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This nani’s retirement is busier than her working years
Sona Kumar, a former Reserve bank of India (RBI) employee, is 70, but she hasn’t let age get in the way of her dream of serving society. Today, her organisation, Sona Sarovar Trust, supports over 100 underprivileged children living in slums around Jogeshwari, providing them education, and helping the community at large by organising health check-ups.

“I worked for 27 years in RBI and retired as Assistant Manager,” she recalls. “Although pay, perks and everything [else] was perfect, I failed to derive job satisfaction. I left job as soon as the pension scheme was introduced.”

Though she started the Trust in 2007, Ms. Kumar’s tryst with social work was long before that. In 1997, she went into severe depression for three years, and one of her doctors suggested she get involved in social work. On her advice, Ms. Kumar started volunteering with an NGO called VOICE, which helps young children working as vendors at Andheri Railway Station. “I would sit on the bench and wait for the children, who would come and go as and when the train arrived and left the station. I would interact with them and tell them stories.” She says she was encouraged by the smile her stories brought to the children’s faces.

“One of the NGOs trustees told me that some of the children were good singers, so I tried to get them a chance on TV. I started visiting the office of Zee TV to ask if they would do a show about them,” she says. To everyone’s surprise and joy, the channel invited the kids for an audition. “I was asked to shortlist the children before sending them for the audition, but to my astonishment, I found many had left for their hometowns on vacation. I was in a dilemma as I didn’t want to lose the chance to help some children in need.”

With the help of Neeta Ratwani, a young social worker, Ms. Kumar contacted other NGOs that work with children, and requested Zee TV to produce a show instead with differently-abled children. The next challenge was to get these children to the audition. “I had no knowledge of music, so I approached Nirmal Mirchandani, a musician, who readily agreed; he tirelessly conducted auditions for more than 100 children in a day. The short-listed children were taken for the audition, and Zee produced a show with them, which was aired in 2001.”

Buoyed by the success, Ms. Kumar started volunteering with other NGOs, including the Swades Foundation that works on rural empowerment. In 2007, she started the Sona Sarovar Trust, beginning with a few small projects in Bhiwandi and Raigad. “We started working on individual projects like digging wells, building a water storage tank, installing solar lamps in houses and teaching art and craft like making chikki (nut candy), artificial jewellery and paper bags.”

The trust gradually identified education as their major avenue of intervention, and started Baal Sanskar Varg in 2009. The institution has since helped supplement the education of more than 100 children, providing them with remedial courses and teaching new skills like art and craft. “It is so heartening to see that some of our kids have won prizes in art and craft in inter-school competitions. They have performed thrice at Bhaidas Hall, and five times at the Ethos festival at H.K. College, Jogeshwari.” Five of the kids were also selected for a two-day workshop at the J.J. School of Arts. As part of an initiative to promote skill development, the trust has also started classes to train beauticians, in which 11 girls have enrolled.

“We love coming here to nani (grandmother), as this is the only place where we are allowed to laugh and enjoy,” says Parvin Khan, a Class VIII student. Mumtaz Shaik, who is in Class VI, agrees. “Our family members don’t bother to find out about our problems, but nani is concerned and wants a bright future for us.”

Next, Ms. Kumar says, the trust will start initiatives aimed at women residents of the Anand Nagar slum, such as sewing classes and income-generating activities which require low initial investment, like recycling waste material.

The writer is a freelance journalist

The institution

has since helped supplement the education of more than 100 children