Published: 11th January 2021
This Karnataka social work grad is giving the children of migrant labourers a better future. This is his story
Gopinath R, Founder of Sparsha Trust speaking about providing shelter, food and education to poor kids who are abused, exploited and forced into child labour. He has helped thousands of such kids
When Gopinath R was pursuing his Master's in Social Work in Bengaluru in 2003, he would spend most of this time working with NGOs to understand issues from the grassroots level. That's where he observed many children who were rag-picking and doing other menial jobs. He felt that educating these kids was the only way to bring them out from such a life. That's how he and some like-minded friends of his started a group called State Worker Association for People (SWAP) in 2004. Through this, they conducted free tuition classes and other activities that attracted children to school.
In the meantime, Gopinath with the support from his relatives and friends, registered an NGO called Sparsha Trust which is more than a decade old now. Why, we wondered. He explains, "In this selfless journey of educating kids, I came across families from the Sikh community in Bengaluru. They had migrated from North India and lived close to the Yeshwanthpur Railway Station. The female children never continued school after class 7. Either they would drop out of school or sell some products at traffic signals. My friends and I started spending time with the children and tried to talk to them about how education could make a difference in their lives. Later, we got to know that 30 children from their community went back to school out of which seven of them completed class 10. We were very happy to hear that two of the kids who completed class 10 were girls."
This motivated Gopinath to start something big to help children. Thus, Sparsha Trust came into existence in 2005. However, they formally set up an office only in 2009. So what exactly has he been doing through Sparsha Trust? Gopinath explains, "To encourage girl students to continue their education and get jobs, we bought a one-acre piece of land near Hesaraghatta Lake on the outskirts of the city. Here, we built a residential school for girls called Nisarga Grama, which could occupy nearly 300 children. The residential facility includes dormitories for both boys and girls, a learning centre, a kitchen and a dining hall. There is also a library, a computer lab, a science lab, a theatre centre, an art and crafts centre and a playground for kids. We also involve them in agricultural activities where we grow vegetables. On the whole, we try to provide them with a holistic education."
Since Nisarga Grama is meant for girl students, the ratio of girls to boys living in the centre is 80:20. While some children attend government school, some others attend private school also. Around ten of these children are college-going. Amidst giving them shelter, food and helping them in any way he can, Gopinath has come upon several challenges. One of them was providing shelter for boys who were rescued from working in quarry land or even hotels. He tells us, "Since Nisarga Grama is mainly for girls, it became a bit tough for us when the number of boys increased. That's why I had to rent houses and even buildings. But once the contract ended, we had to look for a different place and keep shifting. During the pandemic, it was getting tougher to find a place for the boys to stay. Therefore, with the funds from various corporate companies, we bought a two-acre land near Devanahalli where we planning another residential campus called Makkala Dhama."
At Makkala Dhama, Gopinath will be easily able to accommodate 300 boys with various facilities and fund their higher education as well. Gopinath wants to complete this project, which began in 2018, by 2022. He says, "We were aiming to complete it in 2020 but unfortunately, a lot of funds got stuck with corporate companies during the pandemic. A few of them who had promised to help us with funds had to rethink their decision due to financial constraints. So, Makkala Dhama will take some more time to complete."
Aside from Nisarga Grama and Makkala Grama, Gopinath and his team have adopted at least ten government schools. They will be soon renovated with all kinds of facilities for students and showcased as model schools across the state. Meanwhile, the team has been developing anganwadi centres by painting walls, creating spaces for children to learn, cooking and serving food and providing clean washrooms and drinking water facilities. So far, they have developed nearly 170 such centres in and around Bengaluru city.
Sparsha Trust and its founder Gopinath R do not believe in sticking to the same project for a long time. They have initiated several projects from 2009 across Bengaluru in the interest of kids. Here are some of them:
Crèches on board
They have initiated three mobile crèches for children. While two crèches exist in Mestripalya, one is at Hommbale Construction on Nice Road. These mobile crèches facilitate education, food and healthcare for kids in construction sites so that their parents can work without any worries
Started by Sparsha Trust in 2009, Shikshana Mitra means 'friend of education' in Kannada. It is another residential centre for children aged 6 to 14 years. According to Gopinath, Sanjeevini Nagar, Kodigehalli and Sahakara Nagar in Bengaluru have a large migrating population and kids lack opportunities to study. They accommodate 40 to 45 children in this centre. So far, they have helped 8,000 children through this
Started in 2011, Makkala Mitra is funded by the Department of Women and Child Welfare, Government of Karnataka. They are located on Mysore Road and Hosakote and cater to about 60 children who need care and protection. At least 150 children are benefitted through this programme every year