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American gives homeless Indian kids shelter

Posted by Baburam on July 29, 2007

                                                             43701.jpgIn midst of this city in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, a booming hub for information technology and software industries, is a little home for street children. The Ashraya (shelter) Initiative for Children (AIC) is distinct from other nongovernmental organizations, for it is run by a young American woman who was a college freshman when she launched it in 2004.

Elizabeth Sholtys, 23, first came to Pune in 2001 to complete her high school studies. During that time she volunteered at a home for street children in Mumbai. Moved by her experience with the homeless children, Sholtys later returned to the country to establish the AIC.

Due to her efforts, nine children have been given a second chance in life. Basraj, 15, Akash, 14, Geeta, 10, Sonal, 8, Santosh, 10, Jyoti, 10, Sanjay, 12, Kajal, 8, and Tushar, 7, were once wandering the streets of Pune without a home to call their own. They now study in Pune’s private English school and live in a three-bedroom flat with Sholtys and other volunteers who take care of them.

A native of Ithaca, N.Y., Sholtys graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. in May with a degree in anthropology and a minor in sociology. She managed to get a graduate degree by completing her course work online.

“I had spoken with the college administration and my professors beforehand and they were very supportive, even though it was unconventional,” she said of how she managed to complete college in four years while spending most of the time in India. “I would work on my papers and send them through e-mails. Although it did become difficult sometimes as there was no access to a library.”skcv-11.jpg

While at Emory, Sholtys read about Paul Farmer, a leading physician and global health activist. Fortified by Farmer’s dedication to serve the poor, Sholtys was determined to do the same even though she was in the middle of her college education. As Pune is renowned for its learning institutes, Sholtys found it the ideal place to raise the children.

Completely immersed in taking care of the children, she had no time for socializing while studying at Emory, but Sholtys is far from complaining.

“Since most of the time I am here, I don’t get to see my friends and family. I e-mail them a lot and sometimes they come to visit me here,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have missed the college experience. I never liked the partying and drinking scenes.”

Sholtys has formed an organized network of branches across the world including Japan, Canada, Britain and Austria. The board consists of seven young group directors, with Sholtys being the oldest. She knew most of them from college in Pune.

“They are my close friends and were with me in college. They understood the problems in an Indian context,” she said.

The branch in Japan is headed by Asami Matsumoto, 22, who met Sholtys through a mutual friend. Matsumoto further came in contact with other volunteers in Japan through an Internet blog. In a phone interview, Matsumoto said she admired Sholtys as an individual who is strong-willed and can put an idea into action. Matsumoto, with the support of a dozen volunteers in Tokyo, raised 800,000 yen last year by organizing talk show events and concerts.img3kidsall208.jpg

Committing her life to the children has been a demanding but fulfilling experience for Sholtys.

“Many of them did not know ABC and so to try to get them through private schools was difficult,” she said. “Because we can’t put a 14-year-old in kindergarten, we had to prepare them with the basics. We had to very rapidly prepare them. Today we make them watch documentaries, BBC; they do science experiments and read bedtime stories. In less than two years, they have come really far.”

Even though there are millions of children on the streets of India, Sholtys believes in taking good care of a few.

As she herself puts it: “It is the matter of quality over quantity. And because it’s like a small family we can access the need of every child on a daily basis. It is much more personalized.”

She wants to take a maximum of 15 children under her wing.

Sholtys has also provided educational and medical support to 11 young girls living in the slums nearby through her outreach program.

What concerns Sholtys about the big nongovernmental organizations working in India are their ulterior motives, and their failure to set higher goals for the children in their care.

“I have lots of issues with converting of children to Christianity on the pretext of giving them meals. I am against strict rules and discipline,” she said.

To really help the children, she feels that charity workers like herself have to invest themselves entirely in their work.

“Why can’t we set higher educational standards and give them a voice so they can go on to do great things?” she said. “They know how it is like living on streets, so they can bring changes to society.”

Sholtys’ efforts to provide the children with a stable environment and good facilities have faced more than a few roadblocks.

“Our budget is approximately 24,000 dollars every year,” she said. “This summer we are opening a computer center and health education and resource center so the expense will be much more.”

Rapid development in Pune is pushing land prices up even as she searches for a new house for the children.

“We are looking for some place where children can play and we don’t have to think of the rent. Everyday I am looking at different properties,” she said.

When asked about her own career plans, she promptly replies, “This is a 20-hour job in itself. I am lucky if I can manage a few winks at night.”(Taken from-Sheena Sanam / Yomiuri Shimbun New Delhi Bureau)

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5 Responses to “American gives homeless Indian kids shelter”

  1. parag said

    hi just read yur work it’s realy great.i work with some social organisation if u can sent me some more info amy b i can do something .specily free place u r looking for u can also call me on 9422010446 thanks bye take care

  2. naren said

    great work mate !!!., as a indian thanks for taking care of our people

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