Introduction: The objective was simple – to reach out to these who are on the fringes of our society and give them love and acceptance.
Chhoti Si Asha started as an experiment in love and has since grown into an organization that not only positively affects the community but also the volunteers who become a part of our story.
Chapter 1: The Experiment
Liza, founder of CSA, entered the sector 17 market of Chandigarh with an intention to interact with street children. Armed with her intention and no plan, she met two street-smart boys, Anike (10 years old) and Sunny (7 years old). Liza approached them and started a conversation about their lives. In this conversation the boys expressed an interest to learn. From there, the children and other members of their community joined in and built a strong relationship of trust and acceptance with Liza and slowly started to learn not just academic skills but also life skills.
Chhoti Si Asha formally started tuition classes with the children. In addition to the academic tuitions, CSA engaged the children in arts and crafts, to increase their concentration and fine motor skills. These handicrafts assisted the children in earning money which also worked to rehabilitate the children from begging on the streets.
Chapter 2: The Boys Grow Up
Slowly, the boys began to express an interest in learning a livelihood. CSA worked hard to place them in many different vocations. The boys tried everything from electrician work to plumbing. However, the the vocation that held their interest the longest was tailoring and stitching. We invested in machines and began our Stitch-a-Living journey!
As the boys grew more skilled in their craft, Chhoti Si Asha began to get local orders from different institutions. As the orders began to roll in, we realized we needed more hands and more skills. Further, the lifestyle of the street boys was such that it was very difficult for them to commit to a fixed time schedule. Therefore, we also needed some more reliability from our workforce.
Enter the women. Liza contacted another local NGO, DIR, also working in slum communities of Chandigarh. With assistance from the DIR field staff, we were connected to a group of women from Janta Colony who had been trained in stitching under DIR’s guidance. Chhoti Si Asha gave these women an opportunity to make an income through stitching. Slowly, the women learned the technique of stitching bags and in the process, also became irreplaceable resources for the team.
The boys and the women had many interesting interactions. The women used to teach the street boys about cleanliness, hygiene and the importance of educating ones children. While the women learned equally important life lessons about interacting with people from different castes.
Chapter 3: A New Direction
The Stitch-a-Living Program took on a new direction as the street boys slowly began to leave for other employment opportunities. With the program left on the shoulders of the women, they worked hard to improve their stitching skills. With their increased effort, the management team also worked equally hard to ensure that the women were getting enough orders to keep them busy, earning and learning.
As Chhoti Si Asha bags began to travel around the world, the positive response pushed us to adopt new styles according fashion trends, the women’s skill and customer feedback.
Simultaneously, as the Chhoti Si Asha team began to learn more about the Janta Colony community, where the women reside. After a year of observations and conversations in the community, we realized that children living in the colony had dismal access to educational opportunities. Therefore we decided to start a library.
Once the library was running, we realized that a library is great, if children know how to read. But these kids were barely literate. We saw another need in the community, tuitions that focused on children understanding the concepts taught in school rather than memorizing lessons and forgetting them. Therefore we started tuition classes for the children. Today, we now teach over 80 children everyday. We work hard to ensure that the children and their parents are involved in this educational journey.
Chapter 4: In progress
As we continue our work, the story of Chhoti Si Asha continues to write itself. If you are interested in becoming a part of our story, please click here.
To Be Continued ….