Today we met Ms. Vandana, the CEO of Sharana, which is a social and development organization based in Pondicherry, India. Before I get into detail about the organization, I have to address how impressed I was with Ms. Vandana’s strong and passionate presence. From the moment she started talking it was clear she genuinely cared about every program she shared with us as well as the individual people within her community. I was even more intrigued when she explained her strong support towards the “exit policy”. She explained, the intentions of the organization are not to replace the parents or the government but to work closely with and build a bridge between children, parents and the government. The main goal is not to offer life-long assistance which is why their organizational model is focused in sustainable development and therefore, programs often change to help communities evolve so they can eventually “exit”. For her, the moment they finish a program they feel accomplished. This entire concept is amazing. Her dedication towards sustainable development is one of the many reasons I believe she has helped so many people through Sharana.
Sharan was established in July 2000 based on the belief that all human beings are equal in rights and dignity, and everyone is entitled to food, clothing, and shelter. Sharana is committed to enable children to fully claim their right to education and strives toward complete transparency and accountability to its donors and sponsors. The organization maintains meticulous records and shares annual reports on their website to ensure donors are aware of the impact they are donating to and also to ensure the funds collected are used as efficiently as possible, to the direct benefit of children and other individuals in need.
Through a variety of programs, they address the critical educational needs of socio-economically disadvantaged children and communities in urban Pondicherry and its surrounding villages. The biggest program they currently have is Street & Slum Children Program, a daycare center called The Gayatri House, which provides a safe haven for children of the streets and slums at high risk of exploitation. According to their website,
“Before Sharana’s intervention, many of these children were forced into child labour or begging on the streets to contribute to the family income and many of them suffered from substance and sexual abuse, nutritional deficiencies, and sleep deprivation.”
I find the organizations strategy within this program to be particularly interesting. I think it’s important to realize how the organization truly does stick to its sustainable development model for each program. One might question why children would be allowed to live with parents who allow their children to suffer in these ways and wonder if Sharana plans to expand The Gayatri House into a residential care facility for the children to live. Understanding the importance of keeping the children with their parents this program works closely with parents and social workers to ensure emotional and psychological needs of the children are addressed. This strategy allows the primary responsibility of a child’s upbringing to remain with the parents providing a stable and sustainable environment for the child and parents to grow.
The Gayatri House is more than a daycare. In addition to providing shelter for children and support to the families of the slums they also provide education, art therapy, medical care, nutritional care and psychological support. As I mentioned earlier, this is just one of many programs that Sharana offers to its communities. This organization doesn’t simply type out a set of values in efforts to get donors, the values are brought to life and lived by through its employees and its programs.