Modest housing is a distant dream for many in the national capital region (NCR). Bawana, on the outskirts of Delhi, was a dingy, congested Jhuggi Jhopdi Colony (JJ Colony) with overflowing drains and apathetic local leaders. Today, it can boast of hygienic single room brick homes where many of the slum dwellers have been rehabilitated, thanks to the Robin Raina Foundation (RRF). Till date, the RRF has provided 1,732 families with pukka homes for free. Plans for 6,000 similar constructions are underway.
As part of the beautification drive ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, slum dwellers from across the capital were resettled in Bawana in exchange of a small piece of land allotted to them by the government. Bawana is now home to thousands of such displaced people.
When Raushanara’s family was relocated to Bawana from Yamuna Pushta in Delhi, they were given a small plot for Rs 7,000. “It was not given to us for free. We left our homes and came to this place which was a jungle then,” said Raushanara. The 58-year-old bespectacled woman had never lived in a pukka makan all her life. Displaced and disheartened, she used to do odd jobs earlier, near her slum, to support her family of five. “When we came here we had nothing, no jobs, no home but only a piece of land. We built our houses with sticks and sheets. Fires would break out every day, destroying our constructions and killing our neighbors. We used to cry day and night, we had nothing but a piece of land,” said an emotional Raushanara. Gaining her voice she continued, “At the time, Robin Rainaji came to our help like a messiah. His foundation first brought schools for our children. Then RRF gave us homes. They gave us a permanent shelter for our families. They gave us hope.”
Robin Raina, an Atlanta-based NRI is the chairman and CEO of Ebix.in, which trades on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the ticker symbol EBIX. “We began with free education in the slum areas, but still the dropout rate remained a consistent problem. We discovered that constant migration from one place to another was the major reason why kids couldn’t focus on their education. That is how the idea of Slum Housing Project (SHP), Bawana emerged,” said Raina.
Pradhuman Gupta, project manager, SHP, Bawana, said, “RRF has been working for the last nine years in the JJ Colony, providing brick homes to the slum dwellers at zero price and two conditions only — first, they are not allowed to sell/rent their homes before seven years and second, that they’ll have to send their children to schools.”
Their major challenge, Raina said, was not to allow others with vested interests to interfere in their mission. He said, “When we started in Bawana, everybody wanted to join in. We wanted to do our work minus any vested interests. It became hard to convince people to let us build houses on their lands, because they were being misinformed about us and our intentions. But the people there knew us and believed in us.”
Other challenges included convincing parents to send their children to school willingly. Arjun, project manager, RRF Educational and Child Care Development Centre (ECCDC), said, “RRF established a learning centre nearby, so parents had no excuse not to send their children to school. We have provided a bus to pick and drop children to and from the JJ Colony and also provide a play-way service within the school, where elder siblings can leave their younger siblings in the care of teachers while they concentrate in their studies and their parents earn their meals.” The whole facility is free of cost. Arjun, who has been part of the school for 10 years now, is a favourite among the children. He too was raised in the slums.
Through his graduation and post-graduation, Arjun continued his work with the RRF, just like the other teachers at the school.
At present, the school has a strength of 300 students across various age groups. The education centre prepares them for admission in schools and helps with all the formalities and paperwork. Once a student secures admission, the RRF’s education centre continues to help the student with “remedial classes” that support students, who face challenges of studying in a public school for the first time. These remedial classes help them academically as well as act as counseling sessions for the children who find it hard to cope with the transition. For young girls who want to study as well as earn a living, RRF also runs a stitching centre in the area.
“I want to make charity fashionable and cool. I want to attract the youth towards it. I believe that the concept of charity goes beyond money; it is about how you are able to relate yourself with the suffering of others. I have no inhibitions in popularising the good work I am doing. You have to get it out in the world to let people know that charity can be ‘cool’ too. All I want is to leave happiness behind because I know coffins don’t have pockets”, said Raina.