of Kalakar Vikas School in Delhi. It is a school for artists children, aimed at keeping the traditional skills of the artist community alive and helping them gain recognition.

Nothing could be nobler than adopting a child, feels Pune-based Kale Consultancy Services (KCS). Says Vipul Jain, CEO, Kale Consultants, We believe adoption is an end-to-end rehabilitation of the destitute child. KCS have been working in this field for the past three years and has set up the Catalyst for Social Action (CSA), which works with children. Says Bharati Das Gupta, managing trustee, CSA, Our aim is to encourage adoptions and to improve childcare facilities in the adoption agencies. We have put up a website, csa.org.in, which gives all the relevant details. We also conduct training programmes for child care workers and social workers.

Healthcare in India for the underprivileged remains dismal. Some corporates have stepped in to cure the rot. These include Amway which focusses on the blind child. Under the National Project for the Blind, Amway Opportunity Foundation (AOF), with its partners All India Confederation of the Blind (AICB) and National Association of the Blind (NAB), provided the Braille textbook in various states in the country. AOF also holds musical evenings by visually challenged troupes at various locations thereby assisting in their earning capability. Says William S Pinckney, chairman, AOF, We have an on-going project to ensure that all blind school-going children in the country have access to Braille textbooks. We also distributed 200 white canes to the visually-challenged on International White Cane day on October 15 to ensure that a large number of blind children are assured of greater mobility.

Goodlass Nerolac Paints Ltd, in collaboration by Salaam Bombay Foundation, is hosting the Little Masters Challenge 2005 wherein a cricket tournament will be conducted on the Childrens Day for the underprivileged kids. The event also aims to spread awareness about the ill effects of smoking and chewing tobacco. For the Little Masters Challenge 2005, 22 underprivileged kids from municipal schools have been coached for two weeks by former cricketer, Ashok Mankad.

ITC Ltd has introduced its SOS Childrens Villages of India range of greeting cards. Says Chand Das, chief executive, ITC Greetings Giftings and Stationary Business, The products offer both the sender and the receiver an additional dimension to participate in a cause that has now spanned almost five decades and is universally successful. Every individual who sends and receives SOS cards contributes directly to the efforts of SOS in supporting destitute childrens future.

Says J N Kaul, president, SOS Childrens Villages of India, I am very happy with the initiative taken up by ITC. I believe that this friendly support from corporates like ITC will enable us to expand our work, reach out to more children in need and bring them within the fold of SOS for long-term care.

Accenture too works closely with SOS Childrens Villages of India. Accentures employees interact regularly with SOS mothers and children, engaging in various activities including cultural programmes and supporting the education of several children. Says Rekha Menon, head, India Geographic Services, Accenture India, We support education for children and youth with special focus on bridging the digital divide through the use of technology. We also help youth and women through livelihood training programmes.

Oracle India Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of Oracle Corporation, has global volunteer days when its employees extend a helping hand to communities that are less privileged and physically challenged. During this period, in India the volunteers carry out activities across several cities with several voluntary, non-profit organisations such as HOPE Foundation, Spastic Society of Karnataka (Bangalore), Home of Hope (Bangalore), Thalassemia Society (Hyderabad), Diya Freedom Foundation (Hyderabad) and SOS Childrens Village of India (Hyderabad), among others.

Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) celebrated is 60th anniversary in October by providing cochlear implant kits to 60 hearing-impaired underprivileged children across the country. Says Keshub Mahindra, chairman, M&M, As a socially responsible business group, we were looking for a unique and appropriate way to commemorate our 60th anniversary. We decided to bring sound into the silent world of 60 underprivileged children, using the most modern technology. Though, symbolically, the president handed over the cochlear implants to two children on October 2, 2005, the entire process of implant and subsequent training for these 60 children will take over a year. This initiative is an extension to the companys earlier endeavour to focus on children. Adds Anand Mahindra, vice-chairman and managing director, We have undertaken several projects to enable children overcome challenges of birth and social and economic structures. Our main focus so far has been on using education as a tool. This time, we thought we would combine medical technology with education to give some of these profoundly hearing-impaired children a new chance at life.

Tata Consultancy Services has set up Maitree to serve as a forum to encourage, facilitate and support the creative pursuits and community development activities of the members of the TCS family. Its volunteers teach children of a blind school in Mahalakshmi. At Sion School, higher secondary children are taught conversational English and at Panvel School tribal children are taught conversational English. Mala Ramadorai, founder, TCS Maitree, says: We conduct a number of initiatives globally, in all societies that we operate, for the less fortunate sections of society, especially children.

Other child welfare organisations such as Child Welfare and Holistic Organisation (CHORD), Mobile Creches and Magic Bus also help corporates in taking up newer ways of building the skills of children. The camp and sports programmes of Magic Bus use sports and recreation to help street and slum kids, orphans and the children of construction and sex workers gain a better understanding of their potential. It mentoring programme focusses on helping these children develop the skills and confidence they require to tackle lifes challenges. It works with corporations that are open to new forms of partnerships to create social impact in their communities of operation.

Hyderabad-based CHORD has projects like Aashirwad, Aasha, Abhyaas and Adarsh. Aashirwad is for rehabilitating child labourers with the aim of mainstreaming them and imparting technical education for self-sustenance. Under Aasha, mothers of underprivileged children are taught to earn and form SHGs. Abhyaas is running vocational training centre for children. Adarsh is a campaign initiative engaged in sensitising people on child labour and child abuse.

Aspiring superpower, shameful record
Suman Tarafdar

India is a land of contradictions an old cliche that seems to be finding new meanings as the nation grows in different sphere simultaneously. Perhaps nothing is as in-your-face as the same-day publication of articles in a newspaper on the increasing obesity in children and the rising malnutrition, even in the richer states of India. There is an India desperately seeking its place on the planets power table, displaying its technological and service sector skills as clinching arguments. The other India is one of growing despair of life-long poverty determined at birth, of joblessness and suicides.

Late K R Narayanan, Indias first president to be born of an untouchable caste, spoke on this divide, We have one of the worlds largest reservoirs of technical personnel, but also the worlds largest number of illiterates. Our giant factories rise from out of squalor. Our satellites shoot up from the midst of hovels of the poor.

Children today make up about 40% of Indias population or 400 million. Due to factors like improved healthcare and a not-so-effective family planning programme, their proportion is only increasing. By themselves they would constitute the third largest nation in the world. And they are supposedly the bright future, being groomed for the time when India is the nation of the 21st century.

MEANWHILE...
47% of Indias children are malnourished
25% of the kids have not been immunised for any disease
16% have no access to clean drinking water
15% never go to school
6.3% children will die at birth and 8.7% before the age of five
Source: World Development Report 2005 and World Health Organization
So why are statistics for them so dismal The latest UN Human Development Report brings out the stark facts: 47% of Indias children are malnourished, 30% (about 100 million) never go to school and just 5% will actually pass out of high school, 35% children are born to families that earn less than a dollar (Rs 45) a day, more than 1.5 million Indian infants die of diarrhoea... one is familiar with the litany, and the figures no longer mean anything much to most of us. The rich-poor divide is now a cliche. Most well-off Indians are by now attuned to ignore shocking, abysmal poverty that may shock a visitor from foreign lands.

Why is it that the economic status of a family determines in an overwhelming majority of cases what the likely future life of the new born child is going to be For, did we not make a new promise, a new beginning in 1947, when equality and ability, and not birth, were supposed to determine the lives of Indians Statistics underline this aspect of India. Skilled health personnel attend about 85% of births for the richest 20% of Indians, while 16.4% of the poorest get the corresponding treatment. Over 65% of kids from the richest 20% get immunised, while only a quarter of the poor kids receive any immunisation. Infant mortality for kids born to poor families is about three times to those born in rich families. About 45 children per 1,000 born to the richest 20% of Indians die before reaching the age of five; the corresponding figure for the poorest 20% is 141.

Sociologists have been stressing the dangers inherent in letting such numbers remaining malnourished, illiterate and jobless. And the dangers are not just in those who get disaffected and take to arms, but in the vast denial of the very basis of the principles of our nation state. And for a nation that is positioning itself as one with huge intellectual potential, there will be a vast number of Indians, children today, or even unborn, with inadequate mental development. And what gets ignored in all these figures is the psychological and emotional framework. Affluent lifestyles for a rich minority create an aspirational desire among the rest. The divide between rich and poor children is determined by the economic status of the parents or the larger family at the childs birth, and in vast majority of the cases it gets accentuated through life. The Indian nation for all its welfare state economies is still unable to hide the fact that there are deaths from sheer hunger, and the vast majority of the victims are children.

And here perhaps the mass media has played its own detrimental role in furthering miscon- ceptions. Journalist P Sainath, who has written extensively on development issues, gives the example of reporting for just a section of citizens. A journalist while writing on Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, labelled it the most barren, infertile, hostile, unproductive land and a whole population has no alternative but to contemplate suicide. Sainath agrees that it has extreme poverty, but also points out that it also produces more food than any of the other 44 districts in Madhya Pradesh.

Will this gap keep increasing through the century Looking at the situation from todays point of view, the picture is certainly rosy for the children on the richer side of the divide. But with new languages of rebellion also making their presence felt, how long the poor will be deprived of their share of the pie is something that only the future will determine.

Vijayashanthi inspires me
S Ranjitha Age 10, DTEE Senior Secondary School, Delhi

I am a student of DTEE Senior Secondary School, Lodhi Colony, Delhi. I study in Standard I. I am the fifth and the youngest child of my parents.

My elder brothers and sisters live with my grandparents at my hometown in Tamil Nadu.

Like any normal kid, my day begins with getting ready for the school. My school begins at 9 so getting late is a followed practice. The school (from 9 am to 2.30 pm) includes studies, games, eating and chatting with friends.

I like Mathematics more than any other subject, thanks to my favourite madam, Ms Muthulakshmi.

I bring tiffin from home. I really enjoy my lunch if it is Maggi or bread and butter. But if my mother packs the same dosas and idlis again, lunch becomes mundane.

After my school, I come back straight to home and have my meal (which again is very routine most of the days). My tuitions begin at 4 in the evening. I study all the subjects taught at the school in the two hours and also finish my homework. I hate doing homework. I think we should not be given homework. But let me add that I do not hate studies and do understand that they are very important for a secure future.

Next, it is time to play. I have lots of friends in my colony. We not only play, but fight as well. And no body messes with me, not even the boys, because I beat even them. I am the boss of my group.

Evening time is time for TV. My favourite programmes are the kids serials on Tamil channels. I also enjoy movies, especially of Vijayashanthi.

Her frequent roles as a police officer inspire me and I too want to be a police officer when I grow up. I also like listening to music. My current favourite is the title track of Hindi blockbuster Dhoom.

As told to Jyoti Verma

Lifes cool, I guess
Jai Pareek, Age 12, Campion School, Mumbai

A typical day in my life is like it is for most school children. I wake up in the morning and go off to school, Campion School, Colaba (Mumbai) in the school bus. I look forward to going to school as I have friends whom I meet up everyday and that makes it sort of exciting.

I love reading. I read the Arthur Hailey type of authors. I also like Harry Potter. But none of my friends like reading, and so I dont discuss books with them. I like my history teacher, Ms Wade. She is very nice. She makes History an interesting subject. Another favourite hobby is playing games on the computer. My favourite game is Need for Speed Porch. Its fun. These computer games are like car racing. Full of thrills.

My day is quite busy. I have an hour of tuitions every day. I spend a lot of time doing my homework. I feel schools should give less home work to children. I guess all school children complain about it. But I am allowed to watch TV after I finish my school work. That is when I watch my favourite programmes on Discovery (Junkyard Wars and Overhauling). I dont watch Hindi serials.

I dont attend any other hobby classes as such. That is because my school offers extracurricular activities. I learnt to play the flute in school. And that is another reason why I like my school. We have a school band.

I am not too sure about what I want to be when I grow up. I think I will be a doctor like mum. I am just 12 years old and so my thoughts are not too clear. But for now, the wish is to be a doctor.

On a Sunday I spend my time at home or either go for a walk with my friends or swim. At times, I go over to my friends house. But most of the time I am sitting at home talking with my parents or my mother tells me to clean up my room. She thinks it is shabby. So I clean up.

I am happy. I go to a good school and have good friends. I go out during holidays. Last year, for the first time, I went to Singapore. So its cool, I guess.

As told to Sulekha Nair