“Ganapati Bappa Morya,” Sunil Kumar Gaud screamed excitedly as Ganeshotsav celebrations begin at a children’s shelter in Thane on Wednesday.
The 16-year-old has not seen his parents since he ran away from his home in Madhya Pradesh, five years ago. “I will meet my parents after celebrating Ganeshotsav. I will tell them I am sorry and that I should have never have run away from home,” he said.
For 20-odd children at the shelter, some of them runaways like Gaud but many others victims of trafficking and begging rackets, it is their first Ganeshotsav celebration.
“We wanted the children to experience the festivity and allay their fears by believing in God and taking inspiration from each other,” said Vijay R Jadhav, founder of Samataol Foundation that runs the shelter, which has reunited many children with their parents over 10 years.
“We will also take the children for the aarti at Siddhivinayak Temple, Abhudayanagar and Lalbaugcha Raja,” he added.
Jadhav and his 25-member team keep a watch at CST, Kalyan, Kurla and Thane railway stations every day to identify and rehabilitate lost children. “These children are scared. We have to understand what they’ve been through to counsel them,” said Jadhav. He added that children who have run away from homes in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Delhi and West Bengal are housed here.
The foundation has invited the children who had been rehabilitated with their parents to celebrate the festival on Thursday.
“We will conduct a medical test for the children and then there will be an aarti in the evening,” said Jadhav, adding, “Our attempt is to build a children-friendly society and help develop these bright minds.”
Kohim Mandal, 13, said he will be return to his home near Sealdah in Kolkata after the festival. “My mother had asked me to run away as my father used to beat me up regularly. She told me to find happiness. I will go home with uncle (a member of the foundation), who will urge my father to stop drinking,” said Kohim, who loves to dance, paint and can now write his own name.
The foundation has dormitory with 45 beds, five washrooms and an office on the premises of Dadoji Kondev Stadium. Each member of the foundation has an identification card authorised by the police.
Kamaluddin Sheikh, police sub-inspector and in-charge of child protection unit, Thane said, “We have received a lot of support from the foundation and many children have been reunited with their parents due to their efforts. The information about missing children is shared between the police department and the foundation and makes the process faster.”
(Photos: Praful Gangurde)