Photo credit: Scott Kafora
Statement from Arun Gandhi
VISION FOR Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute (GWEI)
“We make a living by what we get, We make a life by what we give” – Anon.
What broke Gandhi’s heart was that India declined to address the massive problem of poverty at the time of independence in 1947. The argument was that with industrial growth, wealth will percolate and poverty will be eliminated. Sixty years later, poverty still continues to be as rampant in India as it was in 1947 in spite of its recent phenomenal industrial growth.
Gandhi’s concern for the poor is reflected in what has now become popularly known as Gandhi’s Talisman. He said: “I will give you a talisman, whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much for you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest human you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words will it lead to Swaraj (self determination) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.”
According to the 2001 census report there are among the 500 million poor more than 90 million children under the age of 14 who are, like their fathers and forefathers, born into dire poverty and will be forced to earn their livelihood from the age of five, if not earlier. Their hope of ever breaking the cycle of poverty is as hopeless as an average person’s chances in the United States of winning a multi-million dollar jackpot.
From begging for a living in infancy these children graduate to street-side jobs like washing cars, shoe-shine and busboys in roadside restaurants until the boys are picked up by gangs to be trained for more serious crimes like picking pockets, breaking into homes leading to murders and robbery. Girls, of course, are picked up by scouts to feed the ever-demanding prostitution market in the cities. Some are simply kidnapped while others are lured with offers of lucrative jobs as domestic help and once they are in the city they all end up into prostitution and are lost to their families forever.
The Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute has embarked on an ambitious multi-pronged program to help eradicate the scourge of poverty and human degradation. Gandhi said: “Poverty is the worse form of violence,” and must be tackled on all fronts to ensure human rights and human dignity to those who are victims of societal exploitation.
The priority of the Institute is to rescue children from the poorest sections of Indian society who are the first to become victims of criminal gangs; the second priority is to build an institution that serves as a shelter as well as a learning institution where the rescued children will receive basic education – reading, writing and arithmetic – plus vocational training so they are equipped to earn a livelihood through honest and diligent service. The third priority will be to help the graduates of this Institution establish a small business or find them a suitable job. The fourth priority is to work with the impoverished parents of these children to see how best the Institute can help the family get out of the vortex of poverty that consumes them.
All these priorities, while easily defined as clear steps on paper, are, in reality, so closely enmeshed that it would be virtually impossible to address one without focusing on the other. For instance, the Institute cannot rescue children without first establishing an institution to house and educate them and book education will be meaningless without the vocational component. All of this will be contingent upon the Institute’s ability to set up a network to help rehabilitate the children and their families in decent, lucrative jobs.
And then, of course, in the final analysis, we cannot do any of this without funds to make it all happen!!