An Interview With Deepalaya

Deepalaya is a Non-Governmental Organisation that is working for the cause of education, health-care, vocational training, gender-equality, institutional care, the differently-abled & empowering NGOs. Children are Deepalaya’s special focus area. The motto of the organisation is “Every child deserves a chance” and they stand for “Enabling self-reliance”

Deepalaya is currently the largest operational NGO in the National Capital Region of Delhi. They have schools and centres in Kalkaji Extension, Sanjay Colony, Gole Kuan, Sheikh Sarai, Gusbethi and Jahangirpuri.

On March 5, 2008, Deepalaya was facilitated as the “Regional Awardee (North)” of the year 2007 at the India NGO award ceremony.

For the past 28 years, Deepalaya has been working consistently in the urban slums of Delhi and in many rural areas in Haryana and Uttarakhand.

Ms. Shikha Pal has dedicated her entire life towards the cause of Deepalaya and towards bettering the future of hundreds of children who probably do not have access to education.

She is one of the leaders of our society who has been working quietly and selflessly for improving the lives of those children who form India’s future generation. She is one the leaders spearheading the development of India.

In a conversation with her…

VP: Ma’am, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, your education, your background?

Shikha Pal: Well, I am Shikha Pal and I have been the Principal of Deepalaya School, Kalkaji since the past eight years. I have done my schooling in India and abroad. I studied in Norway for a while and did a very memorable part of my school in Kolkatta in the Mother Teresa School. I did my graduation from Lady Sri Ram College at Delhi University and my masters in USA. I also did an educational programme in the US.


VP: How did you join Deepalaya? What led you to take up this work?

SP: I joined Deepalaya in 1989.There was a branch of Deepalaya at C.R.Park near my house. At that point in time, I did not know it was a school for street children. I started teaching there and, soon, fell in love with the school and the children. I taught in all other branches of Deepalaya like the one in Sanjay Colony as well. In 1999, the Kalkaji branch opened and I joined as a teacher. At that time, the principal was Dr.Poonam Kattar but she left the post in 7-8 months and the management asked me to take over. I feel it is my love for the children and my desire to be with them that has kept me here.


VP: What would you say is the aim of Deepalaya?

SP: As given in our Deepalaya Mission and Deepalaya Vision statements, Deepalaya’s primary aim is to make the community self-reliant. There are many NGOs who just believe in giving. They give aid, grants and go back feel good about themselves. At Deepalaya, we believe in giving more opportunities to make people self reliant. We are currently the largest operations NGO in NCR. We are working in over 35 projects around the region and our focus is distributed over the fields of education, institutional care, vocational training, health, differently-abled and gender equity.

Recently, we have acted as a resource and training institute to other NGOs. For the purpose of receiving tax deductible donations, several subsidies have been established in countries like the USA, UK and Germany.


VP: Ma’am, what are the challenges you have faced in your life to reach this position, where you are helping so many innocent children?

SP:The main challenge has been my health. I developed rheumatoid arthritis and that’s why I returned to India from the US and did not work there. Since then, I have dedicated my life for the cause of these children.


VP: What is your vision for the children of Deepalaya?

SP:I want them to have a dream and to work hard and strive towards attaining it. I do not want then to study just for the sake of getting an education. I want them to aim higher in life. At one point in time, our mission statement was looking beyond the slums, but now that we are seeing that our students have achieved a lot, we have changed it to enabling self reliance. I feel immense pleasure when my students come back to the school and tell me how well they are doing in life. That is why I want every single student to have a goal in mind.


VP: What are some of your short term goals for Deepalaya?

SP:Our primary goal at this stage to get recognition for the school. The entire paperwork is complete and has been submitted to the government office but things are not moving forward. We are facing certain hassles from the government’s side. We are committed to giving the required pay scale to our teachers but the government officials are not willing to understand many of the issues involved. At this point in time, my entire energies are directed towards the recognisation of the school.


VP: What do you feel are some of the critical challenges faced by our country at present? What would you say about the state of children in our country? What do you feel about the policies enacted by the government?

SP:I feel corruption is the biggest challenge plaguing our society at this point in time. Government officials need to be more honest. The young generation should come forward and demand honesty in politicians. The state of children is nothing to write home about. Child labour is still persisting despite so many efforts by the government and NGOs.

The government enacts policies only on paper; no actual implementation takes place. The benefit of government policies is not trickling down towards the needy. The funds get lost somewhere in between much before reaching the target individuals. For example, nothing is being done about the Universal Education programme. In fact, Deepalaya has been sincerely for the cause of providing education and spreading literacy since 1979.


VP: What do you feel is the general state of NGOs in India? Are they well developed? Are they able to reach their target community? Are they well funded? Are they well supported by the government?

SP:I feel that NGOs in India are working very hard to achieve their goals. Some of them are quite well funded and are making sincere efforts to reach the grass root levels. Yet, the government remains a problem. We face hassles when getting funds from the government. Deepalaya has a reputation of being extremely transparent with tax payments and we still face problems with grants. The structure of the bureaucracy is fuelling the corruption.


VP: What are some of your observations about the present status of girls in our society?

SP: Girl children are still neglected. The government and NGOs are working hard, but it is not as it should be. Female feticide remains a problem even in educated families. There is discrimination against girls amongst the economically backward. Deepalaya has evolved a policy of positive discrimination towards girls across all Deepalaya schools. The fees is subsidised at Rs.50 and we are maintaining a girl is to boy ratio at 63: 37 that is 63 girls per 37 boys.


VP: And Ma’am finally, what, according to you, are some of the skills essential for the children coming to Deepalaya?

SP:Vocational training is essential for our students. All students do not go on get Higher Education. If a child is trained in hardware skills, or to be an electrician, or in sewing, they can be gainfully employed. Vocational Skills are very important for our students. Deepalaya has a special Vocational Training Centre and we have hobby classes throughout the summer vacations in the months of May and June for our students so that they can pick up these skills.

I feel even regular schools and colleges should stress on vocational training for their students as it can come in useful in their future.


Compiled by:

Mitali Nikore