For thousands of youngsters living in the numerous slums in and around the historic city of Hyderabad, Nalini Gangadharan is a bulwark against a fate that could've been far worse. With no opportunity to shape their own lives, most of these kids could easily have fallen prey to criminal gangs and other evils. It was to break that vicious, and all-too-familiar, cycle of criminality in urban India that 41-year-old Nalini took up the challenge of rehabilitating more than 1,400 street children.
As its name implies, the Livelihood Advancement Business School isn't just another rehabilitation centre for deprived classes living in urban environs. For, the school does not stop at just promoting literacy among the children, rather, it aims to ensure them a choice of a profession and build their lives as self-sufficient citizens. The school's genesis lies in years of personal experience. After having worked for 13 years at some of the well-known child and community development initiatives in the national and international ngo sector, Nalini realised that mere funds and dedication weren't enough to make a real difference in the lives of poor children and their families. While some gains were made, the programmes often didn't address the question of long-term self-sustainability of these families.
Says Nalini, "If urban development was to really be reflected in terms of safer, healthier and friendlier cities, then what was required was more than mere physical and infrastructural inputs. Investments had to be made to ensure that the poor were not left behind in the process of economic transition and growth; in providing sustainable livelihood opportunities for the youth and adult members." This means creating programmes which are cognisant of current markets and economy. Also, there was a need to involve more citizens and generate an awareness of issues that collectively affected their lives. How could these people be enthused to get involved and contribute—at their own pace—and feel that they are participating in the creation of a new social order?
The answer, perhaps, lay in securing their involvement as 'mentors'. They had to feel for themselves and be given opportunities to contribute their resources—be it financial, professional expertise or networks. Enthused by initial responses, Nalini, along with Dr Anji Reddy of Reddy Labs, institutionalised this strategy in the establishment of the school. Today, this programme is proof that the middle-class professional as well as the new breed of entrepreneur ceos do have a wider social role.
The results of the school where students go through a typical condensed version of a business school through a 'rapid learning' programme: over 674 students in a single year, most of whom were school dropouts, are now working as home nurses, computer operators, garment manufacturers, chauffeurs, front-office personnel etc. "During the last four years, we were able to rehabilitate more than 1,400 students," says Nalini. Today, these youngsters are regarded as assets in their organisations, and have substantially improved their family situation.
The venture is a collaborative one with unicef and the Regional Centre, Osmania University. The idea of bringing in unicef and the Regional Centre is to enable the modules to be adopted by others who wish to work in the areas of livelihood programming for the deprived. Admits Nalini, "I'm merely the icing on the cake. There are many who are the real movers in this programme. Dr Reddy himself is a great mentor." Says the good doctor, "When I hear the before-after stories of these youngsters who were literally roaming the streets for want of opportunities, I get as much satisfaction as when I discover a new molecule or drug."
The Livelihood Advancement Business School can be contacted at: Dr Reddy's Foundation, 6-3-668/77 & 78, Durganagar Colony, Punjagutta, Hyderabad 500082; phone: 91-40-3394613 /3394603 /3394618. Fax: 3394607, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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