CHENNAI: The path to redemption is never in one’s full control. As much as you trust time to heal the wounds in you, and hope to regain yourself, the world keeps on pushing you back to the hellhole you wish to leave. The only way out for you from the affliction then is to let the world behold the “new you”. And for that, you need someone to hold your hand.
Children of the government observation home for boys in Kellys seem to have found the light towards the way out, thanks to an entrepreneur-turned-social activist and the State Social Defence Department, who have let them explore their potential.
Manickabharathi, an activist, with his initiative ‘Bake and Change’ has given these ‘children in conflict with law’ a chance to break social stigma, and a second chance in their lives. Through his bakery, he has so far taught baking to over 50 children at the home and provided employment to five. Started in 2017 with just one child, the programme has now given hope to many to find their feet in their lives.
Once a successful entrepreneur, Manickabharathi entered full-time into social activities after a bout of depression, which hit him after his sister’s death in 2015. With her last words – “Do what makes you come alive” – in mind, he ventured out and collaborated with the Slum Clearance Board in taking life-skill lessons.
“When I was taking sessions, I noticed some children would go missing for a month and then return. After enquiry, I realised they were in the government observation home. That was the first time I heard about such a place,” said Manickabharathi.
He then went on to meet officials of the Social Defence Department under which the Kellys Home is. With the support of the officials, he started taking life skill classes for the children in the observation home.
“During one such class, a 15-year-old boy told me he wanted to help his family financially. Hearing this, we started taking baking classes in one of the abandoned buildings of the home with the help of an official and a chef. Later, as more children started learning, the government supported us by renovating the building and providing new machinery,” said Manickabharathi.
His NGO, ‘Our Shoulders Foundation’, in collaboration with the social defence department, thus started providing cookies and other bakery items made by the children at government meetings organised by different departments.
Speaking to TNIE, a 16-year-old inmate of the home said, “My neighbours used to look down on me because of what I did. But, when I gave them the biscuits I baked, the entire locality started identifying me as a baker. I have never seen my mother so happy.”
The initiative has started a ripple effect as children who are now out of the observation home share their experience with the minors inside, about the opportunities before them. This has helped several children not to go astray after leaving the home. Many are optimistic of building a good future for themselves.
“Just because they committed an offence once, the stigma against the children is never gone. They do not get proper jobs; they are constantly monitored by the police; and their neighbours despise them. I wanted to change that, and the best way to do that is to give them a skill and employment,” said Manickabharathi.
Manickabharathi now stays with the boys and has their trust, making them a part of the bakery’s business aspects as well. “A little love and trust can go a long way in changing a person. They were in conflict with law. But now they are responsible citizens,” added Manickabharathi.
During his quest to provide the children a platform for work, learning, and discipline, Manickabharathi has shown the children their potential and a glimpse of a better future.
The bakery is located at Kellys in Purasawalkam.