I have"Up until 1990, I was a successful designer in Kolkata. Jugnu was a senior journalist and made renowned documentary films. By middle class standards, my husband and I were both doing well and prospering.

What caused such a turning point in our lives then?

I gave up my design work because I realized that I wasn’t living up to the humanist rhetoric of my generation. I wanted to fulfill some of the promises that we all made in our younger days. I wanted to be a mother to those who didn’t have mothers and so I moved to Delhi and started taking care of children in the train station. Jugnu gave up his journalism, because he felt that his film work somehow was not connecting with real life; he was producing beautiful documentaries, but he was ever forced to quickly move from one story to the next. When he met me working with kids in the railway station, he found the story that he would stay with for the rest of his life.

In 1990, together Jugnu and I started a small personally run NGO called Street Survivors India. The vision was to create equal learning opportunities for working kids on Delhi’s streets. It involved creating a slum-based school called Jagriti which also served as a kitchen and night shelter. Sadly, nearly 10-years into its existence, the school (along with the slum within which it was situated) was demolished by government bull-dozers as part of a “clean-up” drive.

Despite this terrible loss, we did not give up. This twist of fate led to us moving from Delhi to a Murshidabad village as a personal act of choice. We decided to break with city life and return to my village of birth. Educational privileges are nothing if not shared, we reasoned. Furthermore, rural India is where it's at, and in a country where all too few of our kind make this choice, how long can you carp at politicians? After all, as the truism goes, we get the leaders we deserve...

From our Delhi experience, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to overhaul the whole system, but we also knew that in our own small way we could make a positive contribution.

"In 1998, we first started a Bangla-medium school in Katna village — Jagriti reborn. Over the years our school has bloomed into an English medium institution that welcomes learners from various backgrounds and localities throughout the subdivision. The other projects of Street Survivors India — StreeShakti, SwayamShakti, and Jagriti Gramin Libraries — all evolved organically out of Jagriti, in response to various needs of the community for justice, livelihood, and education.

Jugnu put his heart and soul into planning and building our new English-medium school and his memory lives on within it. But he never saw the children walk into the building itself, as he passed away in May 2005, just two weeks short of its opening…

At the end of all this, it’s now me alone leading the way. The two of us began a journey together. And as in any journey, at the middle point we sometimes get tired of carrying the baggage, but as they say, “we have miles to go before we sleep, the woods are dark and deep.” So I said, nevermind, I’ll carry it for both of us. And that's what keeps me going. I am living our dream for the both of us."

Shabnam Ramaswamy

Recent Programs

We're continually working hard to improve communities throughout the state. If you're interested to see what we've been doing recently (especially if you want to help), check out our project list.

Mission & Vision

We have a simple, but robust mission: to help people in need. We do that by focusing on community-based efforts including education, Livelihood, and Justice. We want to make a difference.

We do a lot to improve life for communities in need!


If you have able hands, we want your help. Whether it's serving food aid in a kitchen, painting walls of a newly repaired home, or collecting donations, we need you. And so do communities in need.