by Emily Bild  – GoPhil Regional Development Manager India / Nepal

“My problem is feeding the children. I don’t limit numbers of children at SMS – so it is always 75, 70, 65 children here – whatever number is here, I am feeding. I’m not compromising to feed the children, somehow we must get by.”  Lalitha, Project Manager at SPID-SMS Center

For more than two decades, the SPID-SMS Center has been working to improve the lives of the children of women trafficked and forced into prostitution in GB Road, New Delhi’s notorious red light district. It is the only project in the area providing 24-hour shelter, protection, education and nutrition to approximately 65 children. The center gives these children an opportunity to carve out a different future and escape the risk of being forced into sex work. The safe, happy environment inside SMS is a stark contrast to the rooms in which they are otherwise locked and left whilst their mothers work.

GoPhilanthropic has been partnered with SMS since 2014, supporting a range of essential budget items such as staff salaries, local travel costs and excursions for the children so they have a chance to experience life beyond the red light area. As GoPhil’s Regional Development Manager based in New Delhi, my role involves supporting our partners in capacity building and organisational development, guided of course by their own plans and strategies. Over the past year I have been fortunate to spend a great deal of time at the SMS Center and have worked with the staff on a wide variety of tasks – such as helping to draft their Child Protection Policy and volunteer guidelines, developing job descriptions for all the staff (a first for the organization!), identifying local sources of funding (e.g. through Embassies in Delhi) and looking at ways the center can better measure the impact of its important work.

Children arrive malnourished

Many of the children arrive at SMS malnourished, having received very poor diets in their early years, and the the center has always strived to provide them with the best diet possible on a shoestring budget. But addressing malnourishment and correcting many years of deficiencies is challenging and requires both resources and expertise.

Finding the Funds

At the end of 2016, I started working with a number of Delhi-based volunteers who were running art classes at the center every Friday. They were planning to organize a big art exhibition to show-case all the amazing art work the kids were producing each week and simultaneously raise some essential funds to improve nutrition in the center. In November, the Heart for Hope art exhibition, and the follow up interest that was generated by this, raised an incredible $14,500 – from Indian and expats living in Delhi – meaning that the center now has enough funds to provide additional nutrition items for the children until mid 2018.

Enlisting Top Nutritionists

We enlisted the pro bono support of the excellent Lovneet Batra, one of Delhi’s top nutritionists, who has provided some amazing suggestions for cost effective ways to improve the children’s diet and increase their intake of protein and other essential nutrients. With her input, the SMS staff and children worked together to devise a new menu. This menu incorporates a lot more protein, fruit and vegetables than the children were eating before and ensures that they eat three balanced meals a day plus regular snacks. The children are very happy with the new menu and their favourite foods are chicken curry and boiled eggs, though Project Manager Lalitha is working hard to encourage them to try all the new vegetables too!

Already yielding positive results

The improved nutrition programme has been in place now since the beginning of 2017 and is already yielding some amazing results. Almost all the children are steadily gaining weight and the staff have observed that they seem much healthier and more active now – even the Chairperson from the government’s Child Welfare Committee commented on how active they were when she visited recently! The SMS staff are measuring all the children’s weights every two weeks and their heights and arm circumferences every month to ensure that their growth is being monitored regularly.

Their recent hemoglobin blood tests are another sign that the new diet is off to a promising start – only two children out of the 53 who were tested had levels below the healthy range, and they had both just returned from visiting family so had been absent from the center. The rest had adequate levels showing that they are not suffering from iron-deficiency anaemia which is so common in children in India.

“I did not come to GB Road with any project or any program. After talking with the community beneficiaries, they said there was a need to do something for their children. Though at the beginning I was working with the women, the strategy and focus changed to the children because we can save children from becoming a pimp or from being forced into second generation prostitution.”

Lalitha, Project Manager at SPID-SMS Center

The way forward

I will continue to work closely with the SMS staff and art volunteers to monitor the progress of the improved nutrition program and the children’s growth and development. We are all committed to making sure these improvements are in place for the long haul – so we are meeting later this month to discuss fundraising ideas for next year and beyond. In the meantime, I love seeing the children looking so healthy and active every time I visit the center and I look forward to keeping you updated with their progress!