My article for YourStory.in.
Few of India’s estimated 3.3 million registered non-profit organizations have been able to navigate the neglected world of state-run children homes in India quite like Aangan , an NGO based in Mumbai.
Approximately 40% of India’s population is under the age of 18. An unestimated number of those children live in thousands of state-run observation and children homes throughout the country. Children that enter these homes range from orphans, children accused of committing offenses, and runaways to disadvantaged youth with absent parents and children with mental or physical disabilities. Once a child enters these jail-like facilities, they have a difficult time leaving. Aangan works to raise standards of care in 486 homes in 12 Indian states, and plans to scale to 16 states. It was founded in 2001 by Suparna Gupta, an Ashoka Fellow.
“There are a lot of children with disabilities and no training or staff to take care of them. There are health issues because the homes are overcrowded and there are not enough bathrooms. Nothing is really working in these homes,” explains Carole Sarkis, an LGT Venture Philanthropy iCats Fellow working with Aangan. “We were working in a home and asked the kids to give a description of what they want the home to be like. One small boy said he wants the home to be like an ashram and not like a jail. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but must meet their needs and be a happy, safe, and protective place,” says Shailja Mehta, Executive Director of Aangan.
Aangan staff conduct monitoring and evaluation of children’s homes and serve as advisors to the homes and the local and state government. After unannounced visits, the Trust’s staff works with the home to set goals and train the largely untrained staff on how to improve their quality of care to meet legal and ethical standards within allocated resources . “There is an information gap between the institutional staff and the government. Whatever the need of the institutional staff, it’s not going to the government directly,” explains Ajoy Bezbaruah, who has conducted evaluations across 5 states. Aangan uses their assessments of the homes to prioritize improvement areas and present solutions to the local government. “We work within the system as a consultant and pressure group, and we give the homes and government innovative solutions on how they can make something happen, not just pointing out what is wrong” says Mehta.
Strong partnerships between local organizations and the homes are also central to Aangan’s strategy. “The idea is to connect the institution with existing community resources. We make sure the home knows who to contact for a health, safety, or education issue,” explains Erin Little, also an LGT Venture Philanthropy iCats Fellow working with the Trust. “Sustainability is key to our work so we plan the exit strategy for our work in the homes. We help the government and institution to bring in partners to focus on priority areas to strengthen the homes over time and then we exit,” says Little.
Another major goal of the Trust’s work in the homes is to inculcate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They teach the children about their rights and help children form committees to participate in institutional meetings. “For systems that need to be improved, child participation is key,” argues Mehta.
Aangan also works at the preventive stage to help some of India’s most vulnerable children access their rights and existing protective mechanisms in order to prevent them from entering the homes in the first place. In urban slum communities in Mumbai and other north Indian cities , Aangan runs the Chauraha program for boys and the Shakti program for girls. Youth that live in urban slums should have access to government services and schemes, but they are often uninformed about their eligibility for these and how to access them. Aangan helps the children understand and access the resources available to them, as well as to run community projects to spread awareness or find solutions for issues that affect them. Children-run projects have included bringing a water pump to their community, increasing local school enrollment, and raising awareness on issues such as drug abuse. In one year, the Shakti girls program ran over 179 community projects led by 2,548 girls. 34% of those projects involved the children working with local authorities. To build the leadership capacity of local youth, Aangan uses a peer leader and mentorship model.
Given the dearth of information and poor implementation of policies in the realm of child protection, services, and rights, Aangan’s work also includes research, lobbying and advocacy. Aangan’s collective impact approach to state-run children homes is a model that could be replicated across India.
Find out more about Aangan here.