It was the year 1968, a young Ramachandran and his sister saw a little child pushed out of a restaurant where it was begging for food. That scene broke his heart and deeply disturbed him for he himself had a very tough childhood living hand to mouth as he came from a large family with his father working in the municipal corporation. The family depended on his elder brother as his Dad retired when he was merely in class 7. Soon after SSC he started working at the young age of 16. So he could empathise with these kids. He knew right then that he had to do something. The young Ramachandran embarked on a life-long journey of picking up kids from the roadside and feeding them, buying them toys. Surprisingly the restaurants had no problems allowing these kids into their premises provided somebody was responsible to pay for the food these kids ate.
In those days, there was a couple that would collect leftovers from weddings. Reading this news clip gave Ramachandran a brainwave. In those days he worked for Larsen & Toubro where on a daily basis much food used to be thrown away. Ramachandran took permission from his bosses to take away that food which could feed over 300 people and carried it to the Powai Park Municipal School just outside their campus. Their lunchtime coincided with the school time so it worked perfectly and he felt the moral satisfaction of having filled so many little bellies. Soon complaints started trickling in that the garden was getting spoilt due to this practice so they started giving away that food to Sneh Sadan in Chakala. Since then from the year 1970, L&T continues feeding about 300 children daily. Gradually Ramachandran increased his circle to include the kids in 5 gardens in Dadar, the Wadala hutment. He would take the 16 seater bus that was reserved for executives to distribute the food to these kids. Though he left L&T in 1977, they have continued to help as has his brother-in-law D M Mehta who has been his staunch ally since day 1
The germ of ‘Our Children’ an NGO finally took shape in 1970 with the focus on providing food to the underprivileged children and providing as many opportunities as possible to as many children as possible. Their emphasis is not only providing basic essentials to them but also in imparting education and life skills and mentoring them to decide their course of destiny. OC’s mantra has been to provide every child with a chance to be a child.
They now work with 34 orphanages in Mumbai trying to help them fulfil their needs. They celebrate their annual day on the 1st of May every year with a Children’s Meet where children perform on a given theme. No adult is allowed on stage so the kids handle everything themselves. L&T being a large and generous corporate offers about 25 of their buses to transport the children from various locations to the venue. To support this cause the drivers who themselves come from humble background, do not charge overtime or partake of the snacks as they consider it their contribution to this noble cause. These drivers want to attend the show so they now hold seats for them.
OC has developed good relations with all institutions. They have about 120 volunteers, of which 80-90 come only for the Children’s Meet so they are in dire need of committed volunteers even if it is for a day in a month. There is help coming from abroad in the shape of Tom Verner of the Magicians without Borders where he trains over a 100 kids annually co-hosting Learning Beyond Camps for campers from orphanages and child welfare institutions. The children spend 4 days in a safe and beautiful place learning and laughing and finding the courage to go beyond their fears and self-doubts to discover self-confidence and empowerment. Others from USA teach them juggling, puppet-making, art, acrobatics, theatre etc.
ISKON helps by arranging a wholesome midday meal while Bombay Gorakshak Mandli provides 500 kgs of milk powder every month (equivalent to 4500 litres of milk) Other donors sponsor meals in institutions.
They also rehabilitate these children to live on their own, finance education at all levels, and conduct their marriages including those of HIV+ kids. At present they are desperately looking for sponsors for group homes because the government grant due from 2012 has still not come. Any reader or corporate wanting to support ‘Our Children’ or collaborate with any project that is being implemented is welcome. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.