Act and Help orphanage- Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India (Oct 2012)

by tkos on November 20, 2012

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We are delighted to announce the details of our second project in India and the seventh for the trip so far! After meeting countless NGO’s and micro finance companies, we learned that there are many opportunities for poor people in India, provided they are willing to work for it. As we believe in providing opportunity as opposed to charity, it was very difficult for The Kindness of Strangers to find a sustainable, worthy and credible project. On the other hand, it is fantastic to see such infrastructure and systems set up for self made opportunists.

Then we met Promod. A man who used to work for an NGO in Varanasi whose focus is with the children of sex workers. That’s when we realised there is no system set up to help these children to help themselves.

So who are Act & Help?

Act & Help was founded by French journalist, Elisabeth Bernard in December 2007. After spending time in 2005 & 2006 working  in slums, leprosy villages and with the homeless in  railway stations and ghats, Elisabeth wanted to create an opportunity for women to break the cycle of poverty, drugs and prostitution.

In 2006, Elisabeth had sourced funding to open a dispensary in the railway station. Giving hope, opportunity and jobs to women, one after another, the dispensary was a project that responded to the immediate situation and a lifeline to those who needed it.

In 2007, wanting to take this further and provide prevention rather than cure, Elisabeth sourced further funding through the Elle Foundation in France and rented a house turn orphanage for the children of the women, far from the railway station and  the environment that entrapped the women of Varanasi. Act & Help have fought their way through the mountains of red tape and Indian bureaucracy to legally provide shelter for 22 young girls aged between 5 and 15 years of age.

Where do they find the children?

This is potentially one of the most difficult aspects of Act & Help. Some of the children have just been abandoned. Some children were offered up by their mothers for a better quality of life and for some, it is an indefinite, yet temporary situation.

How can somebody from France manage an orphanage in India?

TKOS understands the difficulty of running a project from abroad better than most, and we take our helmets off to Act & Help for the way this has been handled in Varanasi, India.

In 2012, Act & Help selected AshaDiya Foundation to assist with the Disha house operations. AshaDiya is an Indian non-profit company, established by its founders for the purpose of providing relief to people in need and to promote and assist in the advancement of education, health and the improvement of lives of needy persons. After permission has been obtained by this NGO, Act & Help France will send money to AshaDiya to cover the Disha house operations with a clear mention of the application of the funds and a detailed list of expenses to be funded by each transfer. A monthly accounting and narrative report will be established by AshaDiya to confirm that the funds transferred have been applied to Disha house expenses as detailed and identified by Act & Help.

This was something that greatly appealed to TKOS.

How big is this project?

This project is small enough to see real change in real people. For The Kindness of Strangers to be invited to the Disha house and meet the 15 children, we immediately had complete faith as to the credibility and authenticity of this project. The children are well cared for with three full time ‘mothers’ , one of them who lives with them.

The house is protected day and night by two full time guards, plus one part time guard to covers days off and holidays.

All the children of the appropriate age attend school every day and all children are well clothed and fed. Saying that, there are no luxuries in the house. All children share two bedrooms, sleeping on straw mats next to each other. There is no computer, no television or radio. The house is incredibly clean and well looked after. It is obvious that every penny is only spent on essentials.

How much does it all cost?

In order for the orphanage to stay afloat, Act & Help must find €36,000 per year. This includes:

  • Rent for the Disha house, equipment, supplies and maintenance of the house
  • Three meals a day for the 22 children, plus four adults (the ‘mothers’ and one guard)
  • Clothes
  • School fees, books, uniforms and educational supplies
  • A teacher for coaching clas five days per week
  • Salaries for the ‘mothers’ and security for Disha
  • All associated legal fees
  • Psychologists and counselors for the children
  • Healthcare and medical treatments
  • A teacher salary for sewing class at home twice a week
  • A teacher salary for kathak class at home (traditional dance, vocal art and tabla rythms) twice a week

How has it been funded so far?

Elisabeth explains:

“It is important to know that “ Fondations d’Entreprise”, the Company Foundations, have their rules : they support humanitarian projects during a limited time only. Fondation ELLE has supported Disha House since 2008, we have received their last contribution in 2012. It was a beautiful, exceptionally long support, but it is finished. The Fondation Air France has joined us in 2011, but they never renew their engagement, they help for one year, no more – unless we start again the long process of submitting a project : it took 18 months between the day when I have submitted Disha House to Air France and the day when they have helped. It was a generous help, but the system cannot keep on our little girls on a safe long road, obviously.”

What happens now?

Act & Help are now pursuing private funds, in order to raise €36,000 per year. If Elizabeth and her team fail to do this, the children may be forced back onto the street, almost certainly impairing any opportunity of a ‘normal’ life.

We are proud to give £1000 to this worthy operation and only hope that we could give more.

Elisabeth is seeking 120 private donors to contribute €25 per month to ensure the safety and security of her 22 Varanasi children.  She will also accept one off donations. You can write to them at or via the website.

Can you be one of those 120 people? If you can’t, then perhaps you could share this post to help find somebody who can be.

It is a rare and beautiful find to witness an operation where you can feel the dedication, integrity, passion and trust of those people involved, knowing that not a penny is wasted, and that you can see the positive changes made in the smiles of the children.

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