Giving wings to the deprived
It requires a youth's sensitivity to bring about change in the society. This is exemplified by Dr Girish Kulkarni who has been working for the upliftment and rehabilitation of the deprived sections, particularly sex workers, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra.
Kulkarni and his friends launched a non-profit organisation "Snehalaya" in 1989 that strives to bring dignity into the lives of children living in slums, HIV patients, commercially exploited children and women, and homeless children.
As a student, on his way to school and college, Kulkarni used to see youngsters of his age standing by the road-side instead of attending classes. They were children of commercial sex workers, and it disturbed Kulkarni very much. Kulkarni, who had a comfortable home, would imagine himself in the shoes of these deprived children and the thought was very upsetting.
Something had to be done. Just getting upset was no use, he had to act to make the society a better place, the boy resolved. That was the genesis of Snehalaya. Kulkarni and his friends started a day-care centre for children of sex workers in the red light area itself and launched a rehabilitation project for them in 1994.
While so involved, he also realised the plight of HIV/AIDS affected people and started the "Spruha" centre which provides free medication, nutritious food and moral support to such patients. Snehalaya also lodges children with special needs who include street children, orphans, beggars and victims of child trafficking.
Inspired by late Baba Amte's "Anandvan", Snehalaya is also developing "Himmatgram", which loosely translated would mean "village of courage" in Ahmednagar. The village will offer shelter to HIV-positive patients who would be trained in areas like agro-based businesses and sericulture for their empowerment and rehabilitation.
Last year, Snehalaya launched a community radio station, Radionagar 90.4 FM, to spread social messages. It also operates a helpline for children in distress.
Kulkarni has a host of degrees and teaches political science to college students - a profession that would have ensured a comfortable life for himself. But the passion for social work that took roots when he was just 19 years old has motivated him to dedicate his life to society's cause. Snehalaya has now expanded its activities beyond Ahmednagar and has reached out to neighbouring districts like Nashik and Solapur.