A tenacious initiative to protect the rights of children and young people
A group of young college people, while studying, often met and spent time together. To find meaning in their life they used to think of doing something for others. They gradually started visiting slums, bus stops, parks, and railway stations, giving birth to the Divya Disha Foundation. It was established by Isidore Phillips in the year 1987 with the intention of protecting the rights of children and young people. More than an organization it is a community of people who have been trying for the past 32 years to empower individuals towards their own self-development.
Before starting the Foundation they had no notion of the blueprint for starting an NGO. The main motivation of the people was to do something for society so that they could find meaning in their own life. It was only with the passage of time that the organization took shape. The first employee was hired in 1988, and today there are almost 50 employees who work for Divya Disha in different districts of Telangana. Funding is an issue but transparency is a major concern. Phillips is very passionate about accountability, which can only come through transparency. So people can walk in and watch what the Foundation is doing, encourage them, and witness what’s being done. Divya Disha is open to everyone.
Divya Disha Foundation started working with children and young people as they are the best investment to make if we want to change society for the better. It mainly works with children from various slums, children who have suffered abuse, semi-orphans, and orphans, to improve their life. Each child has a tragic story and the challenge of steering it back to the normal course of society kept the Foundation going ahead. These stories comprised of several girls, from age 3 to teenagers, who were raped. The Foundation as a team played an important role in rescuing and restoring these children to their homes or the shelter homes of Divya Disha. Though it was never easy, the members of the Foundation learned the methods and cultivated the expertise to make it possible.
One such story is that of a 13-year-old girl who was raped, abused and harassed by her own father. After many months of this she plucked up the courage to narrate the incidents to her mother, grandparents, and other family members. But there was no action taken. Nothing really happened and nothing really changed. In desperation, she left home and reached Secunderabad railway station. Luckily she was spotted by Divya Disha volunteers who brought her to the shelter. It took the Divya Disha team a day of sitting with her to gain her trust so that she would speak. She had been in a trauma thinking that if her own father could do that to her, how could she trust someone else? Most of the time we think society is safe and one’s home is the safest place. But we hardly realize that the safest place is a place where children feel safe.
It is estimated that nearly 15-20 children reach Hyderabad daily after running away from home for various reasons. They are to be found alone at different kinds of places in the city. There are lots of child traffickers at the railway station, parks and bus stations. As children are big business for criminals they are very vulnerable in such places. The Foundation rescues children from railway stations and bus stations on an immediate basis. Once a child falls into the hands of trafficking gangs, it becomes very difficult to rescue them later on. The Divya Disha team rescues at least 2-3 children per day. This number increases during summer. Nearly 223 people were rescued by the teams in the month of May alone. Once a child is rescued, they are sent back to their own home or shifted to the Foundation’s shelter homes. The Foundation currently has 2 shelter homes in Uppal and one in Sangareddy.
Divya Disha believes that their shelters are merely transit facilities and engage with the children’s families to get them back home while regaining their trust. It is very important to return the children to their families because an institution can never substitute for parents. When the child is pushed out of society or a community the child is on the fringes of so-called society. At this point, believing that there are good people also in this world is the biggest challenge for the child. First, the child should know the importance of the family and why it is important to stay with the family. If the family itself is the problem, then other options like shelter homes are considered. In this way, the child can reintegrate with society for a better tomorrow. This is what is termed restoration. The Foundation cannot restore all children to the mainstream of society. Spending time to make the children understand that society is good, not all people are bad and not all families are bad is necessary. That is why the children are restored to their homes first. Restoration ensures the rekindling of trust in the children which will lead to a positive outcome for them and society in the long run.
One of the biggest challenges for the Foundation is information. Divya Disha needs information about any child who is alone and vulnerable in any place. Most people don’t want anything to do with the police so they hesitate to provide information regarding children. As a responsible citizen, it is important to speak so that the Foundation can try reaching the children in time. You can provide the information in multiple ways, such as by contacting the organization directly or calling the child helpline number. There are numerous children begging at places like traffic signals, railway stations, and bus terminals. People often say they tried reaching the child but that is rarely useful because if the child is part of a gang it will not be seen there after that. Instead of reaching out to the children directly, one can pass on the information to the Foundation members. They know very well how to rescue children, whether they are being abused at home, being forced to work in a factory or begging in public places. These members will conduct reconnaissance and then take action to save the child. The other challenge is getting the system — the police and other government departments to work. The Foundation works on these two challenges intensively and engages closely with the child welfare department and the police.
Employees and volunteers work together to interact with children. The need is to have a huge number of volunteers because 4 employees working per shift on a dozen platforms at Secunderabad railway station is not at all enough. A child is exploited in many ways and objectified. Pregnant girls are abused and they don’t know whom to talk to. Little girls are injected with hormones so that they can grow up faster to work as prostitutes. The Foundation tries its utmost to rescue them and restore them to society.
When it comes to government support they get limited funds from the government. There are limited volunteers. The challenge is to get many volunteers who can talk to children in different languages as required. The chaiwala, a sweeper, a student, a TTE – anyone can volunteer with the Foundation. There are thousands of people who come daily by trains and they are all watched. The rail watch work is termed as Nigah. Funds for shelters get used up because there are many recurring expenses. However, the teams continue to work with dedication.
The Foundation also tries to educate people about the problems of these children. An awareness campaign was held in the year 2018 in collaboration with the police department with the theme and slogan “JAGO BADLO BOLO” (Awaken, Change and Speak out). A major awareness campaign on child sexual abuse is being planned in collaboration with the state government in the near future. Also, the Foundation is planning a community-based campaign on child sexual abuse. It will also be conducting a pre-adolescent girl’s menstrual health awareness program for over 5000 girls.
Speaking about Unsungs Isidore said, “The word ‘Unsungs’ in itself is a splendid word. Through Unsungs, it is possible to break the silence and speak up for those who have no voice. Speaking about lives, organizations, and individuals is important for society because we are not only celebrating the organization or individuals but celebrating the spirit of the society that takes care of them. Also, it is the way society preserves itself by linking people together — making it a beautiful initiative indeed”.