Hidden behind some mother’s side a child peers out with tear-filled, begging eyes. They are bathed in a hazy light and animals run around wildly. With your money, you can help, save, and fix their problems. Their story, after all, must be identical to everyone others’ in their village, state, and country… right?
Many fundraising campaigns and NGOs pride themselves on aiding the ‘sickly village child’ and ‘impoverished family,’ smearing images of such likenesses across their social platforms. Though indeed food insecurity and economic inequality are realities of our global community, supporting those experiencing these circumstances should never be based on guilt and shame which perpetuates ‘othering.’ This is precisely the unlearning that we have to do.
Sharana is an organization of about 53 members whom work to support and uplift approximately 900 village children of the Pondicherry area. With 6 centers within their vicinity, Sharana provides myriad services from homework help to art therapy. Created out of an effort to facilitate structured learning in the lives of Tamil Nadu children, Sharana has now grown immensely— receiving financial support from many foreign governments, including the French government. Nonetheless, Sharana has made it very clear that they adopt a ‘no nonsense’ policy when it comes to donor coverage and support. ‘Donors do not drive our vision,’ says Rajkala Partha, founder and President at Sharana. The premise of Sharana is that it must be guided by those the needs of those it seeks to work with, not those who seek to work with it. This philosophy, along with the truly remarkable leadership at Sharana, maintains a sense of integrity to its work which is quite unlike many of the savior-complexed NGOs we see coming from the West.
More on their work, Sharana gives daily after school lessons in language, computer literacy, mathematics, and art to the participating children. Recognizing that the homelife of these kids may also be an impediment to their growth and learning, as alluded to by Rajkala by mention of Pondy’s high rate in domestic and sexual violence, Sharana also provides art therapy services to the fathers of the children and a space for understanding to the mothers. Ultimately, Sharana realizes that inspiring the language necessary to comprehend one’s scenario often leads to the reparation of it. Just below is an image of paintings made by some of Sharana’s fathers, led through an exercise of emotional release via art with Sharana’s art therapist Manuel.
There simply is so much that could be said of the fantastic work which Sharana does. I invite you to check out their website and, if possible, reach out to get involved!
For some additional understanding on ‘unlearning,’ take a look at this video which briefly summarises the malfeasance of many NGO communications projects: