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Yasmin works to turn scars into stars for Kolkata’s slum children

Rita Farhat Mukand/ Kolkata

Turning scars into stars was the theme line of the Stars Welfare Society in Kolkata. I happened to be at a recent event of the Society for children to gather this beautiful story of caring and sharing. It all started in the 1990s in the Tangra area when Yasmin Chung had a strange stirring in her heart on seeing hundreds of little children in the streets running around in rags, rummaging through garbage piles to find stale food that they gobbled hungrily. 

This led Yasmin and her husband Kafa to distribute snacks and juice to the street kids. She was amazed to learn how delighted they were with tiny gifts, responsive to the attention they received, and their inquisitiveness to learn more. This motivated the couple to start visiting their slum dwellings to give snacks, share cheery stories, teach them songs, and instruct them on hygiene.

Yasmin said, “They had great potential and untapped talents.” It was at this point that she and her husband Kafa decided to start a free school for underprivileged children. They started with a room, a handful of children, and a teacher, but one by one, the children living in the slums started to come. They heard education was free and would get a hot midday meal, tasty temptations for the hungry.

Happy Kids at Yasmin’s school

Yasmin shared a particularly heartwarming story and said, “Ashwini Banjare was a tender soul, and she found her way to our center at the age of 12, having tragically lost her mother and sisters in a gas blast near their slum home. Enduring the pain of partial burns, Ashwini received compassionate care and treatment from our team. During her time with us, beyond acquiring a good education, she also delved into the art of sewing taught by Anjum, a Muslim lady gifted in the craft of tailoring. Raised by her grandmother, Ashwini eventually returned to Bihar. Over the years, we learned that she had not only healed from her past but had also embarked on a remarkable journey. With resilience and determination, Ashwini established her own tailoring business, turning adversity into the fabric of her success story. Our dream came true with Ashwini’s scars turning to stars!”

Teachers like Anjum, Shaheen, and others joined the society, and students’ numbers rose to 150. The society’s main mission is to work on the changing the lives of slum children through informal education, hygiene practices, and providing nutritious midday meals so that they can earn a living. 

They also offer vocational training programs, including learning computers, sewing, stitching, gardening, crafting beautiful candles, and chocolate-making initiatives to empower women, enabling them to become self-sustained and manage their households. They have trained women to produce and sell paper bags.

Children displaying their gifts

Yasmin says it is wonderful to witness wealthy Hindus reach out to help these children who are from all communities and religions and these gestures pour out the essence of love with communal harmony. Stars aim to rebuild women’s and children’s self-image, foster self-reliance and self-confidence, and develop their skills as human resources for the socio-economic development of the nation transcending barriers of caste, creed, religion, or politics.

During COVID-19, they fearlessly and selflessly served the community, reaching out to various poor people in different vicinities and distributing food and medicines. During natural catastrophes such as floods, they also distribute food, and medicines and render help to the people suffering in the society.

Christmas and all festival times are thrilling times for the children as they gather together for snacks, and hot drinks, while they are busy practicing their dramas, dances, and songs. The children were also invited to perform dances at several elite functions all over the city. During Christmas this year, amid exceptional performances, the school came alive with enchanting Christmas plays that vividly convey the spirit of the season. 

As children joyfully frolic about, engaging in spirited games, they build memories of their happiest moments. Amidst the merriment, they indulge in sipping on warm chocolate or tea, nibbling on delightful chips and Christmas cakes, all while eagerly receiving exciting Christmas gifts that add to the festive thrill at the school. Stars Welfare Society also gives them a delicious hot pre-Christmas lunch.

 

Children in school

The aim of “Turning Scars into Stars of Stars Welfare Society has come true and the dreams of children living in slums have come true, almost as if a fairy wand touched their lives, infused the magic of glittering stars, taking these children to the most exotic elite places in Kolkata not only to perform in dances. 

This Christmas, some affluent Hindus sponsored a delightful lavish dinner for the children held at the five-star hotel, JW Marriott in Kolkata. Presently, during the festival of Makar Sankranti, all the children are entertained at the star hotel, Taj Bengal in Kolkata sponsored by a wealthy Hindu group revealing a harmonious spirit that goes beyond caste and religion.

It is commendable that most of the children that Stars Welfare Society has supported have grown up to work in reputable companies like TCS and Lexus, become managers in restaurants in Raipur, serve as assistant chefs, and teach in village schools. Their ultimate goal is to help children get into mainstream schools from their Early Learning Centre and merge into society as responsible human beings.

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“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is the famous tagline Stars Welfare Society lives by. This philosophy has been held to time. Due to the stupendous work involved, Stars Welfare Society requires donations to carry on their organization and every little bit counts to making a big difference in a child’s life. Stars Welfare Society reaches out to every community without discrimination to give every child an equal opportunity to expand their horizons, grow to be great people and become mighty contributors to society.

Rita Farhat Mukand is an independent writer

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