Donna Laveriere (India)

Donna Laverdiere (Butterflies, India): Donna grew up in a small town in Maine and received her Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Tufts University. After college, she spent three years in the publishing industry, and then worked for AT&T and Cadillac. During this time Donna was heavily involved in political organizing on women’s issues and helped found a nonprofit privacy rights organization. At the time of her fellowship, Donna was pursuing her Master of Public Policy at Duke University’s Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, with a focus in global policy.

First Few Days

31 May

I have been in Delhi for 6 days. This city is like another world. Everything is a struggle. Walking in the heat, transportation by auto rickshaw, grocery shopping in the crowded, sweltering markets, washing my clothes by hand. It has been over 100 degrees since my arrival.

Yet, the children at Butterflies don’t seem to mind. They have smiles on their faces and are enthusiastic about improving their lives. Today is my fourth day coming to Butterflies. I am still introducing myself to the children and trying to find a place for myself here. But I have learned so much about the organization already and am very impressed by what they are able to accomplish.

Butterflies is a program for street and working children. Since 1989, it has been reaching out to several thousand children in Delhi. It focuses on empowering children and helping them find a way to be self-reliant. The children participate in all decision-making and actively take part in making these decisions by attending the Bal Sabha, the children’s council.

Butterflies has 11 contact points in Delhi where they hold children’s councils once a month. At these councils children talk about the issues they face. Other children offer assistance. Only when the other children cannot help does Butterflies step in.

Butterflies conducts alternative education for street and working children through participating in the Open Schooling program. Children can attend school at Butterflies when they are unable to go through the formal schooling process. Many of the children work to support their families and cannot attend regular school. The education program also provides life skills, vocational training, and computer education.

Butterflies’ alternative media center produces two newspapers written by children, the India-focused Children’s National Times, and a paper focused more broadly on children in Southern Asia. They also have the Butterflies Broadcasting Children (BBC) studio where they record radio broadcasts by children. They hope to start a television show soon but lack funding.

Perhaps the most innovative service Butterflies provides is the Children’s Development Bank. 1200 children have money deposited in the bank that provides them a safe place to keep their money. Cash is often stolen from their pockets while they sleep on the street, or demanded of them by adults. The bank provides them with a safe place to keep money, and also offers loans to older children.

Butterflies also provides advocacy and research on children’s rights and has a working group on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). The center publishes a journal called My Name is Today that compiles news stories on children in Indian and foreign newspapers and magazines.

Finally, Butteflies provides medical care and shelter to children in need, and houses Childline, a 24 hour hotline for children.

Butterflies so far appears to be an amazing place that takes children’s empowerment very seriously. The two children I have spoken to are determined to get out of the situations they are in, and want to learn English so they can be successful. As part of a tourism project, I am hoping to help them along the way.

Posted By Donna Laveriere (India)

Posted May 31st, 2006

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