“Love was where we started, love is where we are trying to reach!”
Chhoti Si Asha started as an experiment in love, and affection. This family began to not be just about us, but everyone who could possibly need us. Meanwhile, we have tried to make lives of those who chose to join us, a little more happier than it was yesterday!
Chapter 1: The Experiment
“We all are seeking for angels around, and are still skeptical of beginning to be one.”
Liza, founder of CSA, entered the sector 17 market of Chandigarh with an intention to interact with street children. Armed with just her intention of knowing, understanding and perhaps building, but with no initial plan, she met two street-smart boys, Aniket (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 tuition, 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 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. Thus, we also needed some more reliability from our workforce.
So, the Women entered through the doors of CSA, to never look back. 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.
Chapter 3: A New Direction
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.
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, 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, tuition 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. We were now teaching over 80 children everyday, trying to ensure the families were as involved in their education as the children needed them.
Chapter 4: Work In progress