This IAS officer from Varanasi is reuniting lost children with their families

Mission Muskaan, which was started in July 2022, has so far rescued and reunited 730 lost children with their families.

This IAS officer from Varanasi is reuniting lost children with their families

Thursday September 14, 2023,

5 min Read

Nayab (name changed) was 10 years old when he was found near the platform of Basti Railway Station in Basti district of Uttar Pradesh by a local NGO. Hailing from the Shamili district of Uttar Pradesh, the boy had accidentally lost his way home. The NGO then took the child to one of the child welfare homes in Varanasi. He couldn’t remember his parents’ names or home address because he had trouble speaking and reading.

After extensive efforts led by Himanshu Nagpal, a 26-year-old IAS officer and Chief Development Officer of Varanasi, Nayab’s Aadhaar card details were located, which had his house address. Subsequently, Nayab’s family was located and brought to the child welfare centre in Varanasi, where Nayab was residing.

Finally, the child was reunited with his family. Like him, 730 lost children in Varanasi have been reunited with their families since last July. This has been possible with Mission Muskaan, which was started in July 2022 and supervised by IAS officer Himanshu Nagpal.

“Mission Muskaan’s objective is to reunite lost children found in Varanasi’s ghats, railway stations, and temples with their families across India. It is my personal commitment to assist these children and bring smiles to both their faces and the faces of their families,” he tells SocialStory.

Spreading happiness

Mission Muskan

Himanshu Nagpal pays a visit to one of the child welfare homes

Nagpal, who hails from Hissar district of Haryana, is a 2019-batch IAS officer. Nagpal recalls that initially, he had no plans to join the services. However, his father always wanted him to become an IAS officer.

During his college years, he actively participated in numerous social welfare programmes and had the opportunity to meet several public service officers. These interactions motivated him to pursue a career in public service.

“After meeting those officers and working for such societies, I felt that if I get into public services, I can help in changing the lives of so many people,” he says.

In 2022, he was posted as the Chief Development Officer (CDO) in Varanasi. While he was spearheading a campaign for rehabilitating beggars, he came across a group of children who were begging. After talking to them he got to know that those children were not from the city but had been lost.

This encounter with a group of young beggars motivated him to start Mission Muskaan.

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“Many tourists visit Kashi city every day. Children who are with their parents get separated and end up having to beg for their survival. We have found many such children at railway stations, temples, and the ghats. Some of these children have been at the child welfare centres for more than five years,” he adds.

Nagpal has 12 teams comprising 60 officers from departments such as Child Development, Social Welfare, Anti-Human Trafficking, and the police. These teams pay visits to railway and bus stations, flyovers, ghats, circles, and temples twice or thrice a week to identify and rescue children. The hotspot areas are Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Sankatmochan Temple, Railway Stations, Assi Ghat, and Dashashwamedh Ghat.

By the time the children are reunited with their families, they are housed in 20 child welfare homes wherein they are provided with education, food, and shelter. The centres also engage the children in morning Yoga classes, sports activities, and crafts and paintings. These children are also given regular medical check-ups.

Every centre has two to three teachers who are roped in to provide basic education to these children. Children are organised into groups based on their educational levels and subsequently receive appropriate educational support. The centre also has special teachers to assist specially-abled children.

For all these activities, the officer has taken the help of government funds and NGOs.

Mission Muskan

Children learning to use computers

However, Nagpal says that the task of reuniting children with their parents is not easy. Explaining further, he describes a case wherein a child had been in the shelter home for over two years, but he was not able to provide any details that could help identify his home address. After many sessions with the psychologist, he recalled the name of a place which helped Nagpal and his team to track down his hometown.

He says that the time taken for the process depends on the child.

“It usually takes 5-15 days or more to reunite children with their families. But the problem is that not all kids are the same. Some are intellectually disabled, and for them to recall any detail takes time. Additionally, they are not able to communicate effectively,” he explains.

Nagpal remembers another case involving a boy named Siddhant Kumar, originally from Jharkhand, who was discovered in Chandauli, Uttar Pradesh. When the child was rescued, he could not recall his parents' names or his home address. He only remembered the name of his village. The team sent this information to the village's police station, and the news began to circulate. Eventually, Siddhant's father received the information, but due to his challenging financial situation, he couldn't afford to travel to Varanasi. Therefore, the child welfare department facilitated the boy's journey back home.

Nagpal also mentions that it can be quite challenging to coordinate different departments. However, that is crucial for the programme to run smoothly.

Apart from this, the officer has been involved in various child welfare programmes such as providing nutritious millet-based meals, offering regular iron and multivitamin supplements, and assisting undernourished children, among other initiatives.

Juggling between his office work and running these programmes has been a challenging task for Nagpal.

“It is difficult to manage everything together, but if you want to, you will find a way. Through these programmes. I am just trying to do my bit for the society,” he says.

Edited by Megha Reddy