John Paul Hamilton, Associate Director, Dasra: "For anyone that has not visited a charity at the place where it does its work, I think you are missing out on positive experiences you will find it hard to get elsewhere. I've just spent two hours with some wonderful kids in the red light district of Kolkata. We had to walk past grim-looking men and lipsticked, tragic, ageing prostituted women to a small centre with 25+ young people and their smiling carers. These kids (aged 3-18) come there after school to get them out of the toxic environment and out of their toxic homes (though have to be returned at 10 pm each night). Their parents are in the trade and/or alcoholics & junkies. The kids walk daily through this area filled with women looking for grim work and risk abduction each day. Yet they gave us a lovely poem recital, did a moving & beautiful dance performance and then we all chatted about Messi, Ronaldo, Shah Rukh & Salman, where Scotland was on the globe and what people wanted to be when they grow up (police, teachers, dancers etc.). It couldn't have made clearer the truism we know in the sector of 'every child deserves a childhood.' Well done to the team there and I salute the lovely kids and their helpers."
Rebecca Shilliday, Training & Development Intern/Kolkata, International Justice Mission: "It was a new exposure to another anti-human trafficking module, where the focus is more on prevention. South Kolkata Hamari Muskan is deeply involved with educating and empowering children of prostituted women who are vulnerable to the continuous and hopeless cycle of becoming forced into commercial sexual exploitation, as children of those in the 'sex trade'. To see such an educative approach thrive in an active red light location with the support of the trust relationship the organization has established with the brothel-related people, and the parents, was impressive and eye-opening! It was also very mind-blowing to actually see an active red light district. Seeing young and old women with a lot of makeup standing by the walls and doors of deteriorated buildings and roads gave me a new perspective into what our victims of human trafficking must have gone through. The reality of sex trafficking became clearer for me, as I saw lifeless looks on the faces of these women. This experience will continue to help me grasp the reality of sex trafficking underneath the statistics we handle with every day. The visit was good because I got to see a different perspective on the work with women in red light areas. South Kolkata Hamari Muskan is a very niche organization that serves children living in these areas. Because they serve the children living in Bowbazaar and Songachhi, they have a unique relationship with the owners of social dens and even the pimps in the area. I think there is a lot to learn from organizations like South Kolkata Hamari Muskan because of their unique relationship with the local community, while they pursue their mission of service. I think it was also good that as interns, we got to see a red light areas since we hear so much about them but have few opportunities to actually visit one. It was the first time here, in Kolkata, that I had been able to walk through a red-light area without rush or hurry, and really just take in what the area is like. I appreciated that." Also, hearing about the comprehensive programs they have for the children, young people and mothers, helped me to see what is needed for this at-risk community to survive, and hopefully thrive. South Kolkata Hamari Muskan’s work is in many ways different from the work in the shelter homes. The visit helped me to see that South Kolkata Hamari Muskan’s way of working has some advantages over the shelter homes, although also some disadvantages. E.g., of an advantage: In shelter homes children are often passing through. Because of lack of continuity, it is hard to teach children any skills properly. However, in South Kolkata Hamari Muskan, because they are working within the community, and the children aren’t moving out of the community, they get to follow up and work with the same children over several years, which allows them to really impact those children’s lives."
Neil Ghosh, Executive VP, Global Fund For Children: Investing in human resources is critical to any organization seeking to make a real difference in people’s lives — and not for the reasons you may think. A strategic plan requires a qualified team to execute it. But more importantly, developing human resources is at the heart of how we build trust and promote lasting social change.
I saw the critical importance of such investments firsthand, when I visited South Kolkata Hamari Muskan, a grassroots organization working with children living in the red light district of Kolkata, India. SKHM helps those children break the familial cycle of exploitation through education, therapy and other capacity-building services.
Perhaps more importantly, they build local capacity by hiring staff from within the red-light districts. “Two of our key workers were prostituted women,” said Program Manager Rohini Banerjee. “One was an orphan who grew up on these streets, and three of our teachers come from households where prostitution was a part of the reality in which they grew up. Our workers know the area and its people with a degree of familiarity,” she said, “that helps us access households other organizations can not.”
I also spent time with the children living in the red light district and saw how important it is that these programs are homegrown, and rooted in the communities they serve. It became clear to me that trust cannot be manufactured or improvised. That is why it is imperative that any sustainable development model include grassroots organizations and long-term capacity-building strategies.
As a child, I saw the power of capacity-building when I watched my dad mentor troubled kids, and even bring them with us on our family vacations, to support their reintegration and healing. I also learned from my childhood experience in Kolkata how building the local capacity of grassroots organizations and their staff helps to develop stronger, more inclusive communities. When it comes to reaching out to the world’s most vulnerable children, organizations deeply grounded in the community are uniquely positioned to equip youth, and especially girls, with the skills, knowledge and resources they need to thrive.
Investing in local human resources, as these examples so vividly illustrate, is a win-win situation: The organization earns credibility and insight while also strengthening the community it serves. SKHM has taken this process a step further by forming an informal board whose members are drawn from the community. By 2025, the administrative staff plans to transfer management entirely to the community board — freeing former staff members to begin to replicate their efforts in Kolkata’s other red-light districts.
While skills in areas such as monitoring and evaluation, management, fundraising and informational technology are essential to any organization’s success, resources for acquiring these skills are limited in the developing world. Many funders ignore the need for capacity-building, compounding the problem. To be frank, if all we do as philanthropists, government agencies, private sector and development actors is simply to support programs financially, we are setting up those efforts to stall — or fail — after we are gone.
By contrast, building local knowledge and skills can facilitate sustainable progress.
Click here to read Mr Neil Ghosh's entire article
1. SKHM is the first-of-its-kind Kolkata NGO to implement play and art-based therapy in RLAs to gauge vulnerability of women and children, and addresses them with psychological intervention methods.
2. SKHM started working with 16 children in November 2009 and by 2018, it has reached 255 children (approximately) in Bowbazar & Shonagachhi.
3. In July 2016, SKHM inaugurated a new centre at the Shonagachhi red light area. Currently, there are two centres in Shonagachhi.
4. SKHM has enabled 30 mothers, 30 fathers and 60 youths in Bowbazar area to access therapeutic counselling, vocational and skill-building training and has supported them to choose alternative livelihoods.
5. SKHM has put 195 children into mainstream schools.
6. SKHM has identified and referred 11 (exceedingly) vulnerable children to residential schools.
7.SKHM is the only NGO to operate on Abinash Kaberaj Street of Shonagachhi.