this - a nondescript house in a rather picturesque setting on the
outskirts of the city. It is a Saturday afternoon and inside, you find
your average married couple and hear the babble of many children’s
voices. You think, “‘Hmm... these people must be really popular. Sounds
like all the kids in the neighbourhood are in there.’” But guess what?
Anil and Roja are not your average couple and they are new to the area.
The many voices that you heard are those of their wards, around 17 of
them. Anil and Roja are the caretakers of the children of Chilla-, “a
roosting place for the children of sex workers."
Roja, a lady in her late thirties, greets us and sets about explaining the origins of Chilla.
was working as a counsellor for FIRM (Foundation for Integrated
Research in Mental Health), which was an organisation of medical
doctors. It was FIRM which provided the first forum in February 1999 for
sex workers to come out and speak in public. Doctors, lawyers,
engineers, government officials, poets and activists listened to some
350 workers’ stories of misery and at the end of the meeting about 10
groups were formed for the benefit of sex workers. These included groups
providing legal aid, medical treatment, education, etc.
need assessment conducted, found that there were as many as 187 of
their children in Trivandrum alone who required help. These children were
categorised into those whose mothers had homes of their own, those who
could stay with relatives and so on. In the end, 17 children were found
with no place to go. They were eventually put in shelter homes and other
similar centres but often they ran away or were thrown out because of
the stigma associated with their mothers.”
TCS volunteers with the inmates
Chilla began in 2000
and cares for these children, looking after their basic necessities and
providing shelter, education, food and most importantly, love. What
makes Chilla different is that no attempt is made either to separate
them from their mothers or to suppress the children’s identity. They are
taught to accept their roots and rise in spite of them. “We are very
proud of our children. This year, three of them have passed SSLC with
70% marks and another has got a scholarship for football in the Sports
School,” says a beaming Roja.
How do they help the children
learn? “The new government syllabus is really good. All it requires is a
little attention on our part,” explains Roja. “Also, we have volunteers
from TCS coming once every week for past few years. The difference this
has made is incredible!”
What about funds? “We have a group of
friends and regular donors who helped us buy this land. Chilla, which
once had its office at Poojappura, has now shifted to Mundakkal,
Karakulam. To raise funds to buy this land, they conducted programs like
Cycling With A Mission and Changathikuri, the details of which may be
found on their blog, http://indiachilla.blogspot.com. Some of the
prominent people associated with Chilla include architect G Shankar of
Habitat Group, Soorya Krishnamoorthy and Kanai Kunhiraman.
Anil what his hopes and dreams for Chilla’s future are and he replies
grinning, “Well first of all, I want to build a tree house on that mango
tree so that we can get a clear view of the distant hills.”
has also initiated a proposal to start a company employing sex workers
as a way of rehabilitating them into mainstream society. The company
will manufacture products like hand-bags, mats, etc. made of
eco-friendly materials. “They will be of good excellent quality like the
kind you get in Lifestyle stores,” promises Anil.
However, for the now, they are but distant dreams. Chilla’s top priority right now is trying to collecting the
remaining 2 lakh rupees it needs, to buy and register its new premises
with the government. To donate or know more, Anil may be contacted
at 938 722 4468.
Every child deserves a chance at a bright
future irrespective of his/her background. After all, it’s not where we
come from but who we choose to be that determines who we are.
- Aparna Unni