A group of friends travelling from a foreign land
could not tolerate the miseries of children in Indian slums. They decided to do
something, take a first step in making a difference to a few, if not all. They formed a group, sensitized their own people in another country about
India’s conditions, raised funds and established Inde et Nous, which is French for India
and We.


To cull out more facts about Inde et
Nous and to track the progress it has made so far, Veronica Cerrer, on CauseBecause’s behalf, spoke to Dominic
Fortin, the initiator of the concept that is now a successfully running
non-government organization.



It was monsoon in India. In a little
house in Dehradun, the capital city of the northern state of Uttarakhand,
Dominic Fortin sat in front of her computer sipping on her morning coffee. She
was slightly relieved that we were able to see and hear each other over Skype. It
was raining, but the bright blue hue of Dominic’s room and the conversation
that we were having distracted us from the dreariness outside.


Dominic is part of a small organization
called Inde et Nous. It was co-founded with her friend
Laurent Camboulin, Philippe Duranleau and her mother Monic Brodeur. Inde et Nous
will complete two years of existence in August 2013.


Dominic spent a total of a year and a
half in India before Inde et Nous. She fell in love with the country and its
children, so she joined one NGO. “It didn’t go very well with that association.
It was not meant for me,” Dominic confesses.


She didn’t like the way children were
being treated at that NGO, so she went back to her hometown of Sainte-Thérèse
in Quebec, Canada, and shared her experience with family and friends. That’s
when they decided to establish their own organization. Currently, there in are
three branches of Inde et Nous in Canada, France and Switzerland, all under the
association Sobhagyam.


‘Sobhagyam means to be fortunate, to
have hope. It’s an innocent word but it means a lot of things, we cannot put a
finger on one thing in English. To be fortunate, to have love, to have hope,’
Dominic says.


Inde et Nous receives sponsorships for
children between the ages of four and 12. The sponsors provide for a child’s tuition
to attend Sneha Doon Academy, where they are taught English, Hindi, math,
science, environmental studies and social science. The children also attend an
after-school learning centre where a dedicated teacher, Suman Negi, and four
volunteers (including Dominic and Laurent) review the day’s lessons and prepare
the children for upcoming tests. On Saturdays, the children play games and engage
in other entertaining activities. 


The centre is very small. There is one
closed room for Suman and open rooms for the volunteers, who teach on the floor,
along with a little kitchen where Anita, the cook, makes one healthy meal for
each child.


The organization also provides them
with doctor visits, medication, clothes and other basic essentials. ‘We provide
everything they need because all the children, except for two families, are the
poorest of the poorest in the slum,’ Dominic informs.

There are about 8,000 people in the
slums of Dehradun and more than 2,000 children do not go to school. ‘So far, we
have 37 of them. We have to begin somewhere, no?’ Dominic says with a smile.


Home life

The homes in the slums are mostly made
of wood and many lack doors, letting the elements in. Half of the homes have no
electricity; the other half have one light bulb. There are no water facilities.
The majority of the children have to walk between 500 metres and 800 metres to get
water. These conditions create a host of health problems for the children.


The children with distended bellies
full of worms take tablets. During the monsoon season, skin problems from the
humidity and the cough or flu are common. Their illnesses are complicated by
their poor diets, consisting mainly of rice, lentils and chapatis (Indian
flat bread).

Dr Baldev Verma comes once in every three
months to check all the children. If a child is sick between those visits, he
or she is taken directly to Dr Verma. No appointment is needed. Dr Verma knows
these kids are an exception. If more than one child is sick, he comes to the centre
himself. He also provides medication to the organization for a fair price.


et Nous also emphasizes health education for the children and their parents.

One little boy, Dashrat, cut his feet
and needed six stitches. His mother, who was given medication for the infected
foot, crushed and rubbed it directly on the wound causing greater harm. ‘They really
like to be barefoot and when they wear shoes they feel very strange… Every time
they come without shoes, we send them back home to put them on,’ Dominic says.


When asked about Inde et Nous’s early
successes, Dominic shared those little yet significant milestones that are
changing the lives of those 37 lucky kids at the centre.


In April, Inde et Nous had a successful
music fundraiser in Sainte-Thérèse. They also achieved two of their earliest
goals: to be able to give each child the Hepatitis A vaccine and to build a gas
kitchen in the learning centre, a difficult task in the slums.


Last year, all the children succeeded
and got into their upper classes. Dominic adds that about seven of them got
first, second and third spots in school. Even the children who struggle or have
high absentee rates—like Raju, who collects plastics and paper on the streets
to help his parents—improved their scores.


‘It’s quite amazing to see their background, where they come from. They
are so strong mentally, to not go to play with their friends, to go to school
instead. I think they’re amazing,’ Dominic says.




Hopes for the future

The sponsors not only enable the
children to attend school, they also provide money for their future. Inde et
Nous hopes that each sponsor will continue to provide for their child until
they are old enough to take on professional work and have a bit of money to
start a new life. The organization is also saving money for children keen to
attend upper studies, like Jalinder and Somni, who ask for something new to
learn everyday.


While the organization’s resources are
spread thin, next year Inde et Nous hopes to take in 50 more children.

Among the 2,000 children in Dehradun’s
slums that do not go to school, 50 may seem like a small number, but to those
children it’s like getting a new life.