With close to 3 million registered non-government organizations—one for every 400 people—India is witnessing a surge in its civil society movement. The magnanimity of a host of these NGOs comes to the fore during Daan Utsav—India's very own festival of giving. Daan Utsav is steadily becoming a part of the Indian ethos, with the week being celebrated every year from Gandhi Jayanti (2-8 October). The festival engages people as well as organizations and other establishments in "acts of giving", whether it is money, time, resources or skills.
Amongst this vast ocean of philanthropy, we have compiled a few organizations that aim to secure the future of those who deserve it the most.
Bal Asha Trust
To curb the high dropout rates among underprivileged children in Mumbai, Bal Asha Trust provides education sponsorship to children who are born to single mothers and to sex workers. This sponsorship covers fees, textbooks, stationery, uniforms, bags, shoes and other study materials.
According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, developmental disabilities are conditions due to "impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas." The disability manifests in the child before the age of 18 in most cases, which is why the Bal Asha Trust gives special emphasis to early intervention.
At the Bal Asha Trust, children with developmental disabilities are exposed to three types of therapies: speech therapy, physiotherapy and neuro-therapy. Sunil Arora, who oversees daily affairs at Bal Asha, first heard of it when his mother fostered some children that the NGO had housed in its adoption centre. He says, "It was the lack of rehabilitation facilities in affordable hospitals that moved us to construct a Child Development Centre. We visited and spoke to NGOs in Mumbai that work with children who have special needs, and we realized that even though they are doing some pioneering work in their fields, they are overburdened. That's when it struck us that we need to contribute our time and resources to this particular segment."
It was the lack of rehabilitation facilities in affordable hospitals that moved us to construct a Child Development Centre.Sunil Arora, Bal Asha Trust
In the past year, the program has been immensely successful and they've managed to address 2500 cases of children with disabilities.
Though the children's home and education sponsorship scheme are noble initiatives, it is the Child Development Centre that is in dire need of funds because of the huge influx of children with developmental disabilities.
Learn more about the Bal Asha Trust: This Organisation Has Provided Therapy to More Than 2,500 Children with Developmental Disabilities
Vasavya Mahila Mandali
Vasavya Mahila Mandali (VMM) is an NGO based in Vijaywada, Andhra Pradesh. It was founded by former Member of Parliament Chennupati Vidya in 1969. While working at Gandhi's Sevagram Ashram, Chennupati was greatly influenced by the Gandhian values of social service and tolerance. She decided to establish an institution that serves, values and protects vulnerable women.
VMM, from the very beginning, has sought to ensure that women are in the forefront of driving tangible positive impact. This is why all nine founding members of VMM are women. Over a span of 30 years, this Gandhian Organization has rehabilitated more than 2500 vulnerable women.
Organizing awareness programmes plays a big role in the way VMM functions; these act as safe spaces for women to discuss issues that they generally refrain from bringing up in public.
We conduct awareness programmes for men as well, so that they can be sensitized about the issues that women face.Dr. Keerthi Bollineni, VMM
Dr. Keerthi Bollineni, who has been working with VMM for the past 30 years, says, "Earlier the meetings used to be conducted in one house, where around 15-20 women would gather. Our organization members would speak to them and bring to their notice various cases of gender-based violence from their own localities. Slowly, we realized that men needed to be included in issues related to women's development. We decided to have a more gender inclusive approach, where we conduct awareness programmes for men as well, so that they can be sensitized about the issues that women face. Besides this, we remind them that women are important not just as mothers or daughters but they can also make significant contributions to improve the financial condition of their families."
Apart from providing women with residential care and consistent counselling, VMM also organizes life- skills workshops. The organization ensures that the residents become digitally literate; they also organize a social enterprise project, under which the women manufacture sanitary napkins and make handicrafts. This helps the women feel confident that they are equipped to survive independently once they leave the shelter.
Currently, 36 women are housed in the Gora Abhay Nivas. VMM intends to expand the building but has fallen short of funds after its contract with the Norwegian Humane Association ended recently.
Learn more about the Vasavya Mahila Mandali: This Gandhian Organisation Has Rehabilitated More Than 2,000 Vulnerable Women over 25 Years
Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India
Based out of Delhi, this NGO has been fighting baby food brands by promoting breastfeeding across Asia for 25 years. Despite the fact that breastfeeding is the natural way to provide an infant with nutrients, breast milk is slowly losing out in popularity to skillfully packaged, well-marketed infant feeding formulas. But BPNI, is working assiduously to ensure that this age-old infant feeding practice becomes a mother's first choice.
Paediatrician Dr. Arun Gupta founded BPNI in 1991 after he realized that both his children had to be bottle-fed six months post-delivery because they had no support/counselling from the healthcare system.
Despite being at the receiving end of jibes from friends and relatives, he attended a skill-training workshop on breastfeeding and lactation management at a conference organized by the International Baby Food Action Network. Soon enough, BPNI became a part of this organization's international network and it currently serves as the Regional Coordinating Office of Asia to encourage optimal infant and child feeding nutrition in over 25 countries. With this collaboration, the organization started analyzing breastfeeding trends in Asia through a project called World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative.
In their recent joint report called "Arrested Development", which covered 80 countries, India scored 78 out of 150 on both policy and practice indicators. This is a slight improvement from its score of 74 in the last assessment of 2012. Other countries in Asia have scored much better than India in the promotion and practice of breastfeeding scores: Afghanistan (99/150), Bangladesh (107.5/150) and Sri Lanka (129/150.)
Because of our political advocacy, the baby food industry is not allowed to promote food for children under two years of age through television or any other mass media platforms. Nupur Bidla, BPNI
The lack of maternity benefits/paid-leave, infrequency of surveys and failure to convert IYCF (infant and young child feeding) guidelines to national policies are some of the reasons for the slow rate of improvement in India. It is essential to keep in mind that WHO has recognized "poor infant feeding" as one of the leading risk factors for neonatal deaths.
A decisive victory for BPNI came with the enactment of the Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act in 1992. This Act sought to regulate the marketing practices of major baby food companies in India, so that they do not influence mothers. There are various clauses regarding promotion, marketing technique, labels, and sponsoring doctors.
Nupur Bidla, a senior programme officer at BPNI, says, "Because of our political advocacy, the baby food industry is not allowed to promote food for children under two years of age through television or any other mass media platforms. This was done to protect the practice of breastfeeding. Another provision of this Act bans the baby food industry from pushing sales using discount offers. So, we monitor whether companies are complying with all the clauses that are stated in the Act. If they do not follow the regulations, we notify them and file legal cases. We have a dedicated lawyer in our organization for this, who files a report in the Ministry of Women and Child Development."
According to a joint report presented by BPNI and the Public Resources Health Network in 2015, as many as 14.5 million babies, which is 55% of all newborns in India, are deprived of optimal feeding practices in their first year after birth.
"We try to promote breastfeeding through health staff because our belief is that if you have skilled trainers/counsellors in the state, then the effects of this will trickle down," says Bidla.
Recently, BPNI managed to create 120 mid-level trainers in Jharkhand, who in turn trained anganwadi and ASHA workers.
Learn more about the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India: This Delhi NGO Has Been Fighting Baby Food Brands & Promoting Breastfeeding across Asia for 25 Years
For women with no families to go to, this organization has provided a safe haven. Maitri has been uplifting the widows of Vrindavan and helping them live with dignity and respect for more than half a decade. Maitri Ghar offers them with daily essentials, including meals, nutritional supplements, clothing and healthcare.
Since the start of the project, the organization has improved the lives of more than 500 elderly widows in Vrindavan. In 2012, their contribution was recognized and featured on Satyamev Jayate. Currently about 150 widows live in the Maitri Ghar, while they have liaised with the government for the facilitation of citizenship rights such as identity cards and widows' pension schemes. In addition, they also provide 100 more non-resident widows with daily meals, nutritional supplements and healthcare services.
Even though the Daan Utsav week is over, you can still do your bit contribute to these organizations and help them better the lives of those they serve.