Known as the ‘City of Joy’ and often romanticized to being a city that engulfs one with its warmth and welcoming nature, Kolkata is also home to one of the poorest slums in the nation. Poverty is not an unknown evil in this city of culture and art. The city with its heart in the right place has innumerable nonprofit organizations walking on the path of poverty alleviation and providing equal opportunities to the downtrodden and the marginalised. We can support an NGO in Kolkata doing groundbreaking work in the grassroots and the urban slums.
A study of 23 slums by Calcutta Rescue, an NGO in the city, showed that there is a huge disparity in the poverty levels even in slums. For instance, some slums were five times more deprived than others according to the survey’s metric. In several slums, no household was found to be living in ‘extreme’ poverty, while in one, three out of four households were extremely poor.
Below is the list of NGOs in Kolkata that are working to build a poverty and hunger-free Kolkata. They are not featured in any order of rank or preference.
A humanitarian organisation inspired by the spiritual and humanistic ideals of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, Parivaar has been working for the overall development of children highly vulnerable to exploitation, victimisation, and trafficking. These include orphans, street children, and extremely impoverished children from tribal areas.
This NGO in Kolkata has two residential educational institutions – Parivaar Vivekananda Sevashrama for Boys and Parivaar Sarada Teertha for girls. With over 2000 resident children, they are West Bengal’s largest free residential schools for children from underprivileged backgrounds.
These residential schools run by this NGO in Kolkata are seen as model institutions in the field, and the organisation has won several awards including the 2011 National Award for Child Welfare from the Government of India. Parivaar has also opened a residential school for children in Madhya Pradesh, which will cater to the villages in the district of Dewas and surrounding areas.
This NGO in Kolkata has been supporting underserved communities across the state of West Bengal for almost three decades now. Women empowerment is one of the cornerstones of the Calcutta Foundation. The organisation has established a strong network of women in 21 districts across the state.
It implements its programmes through a participatory approach involving the beneficiaries & community members. The organisation’s focus is on empowering girls, women and youth and promote gender equality. It provides quality Institutional care and support for survivors of violence of various forms including domestic abuse.
The NGO in Kolkata works closely with women to overcome challenges and achieve progress within the community. Calcutta Foundation works to empower women socially and financially and teaches them life skills and instill the confidence to be independent. The organisation hopes to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship and independence.
3. Sabuj Sangha
This nonprofit has been working with local communities in West Bengal’s Sundarbans for over five decades, bringing a difference in their lives through its interventions in education, health, livelihood, women’s welfare and the environment.
Committed to giving a better life to the poverty-stricken people, Sabuj Sangha runs hospitals and livelihood programmes to uplift the poor. It also creates awareness on the importance of a nutritional diet and hygienic sanitation practices. Through their Safe Motherhood in the Sundarbans programme, Sabuj Sangha has reduced maternal and child mortality through increased antenatal and postnatal care.
The organisation has positively affected over 500,000 people in over 40 years directly or indirectly. And it aims to change more lives. It is all set to achieve just that, as it has a strong presence in five districts in West Bengal, and its grassroots network is very strong in the state.
This NGO in Kolkata has been providing health care and education to the economically disadvantaged sections of society for over three decades. British physician Dr. Jack Preger established Calcutta Rescue in 1991, and since then, it has served over 30,000 impoverished people through its health, education and nutrition initiatives. The organisation has also worked in villages which were deeply affected by high levels of arsenic in drinking water.
Through one of its education initiatives, Calcutta Rescue supports 650 students living in the slums through two of its education centres in the city. The support is provided from the pre-primary stage until students complete their education and start earning. The focus is on first-generation learners, who come from difficult home environments and need utmost care. For the students who are not academically inclined, Calcutta Rescue makes provisions for vocational training so that they can earn a living via alternative avenues.
Established in 1992, Jabala works with children and youth from marginalised communities in the state of West Bengal. This NGO in Kolkata creates social infrastructure to build synergies between various stakeholders including government and civil society, for better outcomes of social schemes.
Over the years, the work of Jabala shifted from direct service delivery to a rights-based approach, and it has succeeded in preventing many cases of trafficking and child marriage.
This NGO in Kolkata was started by Kanchan Gaba, a visually impaired lady who fought all odds to obtain her PhD in International Law and then became a lecturer at Calcutta University. The organisation believes that a holistic approach is necessary for the overall development of society.
It aims to achieve it by improving the quality of life of human beings irrespective of age, gender, religious beliefs, caste, ethnic origin, birthplace or disability status. A major focus of the organisation’s work is on the disabled, in particular, the visually impaired; to provide education, and training to rehabilitate them and improve their livelihood. Its services range from providing pre-natal health care to fostering old age care; covering sectors like education, healthcare, and skill development training.
What started as a project by two brothers now serves millions of patients per year. Rural Health Care Foundation This nonprofit in Kolkata is a transgender community-based organisation (CBO) that works in various other states among the LGBTQI community and the general population, especially among those of non-normative sexual orientation and gender identity. Over the years the programmes and strategies of Kolkata Rista represent an approach sensitive to the ground-level experiences of exclusion and marginalisation because of gender and sexual divergence from the society.
The early years of KLR were focused on health, and more particularly on HIV/AIDS interventions. In later years, it broadened its work to other elements of health and healthcare within the community. It also works on broader issues of gender and patriarchy, including domestic violence, the right to education, poverty alleviation and others. This NGO in Kolkata works with the police closely and focuses on administrative level advocacy as a strategy to minimise stigma, discrimination and violence against the community.
Rag-pickers are one of the most neglected sections of society in urban India. Kolkata is no different. It is here that Tiljala Society made a difference. This NGO in Kolkata aims to empower and transform the lives of ragpickers. It has various programmes to uplift their lives and has changed the lives of many over the years.
The organisation believes that it is only by encouraging the children of rag pickers and the ultra-poor to go to school that they escape a life of destitution. It runs a project that supplements the government schooling and motivates the children to remain in education. Tiljala SHED runs after-school classes every day for 600 children from Kg to Class XII in five community centres in the heart of each of its target areas in Central Kolkata. Here the children receive remedial academic support, and English and computer lessons. Sports sessions, songs, drama and puppetry are used to enhance the learning experience and to deliver messages on health, hygiene, good behaviour and child safety.
Founded in 2009, this NGO in Kolkata has been providing high quality and affordable primary medical care to low-income and underprivileged communities of West Bengal. Its focus is on making healthcare accessible to the poorest and the most deprived communities. The Foundation has treated over 23 lakh patients in relatively a short span of time.
Ever since its inception, RFCF’s aim has been to provide complete basic health care services under one roof, to the people residing in the densely populated rural areas of Bengal at a very affordable rate. It has over 10 centres spreading across 4 districts of West Bengal, 5 in rural areas and 5 in urban areas of Kolkata.
10. Bani Mandir
It is one of the oldest nonprofits in Kolkata. Established in 1945, the mission of Bani Mandir is to look after destitute children, and isolated elderly persons and to empower women. Almost all the developmental work done by this NGO in Kolkata is in remote villages of West Bengal.
Bani Mandir’s focus is on promoting quality healthcare, inclusive education, gender equality, sustainable livelihood opportunities, disaster relief and preparedness. It believes in tackling underlying causes of poverty and thereby ensuring a life of dignity for women and girls from vulnerable communities, especially among Dalits and Adivasis. Bani Mandir also works for the welfare of the elderly through nutritional and other forms of support.
(The article was updated in May 2022)
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Former journalist Samabrita finally found a purpose to her passion for the written word when she joined the social sector. A Bengali from Calcutta she now lives in Bangalore with her husband and plant babies. You will mostly find her glued to her laptop typing and breathing life into her thoughts, binge-watching thrillers and chilling with friends and family.