“It all began with a maddening rage,” narrates Anu Suraj, still fuming as she recalls the days when she used to helplessly read through news reports of children being abused. Not a person to keep quiet about it, she raised her concerns on social media platforms. To her surprise, she found a good number of her friends sharing her views. “Everyone wanted to do something to make a difference,” she says. That marked the birth of Swaraksha Charitable Trust, an NGO based in Kochi which works towards providing child protection services.
There is no point in simply becoming keyboard warriors, she says. “People are going to talk about a grave issue such as child abuse for just two or three days and forget about it! An incident that absolutely shocked all of us was the one where a child was abused by her instructors on a school campus in Bengaluru. So we got thinking about it and decided – why not spend some time to do something about it? Why wait till it happens to our own kids,” says Anu, who is an educator and co-founder of Swaraksha.
Swaraksha is the brain child of Anu’s husband, Suraj, an IT professional. “Children often do not know to distinguish between love and abuse of any kind. They do not know how and where to draw the line and that is one of the things we are teaching through Swaraksha. We teach them what is good and bad and how to be assertive and face situations with confidence. We also handle separate sessions for parents.”
She adds, “Psychologists, educators, home makers, IT professionals, lawyers, doctors, government employees, those working for kids with special needs, those working on night shift jobs and friends from every other field came together to give their inputs on how make this work. The team around me is really strong, a group of people who are dedicated to the cause. When we started in 2014, most of them were scattered across the globe. So we created an FB group where all of them dropped in materials that we could work with. Most of these people are either mine or Suraj’s friends.”
“Our next step was to forms groups based on what each of them are good at. For around three years, we worked as an ‘AOP’ (Association of People). We then felt the need to register and two years ago, we registered as an NGO.”
Swaraksha comprises mainly of women, both working and homemakers, who fish out time to empower children. “The team also has mothers of two kids with special needs. They were able to guide me on how to help kids with special needs,” explains Anu.
The team covers every age group of children, irrespective of gender. “We were even invited to daycares. For these sessions, we had to conduct awareness class on different types of abuse, like the fine line between physical abuse and disciplining.”
Apart from handling sessions at playschools, daycares, special schools and rural areas, Swaraksha, right now, is planning to perform a street play. Explaining how big a challenge it is, Anu says, “Many of our team members are working women. Of the 15, at least 12 are active on the field at a time. New volunteers too are joining.”
The team uses innovative methods to drive in their point – short plays, interesting skits, dramas, role plays-cum-puppetry and Power Point presentations. “For little ones, there were sessions when one of our volunteers used the voice of the animation character Dora to teach them the do’s and don’ts,” explains Anu.
Anu, who is also a professional Mohiniyattom dancer, put her dancing skills to good use as well. “The dancers in the group came together with an interesting choreography to teach young children,” she adds.
Swaraksha’s turning point was when they received support from the Police department and the Cyber Cell.
“We took real case studies and made it into stories, shared it during our sessions and asked how they can protect themselves in such situations.” One of the rising requests the team face is awareness about cyber safety. “In December, we handled a very challenging session on Cyber Safety for representatives of 30 schools.”
Their current plan is to focus on rural areas. “We have joined hands with Thrissur Rural Police for this. We also conduct awareness sessions in rural areas of Wayanad,” she explains.
The journey so far has been very gratifying for Anu and co. Smiling, she says, “We have been able to conduct sessions for around 7,000 kids by now. I hope we have touched or made a difference in the lives of at least some of them.”...