With the mantra to give every child their childhood back, this organisation strives to provide opportunities to underprivileged children and prepares them for the outside world.
Our Children, a 47-year old organisation, brings love, happiness, and identity into the lives of less privileged children. Founded in 1970, it partners with over 35 child welfare institutions in Mumbai to run development programmes and activities. These institutions house children below the age of 18,who are orphans, from broken families, destitute, or in judicial custody.
“Our Children’s mantra has been to give every child his/her childhood back and we follow a very simple philosophy—strive to provide as many opportunities as possible to as many children as possible,”says Soumya Banerjee, member of the management team and outreach officer.
Our Children was founded by Shankaran Ramachandran, 73 and Dhananjay Mehta, 67. Ramachandran, is one of the earliest members of the computer department of Larsen and Toubro and ran his own Marketing Consulting business. He is also a trustee on the board of various NGO’s other than Our Children. Dhananjay on the other is a successful Pharma entrepreneur and businessman. He is also on the board of several NGO’s such as ‘Sanjivani’, ‘Family Home Guild of Service’ and ‘The Bombay Vigilance Association’ “B J Home for Children”, “Naigaum Social Service Society. Both of them met each other during their volunteering activities in 70s.
“The sight of underprivileged children begging for food prompted us to come together to alleviate their sufferings,” shares Dhananjay.
He further adds, “We as a group joined a couple who had engaged themselves in the collection and distribution of excess food from wedding parties. This was a spark that led to the formation of Our Children as an NGO in 1970, initially to provide food to underprivileged children. As the organization evolved and grew, its impact expanded to education, life skills, talent development, and mentoring.”
Our Children is a volunteer-driven organization and a large number of volunteers have grown with it. They are now successful doctors, lawyers and contributing members of society who believe that service to humanity is the best work of life.
Bridging the gap
Our Children wants to go beyond the provision of basic requirements in a child’s growth and welfare like education and health and create avenues for the independence and empowerment of the children. Every year, the organisation enables better lives for over 4,000 children in welfare homes across Mumbai. Since its inception, Our Children has made a positive impact on over 100,000 children.
“Our approach is to address a child’s emotional and psychological needs, by being their extended family. Our programmes provide a safe environment for children to learn and express themselves creatively and act as a catalyst to discover, grow, and showcase talent,” said Ramachandran.
The organisation collaborates with international organisations such as Magicians Without Borders to conduct learning beyond camps, where children learn magic, juggling, mime, mallakhambh, and other art forms. They also put upa performance at the end of the camp.
Our Children also runs group homes for girls who have to leave institutions once they turn 18. These are not hostels but apartment pods where four or five girls live as a family. Additionally, the girls are provided with mentorship and counselling to entrust them with responsibility and freedom which helps them be successful. “The rationale is simple: they have never run a house, shopped, paid bills, worked outside. By enabling an environment where they get to perform such tasks, our hope is that at the end of three years, the girls will be equipped to meet the challenges of the world and lead an independent life,” reasons Dhananjay.
Our Children’s Meet Programme is held on first of May every year. It provides a platform where over 2,000 underprivileged children come together at Shanmukananda hall as performers and audience.The performances are based on various themes. This year the theme was Panch Mahabhuta or five elements.
Soumya Banerjee, who was the former MD of Sapient India and also an entrepreneur and digital expert, recently joined the management team full time after volunteering for a year. “The founders and I saw a great opportunity for spreading the impact of Our Children and scripting an incredible success story using digital medium, corporate sponsorship, and increasing on-ground volunteer base,” shares Soumya.
Soumya says that the organisation aims to increase the scale and the impact of their key initiatives. “We wish to expand our group home programme to over 100 homes and we are exploring partnerships with corporates and government for that”.
Apart from this, Our Children is also looking forward to expand ‘learning beyond camp’ to a year-round activity in institutions in collaboration with leading performers such as Ami Shroff, who is a juggler and flair bartender, and Tom Verner of Magicians Without Borders.
Our Children has also started a fundraising campaign to gather funds for the organisation’s educational initiative. “But more importantly, we want to spread the news to a larger audience and gather collective momentum for a larger cause and prepare for bigger traction ahead,” Soumya adds.
Through the fundraising campaign, the organisation aims to expand the mentorship programme and education programme #SuperCharge, which provides educational support to pair the children with volunteers and students from neighbouring colleges and professional counsellors for guidance and skill development to prepare them for the world outside.