12 year old Anjali lives in a slum in Kolkata and like any slum dweller her existence is bleak to say the least. But amidst the gloom, Sufia Khatoon brought colour into this 12 year old’s life.
“I liked the educational games taught to us and the medical workshop also was interesting as we learnt .how to take of ourselves and what to do when there is any emergency. A person came from Singapore to teach us self defence. I have learnt to read well now and try to read out loud form the books which Di gave. The painting classes taken by Didi make me happy to the core as I can then draw and colour my creations.”
Sufia Khatoon’s, Our World Our Initiative (OWOI), is a philanthropic initiative solely operating out of her Facebook Page. Sufia uses social networking to aid and connect people to the socially underprivileged.
“OWOI works in a unique way,” says Sufia and adds, “People generally do not have time to give in to these activities, because of various projects we get to work with different people. People and volunteers are free to join in a particular initiative and then go back to their work schedule. It’s a big network of people coming and helping out. It has lawyers, doctors, students, Ca, Cs, corporate workers, housewives, and elderly people. Mostly the projects are announced and then taken forward with whoever wants to join, so anyone with a will to help joins in. I head the entire thing and aid people in self sustenance, medical aid and counseling aid and also provide resources to the people in need.”
18 year old Priya Sharma, another slum dweller from Kalighat area of Kolkata says, “I very well remember the first time Sufia Di and her friends had come to our school to teach us various skills. I had never thought it will be such an amazing experience. I loved the sessions on art and crafts. I still make cards that Di had taught us. Some have shown the desire to buy them in my locality. My English has improved because of reading and attending the Spoken Eng and Reading Workshop.”It’s not just academics and craft sessions, Sufia knows the importance of health and hygiene especially in slums and many of her sessions also educate people about these issues.
Priya says, “The hygiene workshop also helped as we didn’t know how to take care of ourselves during periods. We were given one year supply of sanitary napkins, books, copies, and crafts materials. I have completed my plus 10 and now haven’t got to any school. Sufia di is helping me and my younger sisters with school supplies and other necessary support. Didi insists I study more and she even is going to get me into a stitching school so that we can start a small business.”
OWOI has successfully carried out projects like ‘Santa on the Way’ where every Christmas warm clothes, food packets, pastries, toys to children and elderly are donated to street dwellers throughout Kolkata.
The ‘Beautiful Smile’ project caters to giving children living in orphanages and homes a day out. Recently children of Ashiyan Home were taken to Nicco Park for a day trip and lunch party. Another initiative named ‘Lead the Way’ focuses in spreading awareness, teaching self sustenance skills to children of slum areas and also homes.
Taking about the inception of OWOI Sufia says, “The idea occurred to me in April 2012 when I felt like helping an elderly person who was in distress and wrote an article on her and posted on my Facebook profile. It got tremendous response and help was extended to the lady by my FB friends. With this incident I got to know the power of social networking and its impact in helping out the needy. This became the inspiration to go ahead and help out children and elderly people. I hardly knew how these thing works, all I knew was that a good intention always yields results. I have been able to aid people through the constant support from OWOI supporters in Facebook.”
Undaunted with the hurdles faced, Sufia continues with her mission of helping the poor and needy. Talking about her journey, the altruist says, “My experience has been tremendously satisfying and positive. It has taught me patience. It takes too much time to gather people, formulate plans, gather donations, organise distribution and to carry out the projects. However, things always get done because of kind and dedicated volunteers and donors.”
Children are her inspiration and she learns from them everyday. “Working with the children has taught me so much. Their life is absolutely different form ours. We had values, family, education, home and all the good things in life, they on the other hand have none and survive on the roads with constant abuse. It takes patience to teach these children because frankly their interest doesn’t lie in it, they want to earn quick money and resources. But I see potential in these kids and want to instil in them the will to surmount their present situation through proper education and I know it is possible,” signs off Sufia.