SEATTLE — It all started 25 years ago when a young woman by the name of Renu Bali made the brave and selfless decision to open up her own nonprofit. Today, this organization is known and loved as Tender Heart. Over 450 students now attend the school, 200 of them women. Tender Heart helps the underprivileged in India today, but it was not without its initial hardships.
Faridabad is a district located within the state of Haryana in India. In 2013, Haryana ranked in the bottom half of all Indian states in terms of student achievement levels. The Boston Consulting Group projected that approximately 2.2 million children attend one of the 15,000 government public schools. Even so, not every child has the privilege or opportunity to attend one of these institutions daily due to health, cost or transportation reasons.
Renu started Tender Heart by following the simple human principle of “sharing is caring.” She had the privilege to enjoy a quality education at a developed and resourceful school as a child. Later, she earned her master’s degree from Delhi University. Access to a good education can be an immense challenge for children growing up in any state or region in India. Renu is thankful that her own family could afford to put her through school.
Renu set her sights on the city of Faridabad to be the heart of her future NGO for several reasons. In the village of Bhatola in Faridabad, literacy rates were dangerously low and it was a male-dominated environment. Her ideas for the future of Bhatola seemed very threatening to the community, especially in the beginning.
Renu recalls how physically and mentally challenging her pursuits were. “Many times men would come and threaten me with big sticks to deter me for what I had come to do,” Renu remembers vividly.
It was important for her to be able to change these fears and mindsets that the villagers had. She wanted them to understand the benefits that Tender Heart would be able to bring to their children. Renu fought to make sure that education in Faridabad would bring new knowledge to students’ minds and smiles to their faces.
This was all back in 1992. In 1995, Tender Heart was officially registered as an NGO. This means that for the past 25 years, Renu and her growing team have been able to improve the services she intended to provide after her own graduation from Delhi University.
Tender Heart runs a school for underprivileged village children in Faridabad. It is a school for “differently-abled” children that offers the following programs:
- Classes and sessions for empowering women by training them to make handcrafted items to sell on their own. This allows women to not be dependent on others for sources of income. Rather, they are able to sell self-learned services and goods (such as purses) and pocket their earnings.
- A slum teaching program known as WOOPIE, which stands for “Way Out Of Poverty Is Education.” Every day, a Tender Heart bus goes around to the nearby slums and housing units to pick up children that want to go to the school to learn that day.
- A health program for the village’s people, including medical health camps, awareness programs, consultations with doctors and health check-ups. All of these services are free for the villagers. This is a huge relief for many individuals and families that face the burden of not being able to afford necessary healthcare services. This is arguably one of the biggest ways Tender Heart helps the underprivileged in India.
- Counseling for children and adults. This includes individuals suffering from depression and anxiety.
The positive attributes that have come from Tender Heart’s mission are endless. For example, a value cannot be put on a child’s education, especially when this means an underprivileged child can receive a quality education and compete with privileged children in neighboring areas. In addition, women have been able to develop the necessary skills for self-sufficiency in a male-dominated society.
Another way in which Tender Heart helps the underprivileged in India is that these slum children who generally spend their days working are able to engage with peers, teachers and volunteers who encourage them to steer away from anti-social activities.
Unfortunately, there are many hardships that Tender Heart faces daily. The biggest challenge is currently the lack of funding for the sustainability and improvement of the organization, since there is no government or private aid. It is hard to find qualified teachers due to a lack of funds to pay their salaries.
Still, Renu works hard to spread the word and increase the network of Tender Heart to all who will listen. She and her dedicated team of workers and volunteers know that these big projects take time, but are worth it because of the great benefits they bring to people in need.
– Caysi Simpson