Scottish Love in Action visit to Hyderabad, India, January 2024

Blog by Sheila Cannell, Chair, Scottish Love in Action

Let me transport you to busy central Hyderabad – one of the fastest growing cities in the world – in high tech, finance and pharmaceuticals, including many of our vaccines and painkillers.

But when the team from Scottish Love in Actions visited our partners, Rainbow Homes and VOICE 4 Girls, in Hyderabad this January, we spent most of our time in the slums. These pictures are of the slum where the sanitation workers live.  As a fast growing city, Hyderabad has a lot of inward migration, and the census of India assesses that about a quarter of people in Hyderabad are the “urban poor”.

You will remember that India had a bad time in Covid, but the story I want to share is how, post-Covid, Scottish Love in Action’s partners have responded, spurred into action by the difficulties the urban poor faced and creating new programmes to help vulnerable children and young adults.

These are girls in the ASRITHA Rainbow Home which we support, which operates under the umbrella of Rainbow Homes. ASRITHA also run a boy’s home.  The organisation Rainbow Homes sets standards and carries out extensive research to ensure appropriate care in the 50 homes throughout India operated under its aegis. There are about 75 girls in the ASRITHA home.  These girls are orphans, street children or from very poor circumstances. Sometimes, if one or two children move into the home, it means that the rest of the family can thrive in the community.

But during Covid, the government insisted that children leave homes like ASRITHA, even if there was no home to go to.  This has spurred Rainbow Homes into developing new Community Care Centres, with 17 of these now established in Hyderabad.  This one, where we are showing the Scottish flag, is connected to the ASRITHA Rainbow Home.  In the Community Care Centre, children from slum areas come after school for food, for assistance with school work and for play.  The young people get access to all of Rainbow Homes programmes as they grow older, including the inspirational Livelihood programme.

Scottish Love in Action also supports the Rainbow Homes Livelihood programme which recognises that as young people reach adulthood, there is continued need for intervention.  This starts at 15, when children go on the UDAAN or “taking flight” programme, when they are encouraged to dream and think practically about their futures.  They are then supported in both academic and vocational careers until they are 23 – with help and advice on careers, further education and training, accommodation, managing money, cookery, and even, important in India, marriage. These photos of Livelihoods participants are of a group of girls – yes they are all 18 – working in an Eye Hospital, and of a girl who is at college, but supporting herself by working at a coffee shop below the Hyderabad metro with aspirations to go on to University. We also met Yuva – a get together of young people who have lived in Rainbow Homes, and continue to receive support.  From what I heard, this group of Rainbow young adults  – who started live in difficult circumstances – could really change the world.

Scottish Love in Action also supports VOICE 4 Girls – which despite the name supports both girls and boys. VOICE 4 Girls take girls and boys of about 13 or 14 to large camps and talks to them about their health and bodies, safety, their right not to be married young, or enter the labour market and about planning for what they will do in the future.

But like Rainbow Homes, VOICE also developed post Covid. VOICE reports that during COVID, girls were forced out of education, with greater risks of being married young or having to enter the labour market.  Scottish Love in Action funded a project during Covid which enabled VOICE 4 Girls to deliver their programme to girls at home using WhatsApp on mobile phones.

Something unexpected happened – the girls who received this information immediately went out and shared it with others in their community.  VOICE are now developing this into a programme.  They are training 18-19 year olds at college, including those in this photo, using a program called Oorja or Energy.  Initially they give them an abbreviated VOICE programme to help them understand their bodies, their rights with a particular focus on their future and getting them into the workforce.   But then VOICE gives these young women the information they need – all in a compact bag – to become “Sakhi  Community Stars”. They then go to their homes in their city or villages to share the VOICE programme with younger girls and boys, who may very well not be at school.  This is currently a very new area of work, which we are pleased that Scottish Love in Action is supporting.

My last 2 stories are very personal.  When I have given talks about Scottish Love in Action, I have often told the stories of 2 girls – Prasanna and Maheshwari, whom I have previously met in Hyderabad.  I was delighted to be able to meet both these young women again on the recent visit.

This is Prasanna.  She lived on the street until she moved into the ASRITHA Rainbow Home.  I happened to be in the Home in 2018 on the day she received her acceptance to study nursing at Osmania University in Hyderabad, and this is a photograph I took of her then – she thought that this had changed her life, but in truth her life had been changed when, as an orphan, she came into the ASRITHA Home. On the right, this is Prasanna, now at 22, a fully trained nurse, working night shifts at one of Hyderabad’s premiere hospitals, just newly married, and still closely in touch with the ASRITHA Home and her friends there.

Maheshwari was the subject for the Scottish Love in Action BBC Radio 4 Charity Appeal in 2020.  She comes from a family of farmers who scratch a rural living. She went to VOICE 4 Girls camp, which changed her life.  In camp she learned that child marriage is wrong, and when she went home, she persuaded her father that her sister should not be married underage.  Maheshwari is now a real leader, studying B.Comm at Koti University, one of Hyderabad’s best, and wants to enter the Indian Police Service when she graduates with an aspiration to help the lives of women across India.

Scottish Love in Action will shortly celebrate its 25th anniversary of helping children in India.  During that time it has helped over 25,000 young people, like Prasanna and Maheswari, and so many others,  from poverty into rewarding lives, contributing and giving back to society. Thank you for your support on Scottish Love in Action’s journey.