Give an Indian young girl a tool to achieve her dreams, and she will surpass your every expectation. That is what Haimanti Sen has done. The 23-year old has embarked on a mission to equip street children with the necessary skills to enroll them in a regular school under the Right to Education Act, and she is doing it right! Before the lockdown, Haimanti Sen spent hours at the Kandivali station skywalk teaching alphabets, numbers, words, and art and craft to over fifteen beggar kids. They received education free of cost and an opportunity to escape from begging on the streets of Mumbai suburbs.
Junoon, the Urdu word, means madness. But this was beyond madness, a vision of a young girl!
It all began while traveling to work. Haimanti often saw kids begging or simply whiling their time away on the footpaths and wondered if they attended school, understood the importance of education, or even aware of the Right to Education Act?
One day to seek an answer, she decided to approach few street kids. According to Haimanti, “I saw some kids near the escalator of the Kandivali station doing nothing, so I requested them to take me to their parents, and they did. I met their parents and asked for details about education, they started fumbling, and I could sense that they were not telling me the truth. So I told them, regardless of whether these kids went to school or not, I would come at 3:00 pm on alternate days and teach them art and craft. They were quick to dissuade me saying, “We will remove them from their school. Why don’t you teach them, feed them and buy them clothes?”
Haimanti now was more determined than ever to help out these slum kids. She got in touch with a local BMC school in the vicinity to enroll some of these children, but the school refused. The Principal said, “We can admit them, but neither these children nor their parents care about school. It is difficult to retain them because they remain absent for long periods. If you can guarantee that they will stay in school, then we will help you.”
That was the truth! Haimanti’s intentions were good, but how could she inspire children to attend and remain in school?
She began to teach them herself. From May to October 2018, she taught them on alternate days, and by November taught an hour every day in her so-called school at the Kandivali railway station skywalk.
In May 2018, Haimanti Sen founded an NGO and called – Junoon.
Today Junoon is a well-established NGO with an eight-member board that strongly believes in the right to education and learning for underprivileged children. The NGO teaches children to read and write, do basic Math, and learn communication skills. They monitor the school attendance and continue and help them cope with their academic work. The board members continue to raise INR 10,000 every month to fund the initiatives and reach 80 children at 4 of its centers in Mumbai, all of which are on the skywalks of railway stations at Kandivali and Borivali. The school starts at 11.30 am and provides lunch to the children.
They have a well-defined curriculum. On Saturdays and Sundays, the team conducts dance, art, and craft classes. On Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, there are regular classes, and on Wednesday, the children watch street plays.
Haimanti adds,“Most of these kids belong to the Pardhi community, and for the longest time, its members have been looked upon as criminals, notorious for pick-pocketing and petty theft. The issues we witnessed were grave. The parents, as well as children, drank alcohol and the environment at home was far from being conducive to growth. We couldn’t blame the kids because they had no role models. Many kids were forced to miss the dance class to beg after the morning mass outside the Orlem church. But now, the kids are standing up to their parents. There are times they run and hide in restaurants, alleyways, and under cars waiting for her to pick them up for the dance class.”
The Skywalk it is!
Haimanti and the NGO have had a rough patch during the lockdown as their children did not have the tools for online education. But the NGO has remained in touch with them for food and assistance during the lockdown. As restrictions begin to ease, Junoon is ready to once again take its place on the railway skywalks to teach more children.
Haimanti says if you are still wondering why the skywalk and not a proper building – “Initially, I wanted a place to teach them. But now I have grown to like classes on the skywalk because we go the kids, they do not come to us. That is where it is most convenient for them. We understand, if they leave their homes, there will not be any food on the table. Also, it helps create awareness because people walk by, and when they understand what we are doing, they volunteer to help in some way.”
The Guardian Angel
Haimanti Sen is a TEDx speaker. She has also addressed the World Tolerance Summit (WTS), part of Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives. In 2019, she won the Rex Karamveer Award and the Teacher Warrior Award. She has appeared in the March 2021 edition of the magazine Social Ketchup and several newspapers. Haimanti Sen is the guardian angel for the children of beggars on the streets of Mumbai.
To volunteer your services or donate to the cause, contact NGO Junoon. Be the change that you wish to see in the world!