– Aruna Chandaraju
Nele Namma Mane, a home for underprivileged children, provides shelter for children rescued from the streets or from abusive and neglectful parents. Many of the children are brought here by the police or social workers to prevent them from falling victim to crime and social evils, writes Aruna Chandaraju.
The small group of boys is gathered around the carrom board. The player strikes at the red coin towards the right-hand corner and makes a perfect hit as his coin lands in the socket. His friends whoop in delight and clap for him, while the others make noises of protest and insist on having another game.
It might seem like a typical boys’ game on a quiet weekend afternoon. Only, these players and their circumstances and surroundings are not so typical. This is a scene at Nele Namma Mane, a home for underprivileged children. These boys have been rescued from the streets, or abusive/neglectful parents, and many of them brought here by the police or social-workers to prevent their falling victims to crime and social evils, and to give them a socially useful and productive life.
There are 10 such homes in Bangalore and the rest of Karnataka. There is Nele Narendra (Mysore Road), Nele Niveditha (Ullal Main Road), Nele Premanjali (JP Nagar), Nele Chandana (Mamulpet), Nele Namma Mane (HBR Layout), and Nele Ashakirana (Bannerghatta Road). The four homes outside the city are Nele Dwaraka in Tumkur, Nele Ashrayadhama in Bagalkot, Nele Ajitha in Mysore and Nele Madhava in Shimoga. They house about 260 children in all, with girls and boys housed in separate homes. There is also a vocational-training centre at Laggere for school-dropouts.
Care for destitute children
The first Nele was set up in the year 2000, to provide residential care to destitute children. This was the vision of Shridhar Sagar, Director of Hindu Seva Prathishthana. Ragpickers, beggars, orphans, or children abandoned/neglected by their parents are the kind of children who are taken in and offered Nele’s facilties which include food, clothing and shelter and education too. The children are sent to different government and private schools where all their fees are taken care of by Nele. Besides, the children are also taught different sports, yoga, Sanskrit, and given training in whatever fine art they show interest in––music, painting, dance, etc. Finally, they also learn odd jobs and basic skills like cooking, cleaning and gardening.
Once the first Nele showed positive results, the other homes followed. After all, there is a great need for such places with thousands of children in Bangalore wanting such facilities.
“The idea is to provide a homelike atmosphere with loving care so their emotional needs are also met along with their financial and material ones. So, our wardens and volunteers treat the children like members of their own family, mingle with them freely, and even dine with them regularly,” explains S L Krishnamurthy, convenor of the Foundation, who oversees the work of the 10 Neles.
Krishnamurthy also proudly lists out the achievements of the various homes. Nele children have won prizes in music, drawing, athletics, kabbadi, kho-kho, and drawing, at the district level. Many have passed SSLC (10th standard) in first class with a few achieving over 80 per cent marks. About 10 of them are in colleges now.
Vocational and life-skills
Of course, there is a handful of children who show little or no inclination for studies and show consistently poor academic results. Such children are first encouraged to study hard but if the situation does not improve, they are given vocational training. Once they are adults and equipped with minimum education or vocation skills, all Nele inmates are helped to find jobs.
There are a few dropouts too, who want to return home instead of staying in Nele for their own reasons or due to family pressure with their elders insisting on taking them away.
“However, by and large, most parents are grateful that their children are receiving here the food, shelter and education which they are unable to provide,” explains Krishnamurthy.
After all, so many of the children, before coming here were either going to bed hungry, or eating leftovers picked from street corner garbage-dumps or surviving on alms by begging, explains Nele Namma Mane warden L D Mahesh. In fact, some children had been sleeping on pavements alongside stray dogs or even in a cemetery before coming here.
Most parents regard Nele as a boon, because their children are receiving what they themselves could never provide––three meals a day, safe shelter, hygienic bathing facilities, clean clothes, decent education and opportunities for extracurricular activities.
There are mothers who express relief that their children have escaped the horror of seeing their drunken fathers and scenes of domestic abuse everyday and being emotionally scarred by that.
Some children have seen their mothers walk out from the home abandoning them to the father and/or grandparents who then bring the children here. Also, street children are vulnerable to many other dangers––they get drawn to or are forced into drug abuse/being used as drug peddlers, thievery, beggary, gang fights, smoking, drinking, prostitution, etc. Many of them turn into juvenile delinquents.
Nele aims to rescue children from that fate and put them on the path to becoming productive, disciplined, self-reliant and socially useful individuals.
They are also encouraged to return to their parents. “We know that in spite of the best care, we cannot substitute parents or compensate for parental love and their presence.
Also, we have great respect for the institution of family. So, we teach the children to respect their parents and encourage them to go back as adults and support those parents,” reveals Krishnamurthy.
Nele receives support from individual grants in cash and kind, like uniforms, books, groceries, furniture, clothes, etc. There are permanent staff as well as volunteers and social workers who chip in. The future plans include setting up more Neles across the state, establishing counselling centres in Nele facilities and an ‘Open Shelter’ for street children.