The residents of Noida’s Nithari village send their children to study here. “It is a safe space for children. Girls are respected, there are clean toilets and drinking water and the teaching is good quality. When my children come home, they come with smiles,” says Meena Bhoi, 39, mother of two class 2 children.
The Smile Foundation has many centres like the one in Nithari to provide quality education to underprivileged children. At present, Smile is catering to under-served communities in over 2,200 villages and urban slums across 25 states through more than 400 welfare projects, directly benefitting 1.5 million children. They also have projects focused on nutrition, healthcare and women’s empowerment. Much of their funding comes through corporate social responsibility initiatives. PepsiCo, for instance, funds Smile’s nutrition programme.
For the past 16 years, Santanu Mishra, co-founder and executive trustee of Smile Foundation, has been the driving force behind the organisation. During the pandemic, Smile’s work went beyond traditional classroom-based projects. “We served around 27.7 million meals in 23 states to migrant workers. We set up 45 mobile hospitals to provide healthcare services to over a million people, particularly in rural areas. Through our livelihood programme, more than 28,000 underprivileged youth have secured employment, with nearly 10,000 young men and women getting trained and employed during the pandemic alone,” he says.
For Mishra, it is peace of mind that is more important than happiness. “Some say the only way to get real peace is to give up all worldly attachments and go to the mountains. According to me, though, the simplest way to achieve peace of mind is to help someone…. By serving the vulnerable, we are doing a little bit to bring some change in the world, but it is equally true that if we want to bring real, long-lasting change, it is important to sensitise people, inspire them to practise kindness and humanity in the real sense. And in this way, maybe also help these people attain happiness and peace of mind,” he says. This is the foundation’s big dream—societal change that is driven by citizens themselves.