Yashwantrao Kelkar Youth Award—2017 : Empowering Childhood
In seven years, Bengaluru based Gopinath R through his Sparsha Trust has been able to bring over 2,500 children to mainstream education and reintegrate them with their families
‘Every child has the right to enjoy a happy and safe childhood’ is the guiding principle behind Shri Gopinath’s yeoman service towards empowerment and holistic development of vulnerable and disadvantaged children in the society.
Hailing from a village near Kolar in Karnataka, Shri Gopi belongs to a family of agriculturists. He was the youngest in an educated family of four children. But his father’s addiction to alcohol rendered his family homeless and were forced to live in a hut. Gopi and his siblings were robbed of school education as they had to work along with their mother to earn a living. They had to make two ends meet by cleaning cow sheds and farming.
Bengaluru: Appreciating the work of child care, protection and development done by Bengaluru-based dedicated social worker Shri Gopinath R. the selection
Gopi always dreamt of going to school like his owner’s children. Gopi’s father who had abandoned them returned and took him to Bengaluru where he worked as a construction labourer. While, Gopi worked with his father at the construction sites, his dream of pursuing school education never abated. Witnessing his desire, his step-mother who was very affectionate, enrolled him in a nearby school. Gopi’s life completely changed from here and he determined to reach for the skies.
After his preliminary education, Gopi enrolled into the Master of Social Welfare (MSW) course. With the support of a few like-minded friends he started a group called the SWAP—Social Worker Association for People in the year 2002. Through this Association, he focussed on improving education among disadvantaged children. They approached Government and private schools in various parts of the city and met slow learners, school dropouts, etc., identified their problems and counselled them. They also organised health check-up camps, awareness programmes on education, and personality development classes for the children studying in Government schools.
In 2004, Gopi started working on child labour issues. His career started as a State level coordinator for the project of State Alliance for Education. This work led him to travel all over Karnataka for three years and to study the problems of children who were deprived of education. He decided to raise his voice to bring every child to school and also to improve the quality of the education in the common school system in India.
His consistent efforts resulted in ensuring education for many children who worked as sellers with their parents, near Yeshwanthpur in Bengaluru. He was also successful in bringing back children who had dropped out of school back to formal education at Bettalsuru.
Based on these experiences, Gopi realised that he would not be able to reach more children by working individually. He along with his well-wishers and a team of MSW volunteers, registered the ‘Sparsha Trust’ in 2005. Work of the Trust is elucidated in its vision statement which says, “To create a society free of exploitation of children and help children to manifest their inherent potential and talents”. Likewise, Sparsha Trust works for holistic development of the needy and vulnerable children focussed on promotion and facilitation of Child Rights. It is committed for the identification, rescue and rehabilitation of children from 6 to 18-year old. In the past seven years, Sparsha has been able to bring more than 2,500 children to mainstream education and reintegrate them with their families. Under the guidance of Gopi, Sparsha Trust works with a holistic model from initially ensuring safety of disadvantaged children to formal education and finally to job placements too.
Sparsha Trust also organises unique events to engage public and private enterprises in its efforts to ensure education for all. Annual events like Joy of Learning, Infinite Golf Challenge and Friends of Sparsha have successfully given an opportunity for like-minded people and organisations to get involved with Sparsha in its noble efforts.
The Trust has initiated a noble venture called Nisarga Grama which will be a state-of-the-art, self-sustained and eco-friendly, life skill development and rehabilitation centre for 500 children. The goal is to create a child-friendly space where disadvantaged children can express themselves through various creative activities and use Nisarga Grama as a platform for their overall development.
In recognition of his noble service for the cause of children’s education and as an expression of gratitude on behalf of the entire youth community, Gopi will be felicitated in Rachi on December 2, 2017 with this year’s Prof Yeshwantrao Kelkar Yuva Puraskar.