Shanti Sahyog: every child should have a future
Text by Thomas Deflandre
I’m going to share with you what was the most emotional and beautiful visit we had during our trip.
Not so far from the center of Delhi, in the Govindpuri/Kalkaji districts there are slums of thousands inhabitants living in thought and precarious conditions. Uneducated people who moved to urban areas with the hope for a better life. Unfortunately they commonly suffer from unemployment, illiteracy, drug-addiction, and low mortality rates of both adults and children.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence” Mahatma Gandhi
The mission of Shanti Sahyog is to help individuals and communities breaking the cycle of poverty that prevents them from reaching their full potential. Their first ambition was to bring a better future to children trapped into those slums. 11 years ago they opened a school for 20 kids and today this school has grown to 100 kids.
Visit of the school
We arrived at the school around 9am and the kids were all in the playground, in lines singing. All between 3 and 6 years old, they played together and we could definitely see their happiness in their eyes. They are happy to be at school, it is a good escape to their daily life in the slum.
We assisted to the different classes and in each, the kids already count, start to read and write and speak few words of English.
We were really impressed. Indeed, as far as we know, you don’t do all those things at this young age in Europe.
The principal of the school, Neeru Mehra, used to be art teacher and after retirement she decided to join this project and provide the best education to those kids, to allow them to succeed in their exams and get access to any program they dream about.
They also know how the support of parents is a key success factor that’s why they have monthly meeting with parents to involve them in the education and to let them know how good their kids are doing.
We walked into the slum which is front of the school and what we noticed is indeed the difficult living conditions. However, even in such situations we were warmly welcomed and we could notice a strong bound between families, they’re supportive to each other. They understand that one way to break the vicious circle they’re in is definitely by bringing education to their kids.
This program is a success, the children have remarkable scores and join very great schools. When they are older kids come back to Shanti Sahyog to say thank you and sometimes to bring their brothers and sisters.
We could have stayed forever in the school. It was such a pleasure to witness children having fun being in the playground and interacting with teachers. Shanti Sahyog is more than a simple school. They provide education to those kids but even more remarkable they give them a childhood and a future.
Shanti Sahyog center
Shanti Sahyog couldn’t stop there in their mission to empower underprivileged. Therefore since 2004 they tranform life through different projects : education for all ages, health care, skill development and women empowerment.
We went to visit their center and here again it was astonishing, we met incredible persons doing their best helping others. In the center the ambition is to expand the earning capability of the marginalized ones by teaching new skills : computer applications, cutting and tailoring, beauty culture program.
There is also a health center for eye, dental and any other medical checkups.
Suman Khanna Aggarwal – founder of the NGO
Suman obtained her doctoral degree on Gandhian thought in 1978 and has also extended her understanding of Gandhi’s ideology to her work as a Peace Researcher and Activist.
To promote Gandhi’s legacy of Nonviolent Conflict Resolution and vision of a World beyond War, she has set up Shanti Sahyog Centre for Peace & Conflict Resolution – a unit of Shanti Sahyog.
Dr Aggarwal has three Post Doctoral Research Projects to her credit – undertaken in India, Sweden and Canada. She has also authored two books and published several articles in reputed journals on Gandhian principles.
We interviewed her to get her story and more explanation about the center.
The first thing we noticed is how passionate she is, she could talk for hours about the children and all the projects they’re working on. She’s really humble and give a lot of credits to the great team working at Shanti Sahyog.
She knows she’s part of the privileged persons, with her husband they have a good situation. She doesn’t hide behind and is graceful to it. As a Buddhist believing in rebirth and legacy of Gandhi she does as much as possible to help others and support non violence.
After a 2 year trip to Sweden in 1992 where she met activists she decided to create the NGO Shanti Sahyog which means “collaboration for peace”.
“I must do something
with my life, for peace,
| In 2004, she personally financially sponsored the education of 25 slum’s girls.
She never thought she will one day run a NGO, do social work. Then she never thought it will last due to the complexity and all the cost behind but “the universe runs Shanti Sahyog, money comes, people join”.
Suman doesn’t believe in charity and therefore there is no volunteer and access to school or the center comes with a fee of 200 roupies per month (roughly 2€). The logic behind, which I myself believe in, is people doesn’t take it seriously when it’s for free. They’ll stop or think the quality is low. It’s also by dignity that they want to say that they pay for education of their children.
Anyway, those fees are minors and the NGO doesn’t make any profits they either invest in new materials, extend the program or allow more children to join it.
Now the NGO employs 35 persons including girls coming from the program itself and they have a waiting list of 600 children.