Sparking lives with `The Light of Life`

The shed like hall in Karjat is spruced up; decorated for the Balkala Mahotsav organized by The Light of Life Trust: It’s a celebration of rural children’s talent and a platform for exhibiting them. 2057 enthusiastic children from 52 schools of approximately 80 villages in Raigad district participitated. . Eliminations have taken place over the past three days. Now the stage is set for the finalists. Children, participants and spectators, their parents, teachers and friends excitedly crowd into the hall. The dais is simply embellished with streamers. A banner of The Light of Life Trust is the spans as the backdrop and the videographer has set up his tripod opposite the stage. At a table in the front row are seated the judges along with the founder of the trust, Villy Doctor. All are called to attention as the founder, escorted by the social workers of the trust, mounts the steps to the stage to light the lamp and inaugurate the festival. 

“Dear Friends of Anando” she says, “We have realized that in a place like Karjat children are a gold mine of talents and abilities. But, unlike urban children they do not have any platform for self-expression.

Today, ‘India is shining’, but our villages are still in gloom and darkness.  Balkala Mohotsav is one such unique opportunity by which the Light of Life Trust can bring back light to the lives of these children.

Each child is like a flower in bloom. Balkala Mahotsav is blossom time for them to express their true colors through music, singing, dancing, painting, acting and creative writing.  It is an opportunity for them to open up and gain self-confidence.”

The beginning:
Sitting pensively one evening with like-minded friends of her youth Villy Doctor, once the Psychology Head of Department at Sophia College, wistfully spoke of her vision and the desire to help the under-privileged of our country. She was delighted and pleasantly surprised at the spontaneous support it received from them.

So, aided by the generosity of well wishers ‘The Light of Life Trust’ came into existence in 2002.

Villy’s desire is, as always, to help everyone who needs any kind of aid, but practicality prevailed and a focal point, ‘the under-privileged in the country’ was established.  The objectives of the trust were defined and fell into three verticals:
Anando: Education. To realize the untapped potential of rural children
Awakening: (Jagriti) Holistic Community living
Angan: Health care, with alternative therapies to allopathic medicine and a hospital for the terminally ill.

Under the compassionate guidance of Villy Doctor, Ruby Madon took the reins of the trust in her hands as CEO. 

Young and dynamic social workers, alumni of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences were hired for field work. Brainstorming sessions began and a unanimous decision was taken to begin in the home state of Maharashtra with the weakest and most helpless – the children of the under-privileged...

The Light of Life began work in the villages of Raigad district where the drop out rate in village schools was high and education a high priority area. Thus Project Anando started with 25 children.

Their family income is invariably below the poverty line. Most of them have a single parent, are orphans or tribals and their living conditions abject, to say the least.

The project got under way by initiating a scheme of sponsorship for the children largely by word of mouth. Thus a trust centre was established in Karjat close to the station.

Alongside the children, social workers began to speak with parents and guardians impressing upon them the need and necessity of learning not as a short term solution to better jobs, but as a means to re-structure entire communities, with the aid of literacy. Further, they realized the need to interact with teachers as well, if their wards were to get the maximum benefits of education.

To achieve participation and interaction various programs and events are organized by the trust throughout the calendar year, beginning with the sports day in January, Bal Din – Children’s day on Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday, 14th November and the Balkala Mahotsav being the highlights of the year. Programs of books and clothes distribution, dance and music, medical camps and other activities continuously take place.

Today, The Light of Life Trust is the lifeline of its beneficiaries and the Anando project has taken a quantum leap. It is parenting 2000+ children in 28 centres across 4 districts of Maharashtra.

In 2008 132 children appeared for the SSC Board Exam and this year 199 students will sit for the examination.  They include children, who otherwise would have dropped out of school in the 7th or 9th standard and taken on jobs as domestic servants in order to help their families. We aim to bring them out of this rut and make them upwardly mobile. With assistance from the Light of Life Trust, 242 children have now entered college and six have taken admission in industrial training institutes.

A success story: “Priyanka one of our Anando children has taught us a lot. Says a social worker”. As the third daughter amongst five others, Priyanka’s life was not an easy one, especially when her father Vijay Sawant, the sole earner of the family, deserted them after the stress of marrying his daughters and his growing debt became too much for him to handle. Left to care for her mother who suffered from bouts of depression due to a psychological disorder and three younger siblings, Priyanka joined the workforce as a domestic servant earning Rs.800 per month at the cost of her education

In December 2006, it was noticed that there were many irregular students in a particular school, one of them being Priyanka. This prompted one of the social workers to visit the Sawant home. Priyanka was planning to drop out of school in the 8th standard despite being a bright student as she couldn’t cope with her domestic liabilities. Intervening of her behalf and counseling the mother and Priyanka on the benefits of education and self empowerment, the social work also assured them that the Trust would take care of Priyanka’s educational expenses.

Priyanka resumed school, adjusting her working hours to before and after school, a move that saw her grades improve dramatically. The next step was clearing the SSC exam and encouraged by the social worker and a local teacher who helped her study and gave her a monthly salary of Rs.700 for doing a light housework, Priyanka scored a first class marks in the board exam.

Today, as a junior college commerce student she has set her own goals, changing her dream of being a nurse to being a teacher as she wants to shape the life of other students. A bright and curious student with a passion for outdoor games, Priyanka enjoys meeting new people, and reading, attributing this new phase in her life to the Trust, without whose intervention she might have remained a domestic servant. Striving to achieve her goal she is keen that her younger sisters continue with their education as well.

To this initial program have been added several other education aids programes like the SFSEP; The Student Friendly Supplementary Education Program, is a critical need based program to improve the children’s academic performance. At the level of secondary education, that is, from standard 7 onwards, children lag behind in two subjects, Mathematics and English due to unclear basic concepts. They loose self confidence and tend to drop out of school.

Results of Student Friendly Supplementary Educational Program (SFSEP)
No. of students: 438
Cleared their annual examination: 93.79%
Achieved distinction : 59 students
Achieved 1st class : 193 students

The Vice Principle of D. M. Vidyalaya, Khandpe recognized the importance of SFSEP Project after seeing a drastic jump in students staying on in school. So far, only 25 to 28 students reached the 9th standard in his school, but last year (2008), there were 45 children who in the 9th standard.

Anando+, a project designed as a sequel to Anando to help deserving students who have cleared the national level board exam to go further academically and brighten their future.

Awakening and Angan are taking shape and infrastructure being put into place.  From 2010 onwards these projects will become operational in a phased manner as much needed funds are gathered.

It is a daunting task that Villy Doctor has taken on.  Global recession has made funding difficult to find, yet, she has not retreated a single inch from the commitment made to the Light of Life.  She works tirelessly, 24x7 chairing board meetings, traveling, meeting people for projects and aid and showing presentations of the trust’s work to create awareness that will result in funding and establishing a volunteer base. 

Today, the divide between the rich and poor has increased. Where rural children lack milk and one basic meal a day, urban kids are suffering from obesity. While rural children are put to work at age 7 or 10 for a few rupees a day, urbanites of the same age are sporting mobile phones running up bills through inane conversations. Every sphere of life is a world apart, be it education, medical facilities, or basic amenities in villages and cities.

Refusing to complain or indulge in drawing room chatter, Villy Doctor has chosen to lead from the front. We cannot be one India unless we are one people. We can only be one people when those of us who have, can find the generosity of heart to gather our people unto us and share our bounty and bring light into every life.

For donations and further information on The Light of Life Trust please visit our website:  Tel: 022 40929012


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