Children’s Day: These kids are helping make Mumbai a better place

Mumbai | ByYoshita Rao
Nov 14, 2019 05:31 PM IST

On Children’s Day, we take a look at kids who are trying to make a difference in Mumbai

Skolstrejk för klimatet, which means — school strike for climate, was merely a string of words on the placard of a pigtailed, 15-year-old, Swedish girl in 2018. In just a year, Greta Thunberg’s relentless campaigning and protesting to preserve the environment has brought her global recognition. She has even addressed world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in September with hard-hitting words like — “How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood”. Like Greta, there are others who, in their own ways, are striving to be the change they want to see in this world. We bring you kids from Maximum City, who are helping better their hometown.


Sanjana Runwal, 15, at the installation of a sanitary napkin vending machine in a public restroom
Sanjana Runwal, 15, at the installation of a sanitary napkin vending machine in a public restroom

A clean start

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“Ragpickers are the backbone of society,” begins a timid Sanjana Runwal, 15, who runs her own NGO for the well-being of those who clean up our streets. Stressing on the ethicality of not littering, the Bandra-resident adds, “Can you imagine what our city’s condition would be without the cleaners and the ragpickers? But they live in such deplorable conditions, it’s ironic.” Clean Up, an initiative started by her brother, Sidharth Runwal, who now studies in the US, has been imperative in installing water purifying systems in the slums and even providing hot meals to the ragpickers. “For Diwali, we installed our first sanitary napkin vending machine in the H-West ward of Bandra in the public restroom that the ragpickers use. We also gave 150 people meals and raised funds for the education (schooling) of five children,” Sanjana says. On asking her about how she manages to raise funds and study for her upcoming board exams, she goes on to explain how she goes about it, which makes her quite the social media wiz. “I keep posting pictures and writing on our website and social media, and a lot of people write to me and send money for this cause or even volunteer for events that we have for the ragpickers,” she adds.

Her brother still helps in raising funds and planning of the events. And Sanjana now hopes to explore the possibility of providing medical insurance for the ragpickers.

Mihika Sawant age 12
Mihika Sawant age 12

Waste not

In the outskirts of Mumbai city, in Mulund, is a preadolescent girl, who is helping her housing society reduce the amount of waste being generated in the colony. “We are carrying out segregation of wet and dry waste in my colony — Ambika Plaza Society. We have been doing this for six months now,” says 12-year-old Mihika Sawant. Speaking about how she came about this idea, she says, “For school, we had to do a Homi Bhabha project for the third level viva round. I decided that the segregation of waste could be worthy of this standard as the landfills are filling up. The BMC, too, are taking a lot of initiative in segregating garbage. Even in school, we have been taught to segregate waste.”

But what goes into conducting this experiment on a society’s scale? “Now, we have a brigade in the society that controls the segregation activities. But first, we needed to be clear about the topic ourselves. We approached the BMC and got information on how they segregate waste. There are mainly four bins — wet, dry, reject and hazardous waste that also includes e-waste. Then, there was a meeting of all society members to talk about the execution of our plan. For every household, we have wet and dry bins. But, there would be only one reject and one hazardous bin for the entire complex. Unfortunately, we don’t have the space to install a compost pit in the society, but most of the residents do their garden composting with leftover food and vegetable cuttings. We also had one home composting workshop,” Mihika concludes, adding that the garden composting initiatives are what helps reduce the amount of waste.

Subrato Dey age 17
Subrato Dey age 17

The path to enlightenment

Down in the darkened alleyways of Kandivali’s slums, was Subrato Dey, who was keen on getting his street lit up. When asked how he came upon the idea to help his neighbourhood, Subrato spoke of the NGO — SNEHA and their programme on Empowerment, Health and Sexuality of Adolescents (EHSAS), which conducts sessions on constitutional rights, governance structure, and also teaches its volunteers ways to take up civic action. “We live in a part of Mumbai where girls are told not to go out after dark. We needed to document all our findings, as we couldn’t approach the BMC empty-handed. The department that handles street light queries asked us details about our area corporators and investigated the details of the ward numbers, among other things,” says Subrato, who is currently pursuing his 12th standard. Apart from approaching the BMC, the NGO, who catalysed Subrato’s quest to provide light to his neighbourhood said numerous WhatsApp messages with pictures of non-functional street lamps indicating the numbers on the poles were serially shared with the assistant engineer incharge till the ward office started intervening.

But, reminiscing about the process, a happy Subrato smiles and says, “It didn’t take much time at all.”

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