The Shade grows

Through the most turbulent times in Kashmir, certain organisations took it unto themselves to serve the destitute, mainly the victims of conflict. Haroon Mirani’s series of reports – that will be published throughout Ramadhan – profiles these institutions.  
In Kashmiri, Shehjaar means shade and soothe. Quite in line with its literal meaning, an institution by this name has been rendering relief to hundreds of people, mostly children, hit hard by two decades of conflict.
Led by Nighat Shafi Pandit, Shehjaar forms a vital part of HELP (Human Efforts for Love and Peace) Foundation and has been rendering its social service for last more than a decade. “This organization was registered in 1997 and it started working in 1998,” said Pandit. The organization started its work in a small building in Saidakadal with eight children. The children were the products of the raging conflict that had lost either or both parents.
“At that time the demand for an orphanage was huge and even after that we were getting lots and lots of inquiries for inducting such children,” said Pandit. The foundation soon found out that orphanage was not a good option to rehabilitate such children.
“To keep children in an orphanage has its own problems,” said Pandit. “The natural environment of a child is gone and he grows up with a certain mentality which is not healthy for his future life.”
The foundation soon began helping such children in their homes so that they could undertake their studies without leaving their homes.
“Currently we provide financial support to over 500 children and the strategy is going fine,” beams Pandith.
While the majority of supported children are from Kashmir valley, the organisation also helps children in Jammu. “In Jammu, we support 80 such children,” said Pandit.  
The foundation, however, discourages taking more children in its orphanage, leaving only 35 children at Shehjaar. “If we open our gates for such children, we will be flooded and that we do not want,” Pandit said. “These 35 children are those which are severely hit and they don’t have any other option.”
The educational support to underprivileged children includes books, uniforms and all other requirements. Shehjaar also provides financial support to meritorious poor students who have succeeded in getting admission in professional colleges.
“We provide assistance to such students who are selected for MBBS or BE,” said Pandit. “They later pay us back the money after completion of their training.”  The unique feature of HELP has been its continuous efforts to be innovative.
The foundation shifted its orphanage to Inderhama with better facilities in 2008. It organises extensive workshops with eminent personalities in their fields with the children. In 2007, it organised first children’s film festival in Srinagar.
“We organize workshops on Behavioural skills which go a long way in imparting better qualities in the children,” said Pandit. The organisation gives thrust on developing creativity among the children. “We regularly get suggestions for such programmes and whenever we feel it will help we go for it.”
Besides a full fledged orphanage, HELP also operates three schools at Mawar Handwara, Khumriyal Kupwara and Inderhama in Srinagar. It also ran a special school for visually impaired children, which was later taken over by Composite Regional Centre (CRC). The foundation works with Save the Children, an international NGO, in Kupwara for the development of local empowered committees, which are entrusted with serving the poor and underprivileged sections of the society. “We are working on this concept of social welfare in 24 villages in Kuwpara and the results are very encouraging,” said Pandit.
The foundation used to provide monthly sustenance assistance to widows and economically weak women till 2003. But having observed that the practice has a negative impact on their psychological health, the Foundation started income generating programmes wherein such women were provided employment and all the proceedings of the programmes were given to them.
Currently, it runs up to ten vocational centres, where women are being imparted training in various skills for earning their livelihood. According to Pandit, “Basically we are trying to empower the poor people so that they become self reliant.” Such centres have also been established at Awantipura and Kulgam.
HELP has a spice centre at Rajbagh, where women make spices which are then sold in the market. They have one showroom at Rajbagh where all the products manufactured by such women are displayed and sold.
The annual budget of Shehjaar is around 30 lakh rupees and all of it comes from local donors. Although they had collaborated with European Union over one of their mental health initiatives, it was later discontinued. Currently entire needs of the organisation are met by donations in Kashmir, which are primarily collected in the month of Ramadhan.
Pandit said, “We always strive for expansion as the need of the society is much larger but it depends on donations and if our collections increase, we will certainly increase our reach and start other initiatives.” 

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