In every branch of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram we give special focus to organizing programs for needy children living around our Ashrams. The programs contain a variety of activities, including school lessons, spiritual classes on the Bhagavad Gita, bhajans and kirtans, art classes, games and recreational activities. At the end of each program the children are fed a healthy and nutritious meal of prasadam (sanctified food offered to God).
Our first children’s programs were begun in Orissa at our headquarters, where we had started an informal school for poor children from nearby areas around our Ashram. In a very short period of time around 150 children were attending this program each day. Many of these children would previously spend their time begging, rummaging through garbage piles, and doing other such activities. One by one we met with these children and spoke to them about the importance of their life and convinced them to change their lifestyle by taking interest in learning and spiritual activities.
To see the transformation of these children was amazing. Most of them used to walk around covered in dirt, practically naked except for one or two torn rags. We cleaned them up by giving them clothes, taught them how to brush their teeth & take bath everyday, and provided them with daily meals when they come for classes. Now they all look like clean, bright students and are taking so much interest in learning.
Some of the children had told us that they used to go to school in government schools but stopped going because the teachers would beat them. Since they all came from poor families, and many were from so-called “untouchable” castes, the teachers didn’t like them coming to school and would not take any interest in their welfare. They would prefer to beat and punish these children so they wouldn’t come to school, while children from wealthy families were treated with care and respect.
Because no one had faith that these children could learn, they themselves began to believe they couldn’t learn and gave up all hope of becoming anything. Many of the small children would beg for money so that they could buy tobacco or even liquor. One of our smallest students who is just 4 years old would daily chew tobacco, which he would purchase by collecting old glass bottles from the trash. And children who were a little bigger, like 10 or 11, would wait by liquor shops so they could drink any drops of liquor left in people’s cups.
Our aim in organizing these programs at each branch of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram is to find these children and turn their lives around by giving them hope and encouragement. They have never been shown love or kindness in their life and as a result they live a very rough life with a hopeless future. Krishna instructs us in the Gita “sarva-bhuta hite ratah”, we must act for the welfare of all people. So it is our duty to try to help those who are in need, and who better to help than such innocent children. By taking a little time to show these children that we care for them and that we want them to succeed in life it will give them the encouragement to change themselves for the better.
Recently we have launched similar programs in different parts of Chennai and we have plans to expand these programs throughout Tamil Nadu. These children are the future of our society. By taking care of them and nurturing them while they are young we are preparing a better future for all society. Our programs combine educational, spiritual and recreational activities to bring happiness, joy and hope into the lives of needy children.