So often when we grow up in adversity ourselves, we realize the importance of helping others who are going through distress. Such is the case with Anil Kudia, who grew up in a poor and backward-cast family in the town of Nagar in Maharashtra. While the family was large, with 8 uncles and aunts and their children, they all depended on his grandfather for sustenance. “My grandfather was a sweeper in the military. For many years we grew up eating leftovers from what he got from work,” says Anil.
After completing his 10th standard, Anil began teaching kids in his community. In ’89, he volunteered with Snehalaya, an organization for the upliftment of marginalized children started by Dr Girish Kulkarni and a few other like -minded people in Ahemadnagar. This went on for a few years until he moved to Pune for his post graduate studies in the 90s. After coming to the big city, Anil’s mind was not in his studies. He still felt a strong pull towards social work. And so, at the beginning of his first year at college, he ran away to join Baba Amte in Anandvan. “I started serving the community there anonymously. But three months into it, someone told Sadhana tai (Sadhana Amte) that I had run away from college. When she found out I had left my studies mid-way, she asked me to return to Pune,” he explains.
In the next few years, Anil completed his post-graduation and then moved around many cities as an employee of the Defense Account Department. He finally landed back in Pune in 2001. “I used to come across many children near Sassoon hospital. Some were destitute, others had drug addicts for parents while some others were HIV+. I used to speak to them and give them food, even when people would question my intentions,” he says. “Around 2008, I decided to turn my focus more on working with children. With that in mind, I started looking for a place where they could be housed away from the street.”
It was a yearlong process to convince the street dwellers to move the children to the shelter. “I would spend hours sitting with them, eating with them. I wanted to gain their trust. With the help of his friends Kavita Saturwar and Vishwas Gund, Anil rented a flat in suburban Pune and started by housing four children. But as the number of children grew, the neighbours began to complain. In this way, the shelter changed location four times in the next four years. With every new location, some of the kids would run away and would have to be brought back. Exhausted from the movement and in a bid to give the children a sense of stability, he finally decided to put his own money into buying land for the shelter. In 2011, Anil bought a 1.5 acres of land in Purandar taluka of Pune district, in a village called Amble and donated the land to Sarthak in 2012. “I was the first in his family to buy land and give it away to charity. It is my belief that the more you give away, the more they get,” he says. Shortly after buying the land, a small house was built to house the children. Here, he received support from one Mrs. Kumudini Khandagale and soon the shelter grew. A hostel building has been added to the premises. There are currently 84 children at the shelter between the ages of 5 and 17 who are residing at the shelter. “I could not have done this without the support of my wife (Mrs Bharti Kudia), my mother and two brothers,” says Anil. The children at the shelter are learning to be self-sufficient and prepare for their future through studies or skill training. Nine children have completed their 10th standard education, while three others have completed their education and are currently working with Sarthak Seva Sangh. For the boys, there are activities such as construction, plastering, plumbing, cutting, grinding, welding, lambi-putti and colouring etc. For the girls they have eight machines stitching and tailoring. Some children are also building a cow shed.
However, the main thrust is on sports such as table tennis, cricket, kabaddi and football. Currently, twelve children are learning table tennis, two are become coaches themselves while others have competed at the district level. Some kids even play in the India Khelega academy. “My dream is to begin a sports academy and a vocational training centre for street children. I want these kids to live, and live like human beings. My request to your readers is that whatever good wishes you have, please execute them now. Don’t want for a better time to do it. Please help us with whatever little you can. It will make a huge difference to us.”
Giving Circle implores you, dear reader, to take some time and help the Sarthak Seva Sangh so that more street children in Pune and surrounding areas can hope to have a healthy and more life, with a chance for a brighter future.