For Bharti Mamani and Adik Kadam, these life-altering ironies of childhood in times of insurgency aren’t mere high-pedestal concerns aired from afar. As the leading lights of Borderless World Foundation (BWF), a Pune-based NGO, their "calling to provide a human touch to strife-torn Kashmir" has them spending 8-9 months every year in the worst-hit Kupwara district, helping children recover and reintegrate physically and psychologically.
They run Basera-e-Tabassum (BeT), a girls’ orphanage set up in 2002, which has 15 girls aged 3-11 and plans to host 50 more by mid-2004. They are also setting up an alternative residential school in Sulkoote, which received the approval of President Abdul Kalam last August and will begin functioning with 100 school dropouts in 2005.
"Nearly 80,000 children orphaned by the j&k turmoil have dropped out of childhood with frozen minds," rues the 30-year-old Mamani, a psychology major hailing from Hubli, Karnataka. "The children have been deprived of their right to healthy development and are expected to bear the unbearable," says 26-year-old Kadam.
As children, both Mamani and Kadam were intrigued by tales of the Partition. "When I first heard them, I drew inwards and pictured how millions must have been displaced and slaughtered," recalls Mamani. She even wrote letters to the prime ministers of India and Pakistan.
A chance meeting between Mamani and Kadam, a post-graduate in political science equally keen to contribute to the region, paved the way for BWF in March 2002. Treacherous border sojourns have since gained them a well-honed insight into devastated children, youth, women and migrants.
They have had their share of fear too. Like, when they ran into militants in Tregam and ended up befriending them. Or, when local clerics mistook them for proselytisers and issued a fatwa against them—a boycott call formidable enough to keep the district collector from inaugurating BeT. With locals cold-shouldering them, they did most chores themselves, sanitising the lice and deworming children, toilet-training them, helping them with their studies, arranging for the last rites of adolescent militants gunned down by the army and tending to their siblings.
Things changed overtime. BWF today has four full-time employees and a 15-member advisory committee. it is scripting relief-aid for migrants and refugees, earning opportunities for local artisans, self-reliance for widows and rape victims and training and equipment for sporting talent. Yet, the focus is clearly on children. "Healing young children and their spirits may prevent the next war. Kashmir needs a sense of belonging," avers Mamani. When children exult that with a didi and a bhaiya, they’re no longer orphans, Mamani and Kadam know their work has made a difference.
Contact Borderless World Foundation at C-2, 606, G.N. Satellite, 69, Wanowrie, Pune—411040 Tel: (020) 26803469. E-mail: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.borderless-world.org