Vijay Jadhav, 47, a founder of a non-government organisation, aims to make children friendly society. In the last 15+ years, Jadhav has reunited 12,735 runaway kids with their parents. Jadhav, a resident of Vikhroli Park Site, is a graduate. He is the founder of the Samatol foundation that works to rescue runaway kids (6 to 18 years) found on railway stations across Mumbai and its suburbs. From 1997 to 2000, Jadhav attended Narmada Bachao Andolan and found many runaway kids abandoned in different districts and states.
“Getting interested in the welfare of the kids, I started working with Yuva, an NGO that helps trace missing kids. I was a volunteer for four years till 2004. In 2006, I decided to start something of my own. My first case was when a 12-year-old boy ran away from his Parbhani residence and was found in Mumbai. After consulting him, we found him to be the son of a sarpanch who didn't get a cycle, so in anger, he ran away. I personally took him back to his family and handed him over to his parents. The family and the villagers were so happy that they kept a program to facilitate me. That day I thought of working for such kids and establishing the Samatol foundation,” Jadhav said.
Jadhav personally visited the parents to reunite around 1000 kids. “These kids were those where their parents have put up their pictures assuming they are no more. When we reunite these kids, the celebration among the family and get together of sisters and relatives gathering is just like a Diwali celebration,” Jadhav added.
Jadhav, who started the journey alone, now has 25 people on the job and around 5,000 volunteers called Samatol friends who inform the organisation if they find any kids. “If any kids run away from his house, the most common place he reaches is the railway station. We have offices in five districts and 10 major railway stations, including CST, Dadar, Kurla, Thane, Kalyan, Pune, Panvel, Borivali, Jalgaon, Bhusawal, etc. We aim to make a child-friendly society and reunite them with their family. If any child stays in his district or city, he never feels abandoned. But, if he is in other places, he feels different and abandoned. The word abandoned should not be in any child's life,” Jadhav stated.
To date, Samatol Foundation has received around 450 awards. “It all cost me to land in jail two times. I was arrested and booked for kidnapping as my only crime was reuniting the kids with their parents. With the help of my parents, I was released. But now I am happy when students from Tata institute and many international universities visit for training and voluntary purposes,” Jadhav said.
With changing trends, the foundation had also prepared an app, where if any kid found you can upload the details, and the foundation will help trace the family. “With time, we have also developed a shelter home for these kids. Presently, we have two types of kids: fresh kids who run away and come to the city and are reunited,” Jhadav said.
The others are rough kids who have been staying nearby railway stations doing odd jobs. Reuniting such kids or rehabilitating them is a tough task. We have started psychological centres for them to explain to them the future life or art of living. In the past few years, we have organised 40 such counselling centres for them, and each time 25 kids have attended the program. Many even got an education and are settled now," added Jadhav. He is well connected with the welfare department, committee and system now.
Jadhav also explains a case where an IPS officer's son was found at Mumbai CST. The IPS was from Tripura, and his son ran away to meet Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai. "We reunited the kids. The parents were so happy that they facilitated our team in their cultural festival," added Jadhav.