THE seeds of Delhi Council for Child Welfare (DCCW) were sown during the years of turmoil in post-Partitioned India when many children who got lost or misplaced during the horrific riots were taken care of by the families living in the Civil Lines area of Delhi. They later took the responsibility to take care of all the abandoned children that came to them. This led to the birth of DCCW in 1952.
Dr Sandhya Bhalla, with over 25 years of work experience spanning across corporate, government and the NGO sectors is the organisation’s CEO and director. DCCW’s mission is to give underprivileged and abandoned children in and around Delhi a better childhood through nutrition, vocational training, adoption, medical services, rehabilitation services for physically and mentally challenged children, and the provision of day care and non-formal education. Today, these services reach over 2,500 children daily.
Dr Sandhya tells GiveIndia about the impact of COVID on the organisation, their home for abandoned children and the lessons she has learned from the innocent infants in her care.
GiveIndia: How has COVID-19 impacted Delhi Council for Child Welfare?
Dr Sandhya Bhalla: On March 5, 2020, when DCCW was marching on with children getting ready to go to school and others preparing for the final exams, everything came to an abrupt halt with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We closed the schools and other institutions as per government guidelines.
For an NGO like ours, which works only with children, this impacted all our activities. All of a sudden, we could not run most of our programmes. All our outreach centres across Delhi had to be closed. We also had to let go of some of our staff as we could not foresee running our orthopaedic programme as well as our daycare and rehab programme for special needs children. Only our educational sponsorship programme could be continued in a modified way.
However, PALNA, our home for abandoned children, continued as before. But the impact has been deep here too as overall donations have come down.
Life in PALNA has changed drastically because of the COVID-19 guidelines and to keep our little ones safe. The older children were taught why hand washing was important and necessary, along with social distancing of both their arms’ length, in the playground, classroom and dining room. Initially they thought it was a game, but soon realised that it was here to stay as part of their regular routine. They got into the groove fairly easily.
The entire premises are spray-sanitised every two hours by our staff, and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) does a round of sanitisation every week. With no public transport available our caregivers and critical staff had to be picked up and dropped using our ambulance, the only vehicle permitted to run during the full lockdown phase. This too was not easy as it had to pass through many check posts.
The children’s activities in PALNA, however, went on as usual with attending staff acting as teachers as the situation demanded. All our staff members are proving to be our real frontline corona warriors, ensuring all protocols are followed and operations continued effectively. Fortunately, all our children have remained safe.
GI: Due to the pandemic, has there been an increase in the number of abandoned children being left at PALNA? Has adoption taken a backseat due to COVID?
SB: Though the number of children coming to PALNA has not seen a significant increase in the last six months, the proportion of infants who are sick and those with special needs has seen a rise. This increases the pressure on our resources, especially at this time, but each such child receives complete care and attention that he or she needs.
The COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions delayed both the adoption process – with courts being suspended – as well as the ability of parents who had completed all the formalities to travel down to Delhi to take their children home. This resulted in children having to stay at a home like PALNA for much longer. But the situation has now changed with the process resuming and families are taking their children home.
GI: What are the three big lessons that you learnt from the little children at DCCW?
SB: The children of DCCW have given me a new perspective on happiness and contentment, support and empathy, sharing and concern. I have seen the impact of small gestures that we often take for granted. A child’s smile can make a big difference and the love and trust that they bestow on all of us is something amazing.
As we live in a rat race, to be at par we are always wanting something. But what these little children teach us through their actions and words should make us pause and rethink about our lives and what we do. The way they relate to you as their own, is a feeling you can only experience, rather than put words to it. It is amazing how they are also concerned and care about the special needs children with them – helping them write, colour and eat, besides helping them button up their clothes and wearing shoes. It is truly said, children are our best teachers, here it is proved.
GI: Tell us about a few children from PALNA who have achieved greater things in their lives?
SB: The success of these children is an unending list. They make us proud and touch our hearts when they want to come back and give for those who are with us. We at PALNA are blessed to have such wonderful families who are warm, loving, caring and give wings to the little ones who wish to fly high. To mention a few:
Nikita, a financial analyst and a budding entrepreneur, is with a startup. She has recently got engaged and came to visit PALNA with her fiancé, bringing gifts for the PALNA children.
Priya is a professional Bharatnatyam dancer of national renown. She also runs a dance academy for children and is proponent of spreading the word about adoption in India. She spoke and performed at a fundraiser for PALNA just before the pandemic.
Karin is a doctor and medical researcher in Sweden. She and her family have kept in touch with PALNA for over three decades. She visited PALNA after she became a doctor and was happy to see its functioning from a professional as well as a personal viewpoint.
Each one of them have been supported by their families to reach the heights that they have achieved today, and continue to have a special bond with PALNA.
GI: If you had to choose between listening to music or reading a book – what would you listen to or read?
SB: A very difficult choice. I would do both at different times. I love to hear soft instrumental music as well as old songs in both Hindi and English. I don’t understand today’s rowdy music because it sounds like just noise.
I like reading non-fiction about history, current affairs, culture and religion. The more I read about culture and religion the more convinced I am that people who talk most about them have never really read and understood the real meaning or essence of it. They just talk about things based on superficial and half-baked knowledge or mere hearsay.
GI: Tell us about any of your hobbies that you discovered during the lockdown?
SB: My favourite pastime was gardening, something I had not done earlier, but I realised messing your hands with soil was most soothing. The kids and I were all charged up, planting plants in the pots and in the playground. Each one was trying to prove what they did was better than others. They even put their names against the plants and ensured that they water them every day.
I was always an outdoor games person. Hence putting on the hat of a teacher, my game-oriented brain taught numbers/counting and the alphabet to the little ones, while playing tug-of-war. Together we played 7 tiles and football and even indoor games like carrom, ludo and snakes and ladders. There was a lot of fun, flipping of the boards on losing, tantrum-throwing etc.
I then realised it was tough to get them back into the classroom. Then I struck a bargain that one hour of fun learning and thereafter back to the classroom. To sum it up, the children kept me on my toes and helped me tide over the period and kept my stress at bay.
Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan
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