Project Mera Sahara is one of the most successful endeavours undertaken by the Joint Women’s Programme. Currently in its eleventh year, this project started in 2007 with minimal resources. Currently, the Centre provides schooling (upto class 5) and crèche facilities along with running an adult literacy programme for young adults and women, which includes training in legal literacy and political empowerment. It also has a skill development centre which provides different types of skill-based classes to women, including computer and tailoring.
The children of Nithari stand as a stark reminder of the insecurities faced by the poorest children in India. In 2005 and 2006, several children went missing in and around the area of Nithari, and even after continued pleas made by parents, the police had taken no action to address the issue of these missing children. In a few months, dead bodies of several murdered children were found in the area. Following this horrifying incident, several NGOs along with members from the media exposed these murders, which came to known as the “Nithari Serial Murders”. It was only then that the police and CBI got involved to investigate these cases.
JWP’s Engagement In Nithari:
At this point, Joint Women’s Programme conducted a survey of the area to find out the needs of the community and the conditions of children in the area of Nithari. JWP identified the area where the rampantly high incidence of sexual abuse, kidnapping and carnage of children had only recently come into the fore was the Nithari village in Gautam Budh Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh. JWP’s survey of the area revealed that a majority of the population belongs to migrant population from the states of West Bengal, Rajasthan and Bihar, among others. Thus, many families who have settled here in search of a living are devoid of a postal address and any legal document stating their identity. Absence of schools, balwadis and ICDS programmes have led to acute denial of even basic facilities of education, medical attention and nutritious food for children and young adults. Lack of protection and absence of safety nets such as schools, hospitals and recreation facilities not only alienates them from the larger society but also makes them extremely vulnerable to crimes such as kidnapping, sexual abuse, trafficking for prostitution and labour, safe organs and drug peddling, etc.
Recognising the need of to provide for a protective and learning environment for over 1000 children who required immediate attention owing to acute vulnerability, JWP envisaged starting a Protection and Learning Centre, which would both function as a school for children, young adults and women, along with providing creche facilities for infants. This Centre was established with the support of a sensitized local community group to provide for every child, a space for development, survival, protection and recreation, with special emphasis on the girl child who will be the empowered women of the future.
In accordance with its belief that JWP must create a protective environment for children and women, JWP involves the participation of all sections of the society, including men, women and the youth in its programmes. This process has helped to transform the community to be proactively involved in its own development. It is with this vision that our Nithari project came to be what it is today.
How was it named ‘Mera Sahara’?
In 2008, two brothers, whose parents were migrants, came to our Centre. Both of them were extremely bright students, scoring very well in the school exams. During a meeting, the JWP Director, Dr. Chatterji asked the children what they would like their Centre to be called. One of the brothers immediately said “MERA SAHARA” (My Support) and all the children endorsed it. The Centre thus acquired its name. The children were then asked what probed their choice. The children then explained that the Centre has given them support and protection and also equipped them for their future lives, where they can be a Sahara(support) for each other.