Children of a lesser God: Donations dry up, orphanages struggle to stay afloat - Hindustan Times
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Children of a lesser God: Donations dry up, orphanages struggle to stay afloat

Hindustan Times/Chandigarh | ByHT Correspondents, Ludhiana
Jul 26, 2020 12:46 AM IST

Orphanages get limited aid from the government and are seeking financial help to meet educational expenses of children. Many have not taken in new children in four months as they struggle to cope.

BATTLING THE VIRUS Child care homes being run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the region are facing a fund crunch due to a dip in donations during the Covid-19 pandemic. The orphanages get limited aid from the government and are seeking financial help to meet educational expenses of children. Many have not taken in new children in four months as they struggle to cope. The Supreme Court has also sought details from the Centre on funds for children homes. The government will file an affidavit in two weeks about funds made available to states and Union Territories to run child care institutions.

SOS Children’s Village in Patiala’s Rajpura had to lay off some employees due to decline in donations.(Bharat Bhushan/HT)
SOS Children’s Village in Patiala’s Rajpura had to lay off some employees due to decline in donations.(Bharat Bhushan/HT)

Setback for children with special needs: Student strength reduced to half, teachers worried break in learning will stall progress

The Covid-19 pandemic has left child care homes run by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) high and dry. With no sign of the situation easing, donations are drying up and the number of children in such institutions is seeing a steady decline as all activities come to a standstill.

NGOs are dependent on corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of the local hosiery and cycle industries. With the economy slowing down, these institutions are not getting enough funds through CSR.

Some homes have had to cut staff strength to save cost, while others are struggling to make ends meet.

Neelam Sodhi, who runs NGO Ashirwad, an institute for children with cerebral palsy since 1999, says: “Donations are not flowing in. With schools closed, we are relying on one-on-one therapy. These are special children and even a small break in learning stalls their development and takes them back a year in their mental growth.”

While the institute’s strength has fallen from 70 to 35 students in this academic session, Neelam had to reduce her staff to manage expenses. “Parents just stopped sending these children to school. We are relying on speech therapy and online classes,” she adds.

Rajinder Kumar Sharma, the owner of Noble Foundation that runs 36 schools for slum-children across the state, says, “We have seen a decline in donations by half.” Before the lockdown, there were more than 5,000 students across his chain of schools but now there are 2,200.

“Most children were wards of labourers who have gone back to their native places. They have not returned as train services are skeletal,” he says. “We are relying on online classes. Industrial groups who used to pay us under CSR have expressed their inability to do so this year. We owe Rs 34 lakh to our suppliers of books, stationery and uniforms. Times are tough,” says Sharma.

Niranjan Kumar, the general secretary of Darpan, a centre for the autistic, says, “We had 75 children until last year but now the centre is closed and we haven’t got any donation this time.” - Aneesha Sareen Kumar

No birthday celebration in four months

Covid-19 has robbed children at rescue homes of the simple joy of celebrating their birthday. Managements are in a tight spot as donations have stopped coming with visitors staying home.

“We run this centre with the support of people. Now that no visitor is allowed due to social distancing, a few donors contribute to our bank account that is helping us buy food for 70 inmates in the 1 to 24 year age group. We pay shopkeepers in instalments,” says Satnam Singh, a trustee member of Unique Home, Jalandhar. “The children have not celebrated their birthdays in four months. Their annual trip to Manali was also called off,” he says.

During the lockdown, the Centre received a new member in a one-and-a-half year old child from Gurdaspur.

The Nari Niketan Trust is in a similar state. “With the entry of visitors banned since March, donations have declined. The common man has suffered loss, too,” says Navita Joshi, the CEO of the trust.

She says 36 children, ranging from three months to 19 years, stay in the institution but are not allowed outside.

Capt Jagdish of Pingla Ghar says donations have been hit as no one is allowed to meet the 350 inmates. Jatinder Mahal

With no public dole, orphanage reaches out for funds

Home to 19 children up to the age of 15 years, Sri Anant Anath Ashram at Nathana village is the only NGO-managed child rescue and adoption centre of Bathinda district. Four months after the Covid-19 pandemic, it is battling financial challenges as public contribution has dried up.

“Our monthly budget is about Rs 1 lakh, which includes expenditure on salaries of 14 staffers, food and electricity. Earlier, people contributed in cash and kind but visitors stopped coming since March. Young children need baby food daily. We are managing somehow,” says Krishan Kumar Bansal, the chairperson of the society that runs the orphanage.

“Earlier, people would donate flour, pulses and ghee to commemorate a family occasion but after the pandemic all such activity has been suspended. As social remittances have stopped, a close family group is planning to pool in funds to keep the institute running,” he says.

The 10-year-old institute also got aid regularly from a local corporate house. “We never had to ask anyone for support but now our teams are approaching people for funds,” he says.

Residents of the nearby Ganga, Giddar and Poohla villages ensure milk supply of 20 litres a day for the orphanage.

District child protection officer Ravneet Kaur said the children and staff have been screened for Covid-19. “The department has informed the state authorities through the deputy commissioner about the difficulties the orphanage is facing. We have yet to get any information,” she adds. - Vishal Joshi

Dipping into savings to survive in Amritsar

In these tough times, NGOs in Amritsar are forced to dip into their savings to run child rescue homes.

One of the oldest such institutions in Punjab, the Central Khalsa Orphanage is run by the Chief Khalsa Diwan (CKD), a 117-year-old organisation with multiple resources. But the pandemic has hit it in terms of donation.

“Though donations have dropped drastically, we are dipping into our savings but ensuring children get the facilities they used to,” says CKD president Nirmal Singh, who has donated 51 quintals of wheat during this crisis.

CKD member Bhag Singh Ankhi, who is in-charge of the orphanage, says, “We have 250 inmates and our average monthly expenditure is about Rs 15 lakh. The institution has closed new admissions till the situation improves.”

The All India Pingalwara Charitable Society is also struggling to cope. Society president Inderjit Kaur says, “We relied on donations and would get about Rs 3 crore a month. We’ve got a negligible amount since the lockdown so we are using savings. We didn’t lay off staff or cut pay, but we appealed to them to donate from their salaries.”

The society has, however, continued to get wheat and paddy from people of Amritsar and its adjoining districts. Surjit Singh

‘Need funds to clear education expenses’

For the first time in 106 years, the Yadavindra Puran Bal Niketan, an orphanage and adoption centre in Patiala, is seeking funds to take care of its 32 children.

Orphanage chairperson Urmila Puri says, “There has been a 50-60% drop in donations in four months and we are forced to seek help for clearing the educational expenses of the children. Fortunately, we have adequate food stock.”

Another NGO running the SOS Children’s Village in Rajpura has been operational since 1996 and houses 106 children at present. Its director Anup Singh says, “The donation has been reduced to 50%. Some of our permanent members have faced job losses and salary cuts, while businesses have been hit during the lockdown so there has been a decline in donations. Now that the school results have been declared, our children need to apply for higher education so we need cash donations to pay their fees.”

Child protection officer Roopwant Kaur says efforts are on to help the orphanages. “We have fulfilled the requirements they put before us during the lockdown earlier,” she says. - Harmandeep Singh

Shelter homes struggle to make ends meet in Haryana

Shelter homes run by NGOs in Haryana have seen a dip in donations over the past four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are stretched for resources.

The management of Karnal’s MDD Bal Bhawan Anath Ashram needs about Rs 6 lakh a month for food, clothing, electricity, medical facilities and school fee of the 100 children it houses. In addition, it spends Rs 22,000 on monthly rent for the building and salaries of 30 staff members.

“We get Rs 2,000 a month for each child from the government but that is not enough,” says PR Nath, the general secretary and a founder member. “These are uncertain times. People can donate only after meeting their own needs,” he says.

15 NEW INMATES DURING LOCKDOWN

During the lockdown, 15 children joined the 100 inmates, including 49 girls.

“Besides, we have 15 differently abled boys in a separate building. We don’t get anything from the government for them and they need two attendants round the clock”, he says.

It’s a similar situation at Bal Ashram at Ladwa in Kurukshetra district that is home to 30 children. “The government released last year’s funds now. It pays Rs 2,000 per child per month. We used that amount to clear the dues. It’s becoming difficult to even buy ration,” says Shish Pal Mandhan, the ashram director.

Baldev Raj Arya of Shradhanand Orphanage in Karnal says, “In such times, people with even two kids are facing problems and we have to take care of 110 children, including 65 girls.”

The first two months of the lockdown were worse but donations are picking up gradually. “The government works according to its policies. We will face this situation and ensure the best for our children,” he adds. Neeraj Mohan

Donations down by 80%, banking on hope in Himachal

Orphanages being run by NGOs in Himachal Pradesh are facing tough times with 80% of donations affected due to the pandemic. Naresh Thakur, the manager-cum-incharge of Titeli: Home for Children at Samula village near Palampur in Kangra district, says, “Though our orphanage is supported by a trust, we have not received any public donation since the lockdown began. Visitors are not allowed either.” No new child has been admitted or adopted at the centre in four months. The child care institution run by Global Hands for Rural Development was set up in 2016 and is home to 17 children. Navneet Rathore

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