I stopped celebrating Holi a few years ago. I don't really know why, but maybe because I didn't like all those colours messing up my nice long hair back then :P Anyway, this year I decided to join in.
YUVA (Youth Ultra Vision Association), of which I'm a member, decided to visit the folks at Aasara (आसरा). It is an organisation working towards the welfare of homeless or underprivileged children. We visited two of their shelter homes. One in Thane and the other in the village of Digha in New Mumbai. It turned out to be a unique and immensely satisfying experience.
How does one imagine how much we have to be happy with our lives, no matter how difficult/cruel/uncomfortable/unfair it may seem? We can't really know how many privileges we enjoy till we meet the folks who are not so lucky as we are. I'll tell you a couple of `stories' I heard about a few of the children from the people working for Aasara.
One of the girls, somewhere around 9 years of age, had been abandoned by her parents. A brother-sister pair, even younger than 9 I think, had no father. Their mother couldn't afford them. These children were taken in by the shelter home. They were fed, given clothing and a home. They were schooled.
There were three or four teenagers, about to take their SSC examinations. One of them wants to be a computer engineer. Another has a job. He's a welder. Another wants to be a singer. Obviously, we asked him to grant us the pleasure of listening to him. He obliged.. and really, he sings mighty well. So what's so special about these three cases? Well, they have been in the shelter home for a decade now. They've been taken care of and they've been provided as many facilities as possible.
Aasara gets its finances off the donations from various people and NGOs. Aasara has a computer lab, courtesy of such donations. Aasara had the musical training arranged for the interested. An NGO was so impressed with the work Aasara does, they decided to finance ten of the kids. Hmmm. So, even with the absence of `luxuries', which have become our necessities, at least the real basic needs of these children are taken care of by Aasara. Food, shelter, clothing and education.
So what's with YUVA being there?
What we were told was that there was one important aspect missing from these children's' lives. Socialisation. The need to feel and be treated as `normal'. To be a part of the society rather than being abandoned from it. This gap, between the society of `normal' people and these kids, YUVA tried to fill. A squirrel's share maybe. But hey, at least we tried!
We were told at the first shelter home that initially, the Aasara people have to go reach out to the slum children, the children on the streets or railway stations and bring them to the shelter home. The mentality of these different groups are very different and it isn't really easy to get them to mix with each other, but the effort is put in. We decided to add another dimension to this. As the first step, the YUVA members visited these people and celebrated Holi with them.
The festival of colours was painted in very different colours this year, at least for me. Colours of love and compassion. Do you see them?
P.S. YUVA will be keep visiting them in the future, on a regular basis. We are also planning to help out in any way possible. Whatever we can donate... money, books, time.. Whatever we can share.. knowledge perhaps? We shall see. There's a lot to do. Wish us well.
I took a few pics, which I've uploaded on Flickr here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/floyd_n_milan/