Towards a better tomorrow for the children of today
- An interview with Adwait Dandwate, Founder & Executive Director of Vardhishnu
Adwait Dandwate, 32-year old, from Jalgaon, a small city in rural India has always been passionate about social issues with a drive to give back to society. This determination led to action in 2013 when he and his wife Pranali, conducted a study of the socioeconomic problems in Jalgaon. He soon identified a growing problem of independent child waste pickers in his city. This is what led to the creation of his not-for-profit organization, Vardhishnu. His organization aims to create safe spaces and community centres for underprivileged children, particularly children rag pickers between the ages of five and fourteen.
The organisation created Anandghar, a community learning centre focused on overall development of a child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. The idea is to create a safe space for children who are highly stigmatized by the way society and schools have treated them. The centre aims at rehabilitating such children in order to give them hope.
Health and education have been a major priority. Most children at Anandghar had skin diseases and were undernourished on enrolment. Since 2016, the centre has been regularly conducting health check-ups. Along with this, children have been provided with nutritional supplements. Discussions with parents on food supply and child nutrition have also been put into place. On the education front, children have been provided with books, stationary and various activity tools. The centre focuses on making learning an enjoyable process through games and outdoor activities.
“A lot of the children were under the prejudice that schools and education were directly linked to acts of violence and aggression. They were all whacked and punished endlessly in their local schools previously. This touched me deeply and I wanted to change this mentality.” – Adwait Dandwate
Changing the mind-set of the children was another major challenge for the team. The children have been majorly distressed due to physical, verbal and sexual violence. To overcome this, Anandghar has a very strict policy of no physical and verbal abuse. Children are taught to be humble, considerate and respectful to one another. Students are also given lessons in small groups on the ill effects of substance abuse and addiction. The centre encourages children to follow a healthy lifestyle by fostering an environment of optimism and growth.
The impact that Vardhishnu has created over five years has resulted in the rehabilitation of hundreds of children. As of 2020, the organization has two community learning centres (Anandghar) and one remedial centre, located in a public school. Since 2015, Vardhishnu has succeeded to enrol over 300 children into their schools with a 90% sustenance rate. In addition, close to 95% children have given up on toxic and addictive substances. There has also been an overall improvement in the health of the children. The haemoglobin levels of children has increased on average from 7 to 10 units. Similar organisations in the same district have started to emulate Adwait’s model as well.
Adwait and his team hope that the children continue further education, especially by enrolling to institutions of mainstream education. This will provide them a life that they deserve.