Irtiza Quraishi knows what it feels like being separated and homeless. He was 19 when his father Yusuf Quraishi, the sole breadwinner in the Quraishi household from Jama Masjid area, went missing.
It was in April 2005 when the freelance writer left home never to return thereafter.
Irtiza and his mother visited dargahs, temples and gurdwaras in their search for the senior Quraishi. His mother even went to Pakistan, only to return disappointed.
The frantic search left an impact on the young Irtiza, who had then just appeared for senior secondary board examination.
Moved by the plight of vagrants, Iritiza set up an NGO, Muslim Association Rehabilitating Homeless and Mistreated (MARHAM), in 2016 which works on rehabilitating the homeless youth, especially in and around the Walled City.
"I would spend hours with homeless and persons with disabilities to understand why they are on the streets. Some of them were ailing and suffering from memory loss but to my surprise, several of them willfully adopted that 'lifestyle'. Some left their families following a tiff over trivial issues," Irtiza says.
The NGO provides vocational training to these inmates in garbage segregation, waste management, compost making and raising vertical gardens for enabling them to become self-dependent and live with respect and dignity.
At present, the NGO is sheltering eight inmates in the age group of 18-30 years from UP and Bihar.
"I couldn't find my father, but I started MARHAM with the help of others. It is an effort to reunite the people living on the streets with their families for which they are properly counselled."
Irtiza is among the nine founding MARHAM members with diverse background ranging from business, social work, educator to journalism.
The NGO operates a hostel for homeless, where they are given training, free lodging and food. From a modest three bed-room dwelling unit in Jama Masjid, MARHAM now operates from a spacious independent property in Ballimaran.
"In the beginning, we trained youth as electricians and plumbers but getting them a job was difficult task. So, we decided to do an experiment and started training for gardening or waste management and auxiliary skills like compost making. Besides making them self-reliant, we deploy them to spread environment protection awareness," says Irtiza, who left his banking job to establish the NGO.
MARHAM holds cleanliness drives and garbage management awareness campaigns in Old Delhi. It provides dustbins, paints walls, and goes door-to-door to urge the people to join the campaign.
Innovative ideas are deployed to clean lanes and decorate walls for spreading the message of cleanliness. Social media plays an important role in their campaign and also helps them to raise funds, says Irtiza.
"We have successfully managed to clean Katra Gokul Shah, Pahari Imli, and Gali Sayyidan. We try to adopt more professional methods and believe in ourselves. It is a small beginning but will make a difference for sure."