The Salaam Bombay Foundation has been empowering underprivileged youth to stay in school and lead healthier lives
When Supritha and seven other children from the Bal Panchayat of Salaam Bombay Foundation (SBF) heard that a young neighbour was addicted to tobacco, they decided it was time for an intervention.
It was their first-ever mission, and despite rehearsing their speech over and over, their confidence wavered as they got closer to his home. Why would he listen to them? The boy didn’t even listen to his parents. Supritha, however, was determined. “He’s very ill and needs to understand what tobacco is doing to him before it’s too late.”
When they met the boy, they saw that his skin was sallow, and he was having a hard time breathing. “You can beat this, and we will help you,” they assured him.
A year later, Supritha’s neighbour had undergone a total transformation. “He hasn’t touched tobacco since we spoke with him. We’re so proud of him. We’re so proud of us,” she says, cheerfully.
The Bal Panchayat is just one part of SBF’s efforts to educate underprivileged adolescents about the harmful effects of tobacco, and how it will impact their lives in the long term.
The Salaam Bombay Foundation started conducting online classes for students on the ill-effects of tobacco usage and addiction
Under the larger umbrella of the In-School Preventive Health programme, SBF educates students between Class 7 and 9, about the harmful effects of tobacco and transforms them from being ‘at-risk’ to advocates of how education and skilling can lead to opportunities for a better life.
In fact, the programme also helps children build their confidence and self-esteem, and helps them lead change in their communities. They work directly with lawmakers, media, and communities to advocate effective tobacco-control policies through Bal Panchayats and Bal Parishads at the school level.
This is a crucial stage in their education as the Ministry of Education (formerly Human Resource Development ministry) says that 36.37 percent of Indian adolescents drop out of school by Class 8, citing financial constraints and the need to support their families.
The Foundation has mapped all the key triggers for secondary school dropouts and has curated a programme, combining alternate and innovative education tools within the formal secondary government school system.
Supporting a brighter future
Since its inception in 2002, SBF has supported at-risk adolescents between the ages of 11-17 by engaging them through in-school secondary school leadership, and after school sports, arts, media, and vocational skill programmes.
SBF has three main programmes — In-school Preventive Health programme, Project Résumé, and DreamLab. These programmes focus on constructive learning with effective skill building, while ensuring students are encouraged to think about a sustainable future and build progressive career paths. It aims to ensure that students and parents continue to see value in education, and are inspired to stay in school.
Harsha Ganesh Jain, a Class 9 student at Gokhale Road English Secondary School, is one of the beneficiaries of the programme. He has been part of the Preventive Health programme for two years.
“I have had the chance to participate in so many events like a zonal competition, where I won the 3rd prize and received a certificate. I was also part of a food festival, where I stood 3rd again. As a ‘health monitor,’ I have been spreading awareness about health and the importance of eating the right food. This programme has given me a platform to realise my potential and talent. Before joining the programme, I had no knowledge of tobacco, but today, I am aware of its harmful effects, and what it can do to our body,” he shares.
Teachers are equally appreciative. Rashmi Bhandary, an educator at Chunabhatti MPS School, says,
“I want to thank the Preventive Health programme for its remarkable contribution in spreading awareness regarding the harmful effects of tobacco and educating students on nutrition, mental health, and physical health, especially during the lockdown. During the Ganpati vacation, the programme went out of its way to organise online activities for each of the 10 days of holidays. The programmes have been planned and presented well.”
Curating a comprehensive programme
The Preventive Health programme comprises three major sub-initiatives:
The In-School Tobacco Control Leadership programme
As part of this programme, students are encouraged and educated to follow healthy practices, which they then share with their communities. It also educates them about the dangers of tobacco, and how to resist peer pressure.
The students become ambassadors of change, which has also led the programme to be called the Super Army. The programme has a presence in six cities and has impacted about 2,00,042 students. In fact, SBF has also developed a digital module with information and interactive games, which has helped the programme increase its reach by connecting with students virtually.
Knowledge on Health and Nutrition for Adolescents (KHANA)
Project ‘KHANA’ – educates school children on the importance of proper nutrition, and encourages them to become ambassadors of healthy practices within their community. The young ‘health monitors’ encourage their peers and their families to eat balanced meals with affordable ingredients. They also teach them the importance of hygiene when preparing food.
Over 1,480 health monitors have been trained to lead nutrition awareness activities in their communities, and 500 of them have reached out to 12,000 mothers through 159 community-based nutrition awareness workshops.
LifeFirst’s research-based model has been used to build a de-addiction programme and promote a safe, tobacco-free environment. The programme has been specially developed for the workplace and healthcare centres, while a special module has been adapted for students between Class 7 and 9 of municipal schools.
In 2019-20, the programme was implemented at 101 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and government-aided schools.
Beyond the classroom
The SBF has also started other initiatives to help students achieve their future career goals. These include:
Project Résumé — The project helps adolescents build self-esteem, confidence, and shape them into role models for younger adolescents in their communities. Project Résumé includes an Academy of Sports, Academy of Arts, Media Academy, and the skills@school programme.
DreamLab — Established in 2018, the DreamLab initiative provides market-based internships to SBF alumni between the ages of 14 and 18 years to help them make informed decisions for a career through the ‘Learn, Earn, Grow’ model. the foundation has partnered with several companies, including Future Group and Monginis, where the interns learn industry-specific skills to reach one step closer to their dreams.
COVID-19 and other challenges
While LifeFirst involved in-person interaction, the pandemic made it necessary to connect remotely. It was also a time where isolation and distance from peers made people more vulnerable to addiction, putting them at greater risk of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
Online presentations were developed and shared during group sessions to educate students, encouraging them to join the programme. WhatsApp groups were created where students, teachers, and LifeFirst counsellors shared information. Those who needed one-on-one counselling were attended to immediately.
Another challenge was that the BMC had to accommodate multiple NGOs seeking to implement their programmes in schools. School principals and teachers are under pressure to complete the academic curriculum on time while accommodating these programmes.
To counter this, a government regulation restricting the number of NGOs working in the schools, as well as the number of hours allotted for these programmes, was implemented. However, the civic body has always supported SBF and its initiatives. Where time was short, programmes were digitalised to achieve impact within the limited time allotted.
As of April 2019, SBF has reached over 550,000 adolescents aged 11 to 17 years in 300 public schools across Mumbai, out of which 250,000 are girls.