PROJECT ARMAN CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY PROJECT OF LE PASSAGE TRAVEL FOUNDATION – SHAPING LIVES (CSR Unit of Le Passage to India Tours and Travel Private Limited)
Mainstreaming Waste-Pickersí Children through Grooming and Education
Le Passage to India Tours and Travels Private Limited (LPTI), India, is the only Indian travel conglomerate with a Foundation solely dedicated to CSR work. Created in July 2010, Le Passage Travel Foundation aka Shaping Lives, has over 35 grass root level empanelled NGOs, spread across Indian travel destinations. Our combined focus with them and our inbound clients is to bring smiles through interactions, to less privileged children in different spectrums ranging from marginalized to cerebral/multiple disorders to HIV to visually challenged, the aged and abandoned, the destitute and animals. We also encourage and facilitate rural experiences. The interventions are planned and executed as part of itineraries bringing discipline and precision into social interfaces akin to travel plans. The CSR initiatives, range from short 1-2 hours visit to long duration volunteer work singly or in groups depending upon client preferences and time available. The outreach can be viewed on www.shaping-lives.org.
While Shaping Lives has a vast NGO outreach, its pilot CSR initiative, however, is “Project Arman”. This project is being run at two centers at Nizamuddin, New Delhi, one next to the mausoleum (Dargah) of renowned Sufi saint, Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya, and the other in Sunder Nagar Nursery slum colony, across the road. The project’s core focus is ‘No Child in Trash’, wherein, it endeavors to wean away the children of waste pickers of this locality from their hazardous and demeaning family vocation, with a view to educate and mainstream them into a respectable future livelihood. The Project is wholly financed and monitored by Shaping Lives as LPTI’s CSR initiative. It is however professionally managed by NGO Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, whose work for uplifting the waste-picker community in Delhi region has been recognized at national and international forums.
Why is this Project Special
It is LPTI’s signature CSR project and also because:-
· It has removed majority of the waste pickers’ children in Nizamuddin area from the ignominy of picking trash as a livelihood and living an endangered, wasted childhood.
It has provided an opportunity to the poorest of the poor parents, to release their children for free education, safe growth environment, and a better future.
It has motivated the children to dream beyond ‘trash’ through education.
It has given us the satisfaction that these children are safe from medical hazards, substance abuse and possible physical and sexual exploitation that abound on rag-picking forays.
· Inculcated self-respect and pride within the rag picker community in the feeling that we are seeking a community changing goal for their next generation, by providing an opportunity for learning and alternate employment.
The Essence of Arman Arman means ‘desire’ in Hindi. For us at Shaping Lives, its connotation in this Project is in three different perspectives:-
· Shaping Lives: It is our ‘desire’ to afford a chance for change to these children.
· The Children: It is their ‘desire’ to avail this opportunity and aspire for a better future.
· The Community : In the third dimension, it is the ‘desire’ of the waste pickers’ to dream about their next generation living in a more respectable world, detached from the ignominy of waste picking and its social taboos. It is their desire for socio-economic change of the community as a whole.
Baseline Study The baseline study before this Project was undertaken, was conducted on our behalf by NGO Chintan in 2005. Having seen the efficacy and the benefits of this Project, it was decided to start it in Nov 2005, by the managing Director of LPTI through his personal funding initially. With the advent of the Foundation in 2010, this Project came under its purview, and is now minutely monitored and given additional impetus as the CSR face of the company. It involves annual house to house survey and enrolment drives in March each year to motivate and convince newly arrived parents to enroll their children in Project Arman. The new enrolments join our learning centers in April and after attaining required grooming and learning skills are assisted in admissions to local government schools. Waste pickers being nomadic in nature, approximately 1700 children have had the benefit of our learning centers till date. Today, all our 160 children are enrolled into local government schools. This is a milestone considering that none of them had ever been inside a school, prior to enrolment into Project Arman, except on their rag picking forays.
Focus and Commitment The Foundation focuses on the running and expansion of this Project in direct affiliation to Le Passage goals for sustainability and social outreach. The success rate cannot be quantified, but suffice to say, that within nine months of Shaping Lives taking charge of the Project in 2010, the enrolment rate in Mar 2011 went up by almost 30%, with parents themselves welcoming our volunteers and urging them to enroll their wards, instead of the other way around earlier. Today, the local community feels it a privilege to have their child enrolled in Project Arman.
While the mindset of the local people who regard the waste pickers as more or less ‘untouchables’ and considered our effort in uplifting them with suspicion was a major challenge, frequent and friendly interactions with the local gentry to explain the benefits of educating this community and also by encouraging participation in our entertainment and other events (e.g. movie screenings, Independence Day and miscellaneous festival celebrations, etc.) by them, has helped to thaw the atmosphere and reconcile them into accepting these brethren as human beings and worthy of care by us. While we can never change basic attitudes, the animosity towards Project Arman is now controllable. Our teachers are mostly drawn from the local community, to ensure trust and comfort level in parents and children alike. They are undergoing training and skill development Workshops to constantly evolve and enhance the education modes.
Monitoring, Assessment and Impact The assessments of the children are done via monthly Parent Teacher Meetings and annually by NGO Chintan’s assessment teams. These assessment sheets are available for perusal and shared as an annual report by the NGO with Shaping Lives. The assessment gives out the state of Project Arman. Improvements / corrections are considered in meetings with the NGO’s core group. In a SWOT analysis, one would say simply “If difference was the key word, we have made THE difference through Project Arman”
NGO Chintan has a selected team of field officers and dedicated local resident teachers who attend to the daily curriculum and monitoring of the children at our grooming centers, assisting those who have upgraded and are now enrolled in MCD/NDMC (Government) schools, through a systematic education program formulated by the NGO’s education support experts. The Foundation also carries out spot checks and surprise visits to assess and monitor functioning.
The core impact of this program has been to wean away children from picking trash around Nizamudin and surrounding areas. This prevention ensures that our children are not exposed to hazardous waste and other medical diseases. It also ensures their safety from both physical and sexual exploitation at the hands of unscrupulous elements in such environments. Indirectly, the project also deters them from taking to substance abuse, a common fringe malady in children involved in waste-picking. The benefits of grooming at our Arman centers, prepares them for entry into government schools, thereby inducing in them a dream to study even beyond basic school, work hard and seek alternate and more respectable sources of income. The children and parents today have been so motivated that they look at blue and white collar jobs at the end of their education and a future beyond the slums of Nizamudin.
On a psychological dimension, the children grow up with confidence, self-respect and certainty of a better future. It would also be in order to say that maybe this Project has been able to save a number of children from taking to drugs and juvenile crime to sustain themselves. In context of the waste pickers’ community, their faith and confidence in us has arisen manifold. They are thus willing to offer their wards to us today, instead of forcing them into rag picking for the extra daily income. Hence, we see a community on the verge of change to a better life by 2020.
Benefits and Future Planning There are no financial savings. Nor is this a self-sustainable project. The sole benefit is our confidence that we shall succeed in changing the face of an entire community's gen-next through Project Arman in the very near future and that is immeasurable. The Project also showcases that even the most marginalized communities need a platform or an avenue to change for the better and it is possible for even travel companies to reach out and make that small intervention, and thereafter sustain it to its logical successful end. No community likes to or wants to remain in the marginalized world and it is for us, to think and create the windows of opportunity for them through good, heartfelt CSR.
Funds permitting, we had visualized starting Basic English classes for our children in the near future. This has become a reality via support from another corporate sponsor, assisting in funding the running of two English Learning Centers w.e.f. April 2017. This value addition has enabled huge benefit to our children, as it will enable them to market themselves with more confidence when they move beyond school into the job market. They also learn basic computer skills, have access to a children library, and free tuitions for the senior students as force multipliers.
The decision to introduce bi-annual health check-ups and a daily health supplement taken in mid-December 2013 has been a boon as well. The children are not just checked but also de-wormed bi-annually, an essential for the environment they live in. The health supplement started around the same time in form of milk or fruit or other nutrition item per child per day is also paying rich dividends as the children look healthier. The Foundation has installed a commercial grade water purifier and gifted each child a water bottle to ensure safe drinking water and thereby some relief from water borne disease these children are often afflicted by.
Special Moment The Project’s special amount came on 28 May 2017 when the results of the Class XII (final school year Board Examination in India), were announced. Our first Arman ward, Kehkasha (Roshni) cleared the exam scoring over 85% marks. Her father is a waste-picker and mother works as a maid to supplement income. Kehkasha is now enrolled as an undergraduate in an Honors course at a college of her choice. This was the moment we had waited for, and Kehkasha has opened the gates for many more ‘Arman’ children to excel and emulate.
Our second star is Shehnaz, who after clearing school has scored an excellent grade in the NIIT DEO diploma and is also enrolled in evening college pursuing her graduation.
Company Role Play Project Arman is today the essential CSR destination for compulsory annual volunteering by every LPTI colleague in NCR. Over 90% colleagues gave one afternoon of community service to this Project as part of the Company’s internal holistic growth focus. Besides the company volunteers, the top management is totally committed to seeing Project Arman flower into the initiative that did not just change a few children’ lives, but one which changed an entire community’s own mindset and also gave them a semblance of respect and acknowledgement as fellow human beings by the other communities. Our expenditure in Project Arman till March 2018 has touched approx. INR 120 lacs (approx. USD 185000 / Euro 151000). The annual expenditure on this Project for period Apr 2018 to Mar 2019 has been approved and will be approx. INR 20 lacs or approx. USD 31000. This includes health camps, outings, nutrition supplement, computer training, extra tuition fees and filtered water to the children besides the running costs of mentoring these 160 children.
Visits & More Shaping Lives encourages our international travel partners to include visits to Project Arman Centers from Monday to Friday afternoons in Delhi itineraries. Clients can stroll in to some great and rewarding interaction with our children after their morning Old Delhi sightseeing and lunch. It gives a different perspective and adds soul to their holiday. For special groups, our children come in on Saturday afternoons as well. Volunteers willing to teach computers, English, arts & craft, music or general holistic development skills are welcome.
Partnerships As the children grow, the need of specialized tuitions, exposures, and other value additions add to our costs. Shaping Lives has thus now opened its doors to FTOs and individuals willing to partially fund rising costs and help us sustain Project Arman. Our FTOs and individual well-wishers, both external and within our extended Le Passage families, are invited to sponsor one or more Arman children for as little as INR 12000 or USD 200 or Euro 175 per annum and show their solidarity to the Project. Smaller donations are also welcome. Should any FTO or individual sponsor 20 or more Armanis, their name or logo will figure in our two Centers as an “Esteemed Supporter”. We have three on the board and welcome more.
Support to this Project, irrespective of the number of children you sponsor, will be a source of great inspiration for us. It will also be a wonderful opportunity to showcase your social commitments to spreading smiles across the world and a great, but low cost, marketing opportunity, if you associate as an organization.