By Tanvi Kamra
Isn’t it cruelly nostalgic when one comes across those lined notebooks and those blue ink pens that constantly remind them of their school days? We might scoff at those memories but many don’t have the privilege to scoff at school memories because they never even got the chance to make them. Putting aside the nights of hard memorization, imagine where your life would’ve been if you hadn’t gone to school, hadn’t learned the alphabet or the table of two. Now imagine thousands, if not millions, of children not having any such resources. This thought haunted the mind of Mrs. Chhaya Sharma and led to the creation of UshaKiran, an NGO focused on providing children from vulnerable communities residing in adverse conditions with quality education and nutritious food.
“It began with my inner voice of the heart to help the children of the underprivileged sections of our society, so that these kids live a life of dignity,” said Mrs. Sharma. That inner voice was certainly bold as the NGO would be completing its fifth anniversary this year in March. What started as seven kids from a nearby construction slum has grown into a community of hundreds of literate students. The first location of the NGO was a small room adjoining Mrs. Sharma’s apartment but now it has its own centre in Shahdara and even one in Kulesara in Uttar Pradesh.
Their main focus of UshaKiran was to provide basic education of English, Hindi, Mathematics and Science. The organization started with the elementary level of education but soon with the help of multiple volunteers and expert teachers they were able to broaden their educational base. As unforeseen as COVID was for all of us, it affected the UshaKiran community as well. But that didn’t stop them from providing quality education through online mediums. They were supported by organizations such as AAS Vidyalaya and EdIndia. The foundation also reached out to many government schools and supported the children by providing them with mobile phones and computers. Many of the educational resources were either provided as donations in kind or cash. With the assistance of SAVE NGO, they were able to set up an e-library as well, consisting of a rich collection of books on various topics, thoroughly enjoyed by the children.
Mrs. Sharma also looked after the health of these young children. She was aware that the kids must not be receiving adequate amounts of food due to their financial condition. She decided to provide nutritious meals to them after classes. She has also set up a farm for growing organic vegetables, which are used to prepare home-cooked meals for the children. During the pandemic, they collected ration kits and healthy food to be delivered daily. “I would like to give special mention to The India Food Banking Network (IFBN), a government organization. They provide us with chocolates, milkshakes and healthy camel milk powder. This also acts as a treat for the children,” said Mrs. Sharma. To ensure the health of the kids during the pandemic, Mrs. Sharma decided to distribute sanitation and hygiene kits to the children and their families so they aren’t forced to move back to their villages during these difficult times. She constantly kept in contact with them, in case they were facing any problems or uncertainties. She was there for them always.
I was curious regarding the challenges faced by someone, who started the organization alone and worked their way up into making it a full-fledged NGO and asked her about it. “For me, it was like walking on a tightrope. I thought that if I fall then so many people will be there to point at me,” said Mrs. Sharma with a rather exhaustively aware look on her face. But she believes that challenges can only make her and her foundation stronger. One of the main challenges that came her way was that as these children were from urban slum areas some of the residents weren’t comfortable with them being in their society and considered them a security threat. But over time these children proved to be just a well-behaved bunch of students with only one aim, to achieve the life they deserved. Mrs. Sharma encouraged these children to hold an art exhibition in the locality, so that hundreds of residents could witness that these children had great potential. She shared many success stories of children who were either forced to leave school or never had the opportunity to attend one who are now achieving top ranks and divisions. UshaKiran was able to provide them with great hope for their future.
Lastly, I was really fascinated by the name UshaKiran and asked why she decided to choose this name. “Usha is the name of my mother who is my inspiration. A mother is a citadel for goodness with their efforts and similarly, I wanted to nurture these children. Kiran refers to a ray of hope, joy and kindness,” said Mrs. Sharma with her ever so radiant smile.
For more information, do look up UshaKiran: https://ushakiran.org.in/
Tanvi Kamra is a student at Lotus Valley International School, Noida currently and pursuing her interest in science. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org