The Orphanage at Balgram Samparc, Pune, India

The following is a report filed by Air Commodore K V Rao, a well wisher and liaison for HELP Foundation in Pune, after visiting the Ashram/Orphanag. It provides an excellent insight on the functioning of the orphanage.

Dr. Amit Kumar Bannerji is the Director of SAMPARC. The orphanage is located at Bhaje, near Malavli. The place is on the Pune-Mumbai Rail Line and on the Pune-Mumbai Super Highway. But access is by train, since the highway does not provide a link near Malavli, but much ahead at Lonavla. The Asram is at a scenic place in the valley of Lonavla with the Western Ghats surrounding. Since it is monsoon now, it has been raining almost incessantly. The hills are now lush green with innumerable water falls all around the Ashram. The Orphanage is organized differently than those what I had seen elsewhere, which were centralized. The Balgram is organized as a number of Houses, each house looked after by a Mother who lives all the time in the house. A house has 10 children, of all ages. There are 10 houses. The house is like a normal home with a kitchen, bedroom, store room, living room and a bath room. Each house cooks its own food. The house has its own pets, a cat and a dog. I met the children who are in the kindergarten. The elder children go to local schools like any other child in the village. Those who complete school join college. I met two who were waiting to join an agriculture polytechnic.

The elder children are only girls where as the younger ones are both boys and girls. The children come to the Ashram through the government. The Magistrate deciding, they being the abandoned ones with the police rescuing them. There are three more Ashrams under SAMPARC, one at Alibaug, another at Chakkan and another at Anjar in Kutch. I met all the 10 children sponsored by HELP. they are all under 5 or 6 years of age. Some were away in the local school and the rest in the KG run by the Ashram. The Ahram provides a free environment like a normal home, the Mother of each House, looking after all aspects of that house. There are play grounds community halls, hobby centers and a Vocational Training Center for training in basic trades. Each house is well equipped with all gadgets, even their own sewing machine. Each house has a guest room for the guests to stay when they come there to visit. Often there are students visiting them from Universities. I found the children active and cheerful. They belonged to all creeds Marathi, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi speaking, at this stage. They are also of Hindu/Christian and Muslim religions as their names suggested (there is no common religion in the Ashram; some of the Mothers having a small niche each, of their own for worship). Most of them are supposed to have been abandoned by the sex workers. The elder children have been doing well in school some have scored above 80% marks in the HSC Board exams and secured admissions to Professional Colleges. One child even got a scholarship to study French in France. The Ashram has a computer center with 10 computers and Multimedia. Apart from the Mothers there are KG teachers, Vocational teachers and Supervisors but all doubling up and doing all chores. The Ashram has an orchard for cultivation and growing fruit and vegetables. On the whole it appeared to be running well and administered with a human touch.

Dr. Bannerji is experienced in this kind of social work having worked with various organizations before starting of on his own at this village. He has another project to run a school for the tribal children in the Mulsi Taluk, sponsored by the Mahindras. He appeared to be an active and energetic person. He is well acquainted with the government regulations and seems to know people around well. There is no regimentation but it is well controlled. The Houses prepared food for my lunch. It was tasty and is home food. I spent some time with the children who were very keen to talk to me but Marathi is still my weak point. It was a touching experience. I explained to Shri Bannerji the paper work that was required to be completed fast. He took the photos in my presence of the 10 children selected to be sponsored, out of the 98 living in that Ashram. Hopefully he will complete all the work soon. After that I will have a look for completeness. I advised him to dispatch by speed post so that the material reaches you before the due date to you.