Rehabilitating displaced Kashmiri children

International Association for Human Values (IAHV) volunteers opened a home and their hearts to children who had lost their parents and home in the Kashmir Earthquake.

In October 2005, a major earthquake shook Kashmir and left an estimated 3.3 million people homeless. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, (IAHV) volunteers began relief operations in Uri, Baramulla, Srinagar, Kamalkot, Tangdhar and Kupwara. 

Dealing with the tragic loss and trauma

 
 

Every morning I used to wake up with a jolt,
my whole body used to ache and at night I
was very scared of noises,
and I missed my mother who died in the earthquake.
Now I am feeling very relaxed and
no longer afraid of noises
.
- Shared by an Art Excel graduate

 
 

Many children had lost their parents and were rendered homeless; they needed shelter. The IAHV volunteers worked at great speed. They rented a house and furnished it with basics, put together a large number of winter beddings, set up the kitchen, and procured cooking gas (a rare commodity in winter). And all this was in place within a week!

In December 2005, 150 frightened, cold and hungry children arrived at the IAHV Child Care Center, Srinagar – clinging to each other – scared of what was in store for them. Dilraj Bedi, an IAHV volunteer, felt her heart reach out to these kids. “No words were spoken – all I could do was hug each of them – wanted to wipe off the fright in their eyes and wanted to assure them that they had reached home,” she reminisces about the day the children arrived at the center. 

By mid-January, the center took in 100 more children on an emergency basis; they hired another shelter to accommodate them. 

The children suffered from fear psychosis and trauma due to years of continued violence, the memories of the recent earthquake, poverty and domestic tensions. Even slight tremors recreated stress. The children learnt to use their breath as a tool to overcome stress and fear in the Art Excel Course (an Art of Living Course for children between the age group 8 to 13). 

Changing gears from providing trauma relief to sustainable development

 
 

Hilal Ahamad Bhat and Ishfaq Dhare,
students of Apna Ghar, share their joy
when their solar lantern project was selected
as the winning entry among 4,500 entries at
a Science Fair. “It was a big achievement and
a matter of great pride for us,” they shared.
They received the scholarship from the
Chief Education Officer and a cash price.

 
 

Gradually, the children were shifted to this new building called the Night Home. The first house was converted into a Day Home, a recreation center and education center for about 150 children. At the Day Home, classrooms and computer laboratory (with 20 computers) were set up. A television set provided entertainment and kept the children in touch with their mother tongue, Kashmiri. Thus, the first school started in a rented house with small grounds.

In addition to receiving warm and comfortable home, warm clothes, nutritious meals and education and recreation facilities to these children; all the kids also underwent regular medical check-ups and attended tuitions. Hired local teachers conducted three-hour tuition sessions daily. An Art of Living trainer, a specialist in providing stress free education, trained the local teachers. Based on the children’s request, English classes were also taken every day.

By the end of February 2006, 120 children in need remained and the Winter Shelters transformed to Child Care Centres with separate hostels for boys and girls and a school established in hired premises. 

Around 70 children - girls from Kazikhand, Bulvama, Bandipura and Uri and boys form Bramulla, Anant Nag and Manasbal – studied at the school. Training in tailoring was provided free of charge to these girls. As part of the social outreach program, some girls also taught tailoring to other affected women in the area.

Empowering children with education

Understanding the urgency to run the project on a day-to-day basis, the Education Department of the Government of Jammu & Kashmir collaborated with IAHV to run the school. The government sponsored and renovated an unused building which had got impacted due to terrorists attack for setting up a permanent school. The school is Apna Ghar (meaning Our Home). Sri Sri Ravi Shankar inaugurated the new school in May 2007. The government provided salaries for the Headmistress and eight teachers. IAHV supported the remaining teachers and ran and maintained the school by generous contributions.

 
 

Omar Gudoo, another Apna Ghar student,
received a medal in a football match in Srinagar.
He joyfully dedicated this medal to IAHV.

 
 

Culmination of Project

In November 2011, the project reached completion. All the children who were sheltered over the last six years have been successfully rehabilitated to their homes and schools.