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Teaching the way of life for a better tomorrow! Vrikshaala- Jasmine’s Dream Project

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

The numbers are alarming. Some 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. That's about one in nine people on earth. One in four of the world's children is stunted. In developing countries, the proportion can rise to one in three. 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone. These are mere statistics for most of us, but for Jasmine Bhatia, it is not. She has been passionately working towards eradicating hunger and malnutrition since past 5 years with Roti Bank, an NGO that was founded by her father and his friends.

But hunger cannot be fought by just feeding the destitute. We need to build a generation self-reliant enough to earn a square meal for themselves. And to empower the children of the community, she started Vrikshaala- an inclusive life skill training program as an initiative under Roti Bank. The program aims to help the children realize their maximum potential by providing them life skill training through means of creative arts, quality education and social interactions & encourage them to become aware, compassionate, responsible and self-reliant citizens of India.



Here is Jasmine talking about her dream project.

As a college student, I spent most of my time scripting and performing street plays with the theatre society that I was a member of. I was pursuing Bachelors in English Literature then. It was a blend of these two that helped me realize that an individual and the society are inseparable, intertwined and most importantly interdependent. What binds them? Compassion.

My post-graduation in Mumbai gave me several opportunities to explore the grassroots veracities of the development sector. My research in Dharavi, field trips to villages in Nasik, Marathwada and other rural communities helped me strengthen my inter-personal skills. I found sheer joy in listening to stories, interacting with children, women and youth from different walks of life. My tryst with India’s Joy Of giving festival #DaanUtsav as a fellow in 2017 is what helped me discover my purpose. I was sure I wanted to make my career in the development sector and empower people in any capacity possible.


In 2018, while I was still working for an NGO as a communication professional, I started to feel that I was not using my potential to its best. I was striving for experiences and therefore I figured out a middle path bringing my qualifications, skill set, and interests together. I decided to use creative arts to bring about change. Today, I call myself a development communication and creative arts facilitator.

I wanted to start my own organization for children but always thought of it as ‘Jab Main Badhi Ho Jaungi’. And then one day while walking towards the metro station I saw children of our house-helps and the residents of our colony playing together. That is when it occurred to me,’ If they can play together, they can definitely learn together’. I discussed the idea with my father who is also the founder of Roti Bank, a recognized NGO working towards halting hunger. We resonated, how bringing children from different socio-economic backgrounds together will help bridge the gap, create awareness, empower the community and will bind the two sections of the society with responsibility. That is how Vrikshaala- the inclusive life skill training program by Roti Bank came into existence.



No sooner than we had expected, we were able to mobilize a team of 4 women who just dived in selflessly to create a safe learning space for children. On February 4, 2018, we conducted our first session with 54 children on why washing hands is important. How were we different? This was no usual session with a blackboard, pens and notebooks. It was a fun-filled experience with a blend of music, dance, theatre, painting and movement. We decided to use creative arts to develop session modules for children to hone their social skills and help them understand life situations better. And guess what, we did it!

Today, Vrikshaala is two years old with 150 children coming every Sunday to upscale their cognitive, social and working skills. We have a wonderful team of 10 women who are mothers, homemakers, teachers and students. They work at odd hours to create session plans and work modules for children.

It has been an achievement for the entire team to witness the support of several community members and all the parents who always make sure to visit our workshops and annual events. Their acknowledgment of our efforts and the significant behavioral change in our children has been an accomplishment. Vrikshaala dreams of expanding its program to different locations in Delhi. We also aspire to start youth programs to continue supporting our children.



It is heart-wrenching, scary and traumatizing to imagine that more than half the population of this world is treated like sub-humans and objects, a huge number of the future generation is suffering from hunger and poverty and that half the world is not even thinking of getting an education because they are busy fighting poverty, hunger and oppression, striving to just survive another day.

As a social service and creative arts enthusiast, I strongly believe that awareness is the first step towards empowering people and that every individual’s effort is like a drop of water in a desert. While I have been actively leading Roti Bank’s initiatives as the organization’s director for the past two years, in 2019 I decided to extend my services in the field of child safety as well. Today, alongside Roti Bank and Vrikshaala, I am also working as a consultant trainer for child safety and protection.



Last year, my efforts were recognized by Rex Karamveer Global Fellowship where I was awarded the Rex KaramVeer Chakra Award 2019 for executing simple ideas into action to bring about a positive change. I am extremely thankful to my parents, mentors and my team for believing in my potential and helping me translate my vision into a reality. There is no greater contribution than the investment of time, skills, knowledge and resources. As mentioned before, I have decided to define my professional life by dedicating my time, energy, skills and resources in the development sector, and I hope to increase the quantity and quality of it with every year that is yet to come.


What is a venture without an effective team? Thank you my powerful pack of women for dedicating your life to this dream of creating a better and safer learning space for our children. Thank you for selflessly giving your everything to this initiative. I dedicate every success of Vrikshaala to you ladies.

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How exactly does your organization work? Can you briefly tell us a day in the life of your organization?

Vrikshaala is a life-skill training project running under the banner of a registered organisation called Roti Bank. Founded in 2015, Roti Bank aims at feeding those who cannot afford a square meal for themselves. For this purpose, the organization mobilizes members of the community/society to make conscious efforts to share food with the destitute - labourers, rickshaw pullers, sweepers. Roti Bank not only aims to eradicate hunger but also fight its root causes- poverty and lack of education.

We realize that it is imperative for people to be empowered and self-reliant to earn a meal for themselves. With the kind motive to empower the future of India, Vrikshaala was launched in 2018. As the name suggests, it is an open learning space for all children which aims at creating an inclusive learning space for all children coming from different backgrounds. As a weekend programme, Vrikshaala offers a common learning platform to children coming from different socio-economic backgrounds. With its prime focus on providing life skills training through creative arts, this intervention highly facilitates and promotes social inclusion. Vrikshaala conducts its sessions every Sunday morning from 10 am to 12 noon. During the week, our team of volunteers meets twice to debrief the previous session and plan the next. Currently, Vrikshaala has 150 children.

How do you identify the right children? What is the screening process? Also, when you approach parents, what are their reactions?

As mentioned above, Vrikshaala is an inclusive space and was, in fact, started when I saw children from two different socio-economic sections playing together. It is an endeavor to bring all children on a common safe learning platform. Imagine how beautifully it will bridge the gap when a child who does not have enough money to buy books for secondary education will have a friend from a privileged background willing to share it with him. Through this inclusive program, we do not aim to promote charity but develop empathy among children without letting any tags come in between. Our colony where we conduct the sessions is very near to some big slum communities of north Delhi. Most of the kids in our program are children of house helpers working in our colony. Over the last two years, we have gained ample trust in these communities. Parents have begun to recognize Vrikshaala and are willing to send their children to us with hope and faith. We keep organising health camps, parents' workshops and annual events to keep the parents updated about our activities. There is no specific screening process. We do have an age gap that is 6-13 years.

It’s certainly not an easy task. What are the biggest challenges you face?

There have been two major challenges that we have faced since Vrikshaala's inception in 2018.

1. Maintaining the inclusiveness. We initially had a good number of children coming from privileged families. All the kids learnt together and we observed a beautiful change in their behavior patterns too. They stopped terming each other as 'gareeb and ameer'. However, it has been very difficult to sustain these privileged children in the program as parents continue to live with stigmas associated with slum communities. Unfortunately, a lot of parents wanted to be donors and not stakeholders which was creating a gap between the children. Another reason for not being able to sustain privileged children is that most of them have exposure about issues we discuss at Vrikshaala, as they are studying in high-end private schools. Well, we are glad that one sect of children is aware.

2. Absenteeism- Vrikshaala has not taken a single penny from children in the past two years due to which parents from the slum communities take us for granted and make the children skip sessions. At the same time, a lot of them are laborers and have to migrate once the work is done. We also face absenteeism during festivals like Chatt Puja. However, last year we turned our program into a certified year-long program and told our students that they will have to attend a minimum number of sessions to gain the certificate and prize. This has significantly helped us in improving their consistency.

You mentioned that your tryst with India’s Joy Of giving festival #DaanUtsav helped you discover your purpose. How did that happen? What would be your advice to student volunteers of today, before they venture out into their first volunteering project?

My participation in theatre brought me really close to societal issues. I started volunteering and interning with NGOs in college itself, but #DaanUtsav gave me perspective. I discovered unfathomable joy in giving my services for a cause and felt delighted when I saw the entire nation coming together to give for different causes. I felt motivated and inspired as I got to meet several change makers.

My only advice to students is,' Don't wait for the right time. Today is the right time just start giving your time, skills, resources in whichever capacity possible and you will realize your potential. Eventually, you won't feel like stopping. That is the magic of giving.'

You conducted your first session with 54 children on why washing hands is important. Now, the entire world is talking about washing hands. How uncanny can it get? Looking back, what do you feel?

Today's situation is very unfortunate. Amidst all the Corona pandemic, washing hands is the first and foremost precaution everyone must take, My team feels so glad that we did sessions like these with our children. Especially in today's time, our kids must be sharing their learnings with their parents why it is so important to follow body hygiene rules. Our last session was conducted on 15th March and on 22nd March we were supposed to hold our 2nd annual event. Our kids had been rehearsing since the past 4 months but last Sunday we dismissed all the upcoming events and sessions and conducted an awareness workshop on Corona instead. We were delighted to see that our children were much aware of the situation and prevention methods. Our impact may not be recorded quantitatively but qualitatively we can see how we have brought about a behavioral change in children.

What, as per you, is the current state of life skill training in the country?

Life skills are popularly known as soft skills. What needs to be understood is that they are essential skills which help an individual define his/her way of life. Today the lifestyles have changed, children are overexposed to information, competition is high, anxiety is common among children- all these collaborate in the modern world to pull individuals down. Researches show that most millennials who get fired from job lack confidence, miss-communicate and cannot collaborate. Most children are molded to achieve materialistic success and not how to deal with failures. How will academia help if we fail to learn the way of life. Life & social skills come into play once we enter the professional world.

It is wonderful to see how schools have finally started giving much-deserved attention to these skills by developing courses that help children explore their personalities through a different lens. However, the less privileged studying in government schools is still far away from such kind of exposure. NGOs working in partnership with the government are trying to incorporate exercises like stress, anger and time management in children's learning experiences. The happiness curriculum by the Delhi government is also a wonderful initiative to teach children life skills that might help them deal with rough situations better.

You have called yourself a Creative Arts enthusiast and mentioned using that in developing the session modules of your programs. How important is the role played by Creative Arts in your venture?

Creative arts have played a significant role in shaping my personality since childhood. I studied in a boarding school where we spent a quarter of our day engaging in different forms of arts like playing instruments, enacting stories, painting, doing pottery, reciting poetry, dancing and much more. It helped me explore my true potential and even gave me a way to vent out my negative energy positively. We chose to make Vrikshaala a creative arts-based life skill training program, absolutely for the same reason. And, I must say it has been a beautiful journey. We have seen tremendous change in our children. It has built confidence in many as they happened to identify their talents. Many extrovert students have found a way of expressing their thoughts and ideas via painting.

None of our sessions are purely lecture-based. We create games with a moral or message and now children have started to look for meaning in our activities on their own. Even though we have created modules for each topic, we try and not repeat activities while engaging with different age groups so that there is ample space to explore all kinds of responses.

If there is one project or initiative of yours that you would call your biggest success to date, which would that be, and why?

Too early for that! Miles to go before I sleep.

What is the current state of affairs as far as child safety in our country is concerned?

Reports show that 3 in every 5 victims of trafficking are children in India (NCRB 2016). In 2018 (NCRB) as many as 109 children were sexually abused every day in India. Well, the data is just the tip of the iceberg. A huge number of cases go unreported every day. It is extremely unfortunate that people have to barter their and their children's dignity and basic rights just to avoid starvation. Children are sold into servitude and raped for profit. We see children begging on the streets every day. It is a shame that India has the world's largest number of child sexual abuse cases. To ensure the safety of India's children, the nation needs a multifaceted collaborative approach at all levels- prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership.

How supportive is your family towards these initiatives of yours?

My father, Raj Kumar Bhatia, is my inspiration. He founded Roti Bank in 2015 and we have been working together since then to uplift the destitute around us by empowering them with dignity. He has been a support system in ensuring that Vrikshaala and Roti Bank's other initiatives do not fall apart. My mother, brother, my husband and my in-laws all are very supportive of these initiatives. They even join us on the field as and when required. All of them regularly contribute meals for Roti Bank to be distributed among the poor.

What are your next plans? Are there any big projects in the pipeline? How do you raise funds for your projects?

Roti Bank will now turn 5 and Vrikshaala just completed 2 years as an active project. We hope to open our office soon. Vrikshaala aims to take its modules to government schools by next year so that we can increase our reach. We wanted to make our work exemplary first and then invest huge amounts in scaling it up. Roti Bank and Vrikshaala both have been running without any government and corporate grants. We believe in minimalism and sustainability. We meet our session and on-ground expenses through regular contributions made by the team. The Sunday refreshments are organised by our generous Roti Bank volunteers. For the first time, last year we started a crowd-funding campaign and requested sponsorship for our events. We hope to grow slowly and steadily while focussing on the quality of our services.

Tell us about those habits of yours
which you are proud of?

  • Interacting with new people to learn from their experiences.
  • Reading articles about various issues
  • Painting/sketching - I like to learn different art forms

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