A group of friends travelling from a foreign land could not bear to see the miseries of children in Indian slums. They decided to do something, take a first step in making a difference to at least a few lives, if not all. They formed a group, sensitised 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
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 organisation 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 in 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 organisation. 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 organisation 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.
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 organisation for a fair price.
Inde et Nous also emphasises 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 organisation 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 organisation’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.