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Kutumb Social Uplifting & Rehabilitation Organization

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How Our Work Promotes Love and Forgiveness: 

Is it possible to love and forgive even when living in the worst of circumstances? In a place where people seem beyond help or hope, is it possible to inspire change in others just by reaching out with simple acts of love, acceptance, and kindness? Yes. Kutumb Social Uplifting & Rehabilitation Organization does just that. Begun in 2002 by Puja Singh (MSW) and her husband, Dr. Ashish Kumar Singh (MD), Kutumb rescues and provides services for “railway” children in the Nadesar Slum of Varanasi, India, offering health care, education, nutrition and a loving shelter – a family for those who have none.

For more than fifty years, this area has suffered from extreme poverty, rampant spousal and child abuse, and religious and ethnic conflicts. Women and girls are especially targeted for abuse, neglect, and sex trades. Large numbers of people who live here vie for limited resources, which results in petty but often terrible conflict. This area suffers from the weight of limited choices, high-stress environments (lack of sanitation, high rates of violence, drugs, and illegal activities), and few opportunities for community improvement. However, Kutumb project’s values are rooted in long-term involvement through non-violent communication. Dialogue, love, and forgiveness guide our work with the children, women, and men of the Nadesar slum community. We pull people together, with the model of maintaining the family, to overcome differences and unite for better opportunities and growth.

Kutumb’s Vision (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam) adopts the Indian Philosophy, which says: “The entire earth is but one family.” Kutumb’s family has seen a lot of growth since 2002, and this growth has strengthened our bonds in the community. However, we have also learned that in a community filled with desperation, poverty, and drug-addiction, forgiveness is the only key that will open the door to a better life for everyone. It is for this reason that community members seek us out, and return to work with us. Our outreach is a conscious effort to seek out and maintain connections with our “extended family” in slum. Our daily work is to strengthen the bonds that exist, and forge new ones for the overall betterment of our community.

At Kutumb, we forgive others and ourselves at all times because to be able to forgive is ultimately to be humble. The people we work with have seen incredibly despair, they have been hurt by those they love, by poverty, by hunger, and by drugs. Our work then requires honesty and love and commitment. To be a part of long-lasting community change one must have such a humble loving heart and be able to meet the community in need where they live day to day. Kutumb recognizes that the choices people make sometimes are the best-case scenario in a terrible situation (having to give up their kids, turning to drugs to cope, deciding to work instead of pursuing education, for example). Kutumb works daily in the effort of being a supportive family, steadily providing services that change individuals, families and communities over time. In this way Kutumb accepts and loves and forgives.

Organizational Profile/Synopsis: 

Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam is the core value, which guides our mission. It means that the entire world is a single family. It is an integral part of Indian Philosophy which says: “‘This is my own relative and that is a stranger’ – is the calculation of the narrow-minded; for the magnanimous-hearts, however, the entire earth is but one family”. Our mission is to make this world a better place to live. To create a compassionate family in the form of KUTUMB and develop a model of self-sustainable social organization with the values of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. To empower every individual without any discrimination through love, care & support like a family.

For the past ten years, Kutumb has run a small orphanage, health clinic, school and empowerment center in the heart of the most dangerous slum in Varanasi, India. Kutumb provides for anyone in need, without discrimination.

Of Varanasi’s 1.3 million people, 450 thousand live in the slums. The women and children of the Nadesar slum live near the Varanasi train station, the most dangerous area in the city, where many fall prey to the thriving prostitution and drug-trade. Many are addicted to cheap forms of heroine and Wite-Out. They have no where to bathe, and sleep on concrete rail platforms where they are bitten by mosquitoes, fleas, rats and snakes. Like most slums, Nadesar is made up of mountains of garbage and choked sewage systems; it has little electricity and no potable water.
Slum children are at extreme risk for domestic violence, teen pregnancy, unemployment, low educational opportunities and systemic discrimination.

The root cause of this problem is global: the systematic prevalence of the severe poverty of massive slum dwelling-areas, and a pervasive cultural problem of uneducated women with no chance of employment or upward mobility. Young girls are highest risk in these predatory environments. One girl was found unconscious in the railway station with no memory of her former life, not even her name. Another, who now lives at Kutumb, spent the first years of her life as the daughter of a prostitute living on the railway station platform. When she was nine years old her mother died from a cobra bite. The next day, her three-year old sister disappeared. The sister has never been found.

Puja Singh, the founder of Kutumb calls girls like this, “missing girls.” Meaning a girl at dire risk to be lost to prostitution, slavery and drugs. Without the help of a program like Kutumb, within five years, this girl would be pregnant, HIV positive, and addicted to alcohol and drugs; she would be trafficked into prostitution, or locked into a life of servitude in the drug trade. She would certainly suffer from anemia and calcium deficiencies due to lack of nutrition; she would probably also test positive for chronic diseases like TB, Hepatitis and STDs. She would have no hope of an education, a legitimate job, a free and happy life.

Kutumb offers a free daycare/pre-school and elementary school, plus private tutoring. Kutumb maintains a free medical clinic, which provides immunizations and hospital support for pregnant women, children and adults.

Goals: 

Part of our strategy to engender and inspire hope, and promote loving, and forgiving responses to community begins with educating and providing social and medical health services for the next generation of leaders. To this end, in the next two years we would like to finish the construction of a new campus, Kutumb Village, which is in the early stages of development on a plot of land 15 km from Varanasi.

The main approach behind the current Kutumb Shelter House (KSH) was to use Environment Modification as a tool for the intervention in the life of street children. Though kids in KSH are living a better life, there are many factors that inspired us to think of a bigger solution for them outside of the slum.

The area of the present shelter house is just 100 square meters with two floors. All we have are four small rooms and two small halls. The same area is being used for a clinic, computer center, sewing center, play school and many other activities. This is the place where our kids live twenty-four hours a day, and it is not enough for them. Because of violent crime and pollution, the children cannot play outside. They long for more privacy, more space, natural beauty and a colorful sky. We feel their suffering in every moment. We cannot give them their basic human rights at the present KSH. We have been working hard to make a difference in their lives but this is not enough.

The Kutumb Shelter House sits behind the Varanasi Railway Station. Our children came to us from railways platform or from the slums nearby where they were living in the most inhuman conditions possible. Environment modification is not possible at this location. We cannot monitor and control the development of our children fully because there are many adverse factors operating in the community especially at the railway platform, which is a breeding ground of many sad stories.

At present Kutumb Shelter House provides housing for thirty-two children, which is a very small number in comparison to the number of children in need. There are many more children at the railway station and nearby slums who need Kutumb. At present there are more than twenty-five children at the platform who are under ten years of age. In our own community twelve children have lost their parents and they are living at the mercy of other slum dwellers. Recently we have encountered two families where the children have lost one of their parents to AIDS and very soon they will be homeless. This is just a small number, and every day new children are coming to the platform. We are answerable to every child in trouble; it is our duty to open the door for them. Unfortunately at present we can’t help them much with our limited space. The only answer we have is Kutumb Village.

The main purpose of Kutumb Village (KV) is the Holistic development of the children. We don’t want to just help the children; our aim is to empower them so they can help themselves and others in future. The 12600 square meter campus of KV will take care of different aspects of their lives:

Physical: a healthy body and physical strength.
Mental and Intellectual: full cognitive development which will enrich their lives.
Social and Emotional: a socially productive life leads to love of themselves & others.
Vocational: expanding choices and working in job that they love.

After the construction of Kutumb Village, our plan is to run community development programs and Women’s Empowerment Programs also in the village where we will be located. There we can also start our own government certified school to give primary education to our children with our values in practice. We can also start a small vocational center for more employment opportunities and sustainability of the projects.

Our present KSH will be converted to a Day Care shelter for the street children who will be able to come anytime for food, medicine, entertainment, or rest. Our promise and presence behind the Varanasi Railway Station will always remain.

All of this we hope to accomplish within the next two years time.

Accomplishments: 
Since 2002, Kutumb has provided meals, clothing, social services and a home when needed for 945 families and more than 27,000 children.
Currently Kutumb has created and sustained housing for twenty-eight orphan street children between the ages of 3 and 18.
The establishment of an on-site school and adult learning-center to address educational gaps; more than 950 children and 480 women have learned to read and write since its opening.
The creation and institution of a community-wide free Health Clinic. The Health Clinic offers Health Camps every three months addressing issues such as Iron-deficiency Anemia, Calcium, and Immunizations. For example, in 2011, more than 120 street children from the slums and railway station have received up-to-date vaccines.
Establishment of a community based Women’s Empowerment Program which trains women from the slum to conduct home-visits addressing health and mental health issues. They visit more than 200 separate households and keep track of immunizations, offering information on hygiene, family planning, maternal health and training in micro-industries like sewing, candle-making, computer technology and hair-dressing.
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