Gloria Benny was a college student when she founded her first NGO along with some friends.
Make a Difference (MAD) was a volunteer-based organisation that taught English to children from shelter homes. Soon, the organisation grew to 23 cities and was working across 80 shelter homes in the country.
The experience of visiting a shelter home when she was 20 years old prompted Gloria to set up MAD. “When you are 20 is when your mind is impressionable, and you feel you can change the world” Gloria says.
Despite the obvious successes of the organisation, Gloria came to feel there was something missing. There was rarely any ‘positive adult outcome’ among the children they worked with. Many went back to doing menial jobs when they left the shelter.
In many instances, the shelters did not know where these young adults ended up.
In response to this, Gloria, along with three other social entrepreneurs — Mekha T, Aditya Surneni & Sujith Varkey — set up ‘Guardians of Dreams’ in 2015. Their aim was to provide the holistic care these children needed.
In India, as things stand, there is a paucity of data on shelter homes. This is one of the major obstacles that ‘Guardians of Dreams’ faces. Government data on shelter homes is scanty, organisations like UNICEF and Pratham (an NGO working to improve quality of education in the country) provide some statistics, but there is nothing comprehensive. Even when it comes to interventions, organisations are doing commendable work in specific areas — education, nutrition , and counselling — but there was no organisation that provided holistic care
“Something like childcare lasts for 18 years, minimum. You have to combine the various aspects of childcare under one roof for it to work.”Gloria says.
“At Guardians of Dreams, we believe every vulnerable child should receive support to achieve positive outcomes”
What inputs translate to a positive adult outcome? This is what Guardians of Dreams is seeking to understand. Last year, 50 children across 19 shelter homes in Bangalore were provided with scholastic awards made possible by a crowdsourced Rang De loan.
But Gloria and her team believe we need more than education and financial support when working with at-risk children. They have been working to create a volunteer network to map and evaluate shelter homes across districts. They hope to pair this data with statistics on education levels, literacy rates, nutrition and other data to better understand how these children fare with time.
Recently, they helped raise funds worth 20 lakhs to renovate two orphanages. They are also making sure that every child from shelter homes is provided with necessary documentation like birth, caste, income and UID certificates.
THE LONG RUN
“We believe that for a non-profit to last the long-mile, we have to make sure we have a model that is sustainable” Gloria said during her Rangdezvous talk.
Guardians of Dreams has already set up revenue channels to help repay social investors on our platform who have backed their vision. Fundraising is done through events like football matches, music concerts, baking and photography workshops. The fundraising is driven by young and committed volunteers from their three chapters in Chennai, Bangalore and Kochi, which ensures the pressure of fundraising does not fall on the shelter homes they represent.
By 2020, they are confident of becoming fully sustainable.
THE ROAD AHEAD
There is an abysmal lack of data when it comes to shelter homes or children at risk; the system of providing care for at-risk children is highly unorganised.
Guardians of Dreams is looking at data driving policy change and advocacy.
The government is taking several commendable steps to ensure some sort of uniformity, but implementation remains a challenge. Implementation and scaling up is always a challenging in a country like India.
Guardians of Dreams hopes to play an important role mediating between shelter homes and government organizations.
For example, Gloria mentioned that while all shelter homes have to follow norms under the Juvenile Justice Act and are required to provide a basic minimum of service, most are unable to do so. Those that cannot are asked to shut down
“If the shelter homes are provided with funds and told to build 3 more rooms or ‘provide nutritious meals they could do it. Many of them should not have to shut down” she says
As part of their drive to ensure sustainability, Guardians of Dreams has plans to evolve a model of standardised care and functioning for shelter homes across the city. A huge part of this standardisation is to train the staff of shelter homes
“Why can’t caregiving be as structured as teaching” Gloria asks the audience.
Indeed why can’t it? Four young entrepreneurs are working to find a solution to the question, and we wish them luck on this journey.
The Guardians of Dreams applied for an education loan that 200+ individuals helped crowdfund so they could give scholarships to over 70 children from shelter homes to help them continue their education.
See how four children are faring after getting scholarships that helped ensure they did not have to drop out of school and do work.
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