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Jaira Sona Chin: ‘My goal is to help families break out of the circle of poverty’

Jaira Sona Chin (24) is a second-year student of the bachelor’s programme International Studies in The Hague. Three years ago, she founded her own NGO: the Sona Pushkar Project. With this organisation she helps families from an Indian village to break the circle of poverty.

A vacation changed my life

‘Founding my own NGO (non-governmental organization, red.) was never part of the plan: I was on vacation with my mother in India and it came to me, literally. We were in Pushkar, a small village when two children approached us and begged for food. We bought something to eat for them and they asked us if we wanted to see their house.

What I saw then touched me deeply; never had I seen such poverty before. They lived with over thirty families in self-made tents in the desert, without access to basic needs. During my stay, I befriended different families, but I had to go back to the Netherlands at some point because my vacation came to an end.

Once I was back in the Netherlands, I felt that I had to do something to help the people I met. So, a month later, I flew back to Pushkar as I couldn’t just do nothing. When I was there, I decided one night to stay with the families in one of the tents; I wanted to experience how it was to live so simple. We were sleeping in the open air, while cows, mice, and pigs surrounded us. It was cold throughout the night and the families didn’t have any beds or blankets. After that night, I decided to fully dedicate myself to making a change, even if that was just for a small group.’

Breaking the circle of poverty

‘And it did start small: when I came back I sold jewelry and handmade products through social media in order to raise money. I built a website where people could support the project and that eventually led to the founding of my NGO, the Sona Pushkar Project.

The goal is to help families break out of the circle of poverty and to give them a better future. The project focuses on three points: education, employment, and housing. So far, we have been able to send 23 children to school and all families receive monthly food packages. The mothers make products like clothing, bags, and blankets. We sell these on the website and the profit goes directly to the families who make the products.’

From Law to International Studies

‘I completed my first year of Law in Amsterdam, but I’m now a fulltime International Studies student in The Hague. I chose the track Southeast Asian Studies because there’s no study like it in the Netherlands and all its courses align with my interests. Every week I have six hours of Hindi language classes, which allow me to learn the children of the Sonar Pushkar Project how to read and write in Hindi.

I’m really happy with my study: the quality of the courses is high and the teachers truly listen to their students. You learn a lot from the teachers and from each other, my fellow students are very open-minded and everyone has goals they are striving towards. This summer I will do an internship at Child Rights and You, an organization for the protection of children’s rights. My own project is on a very personal level, I’m in contact with the people I help every day and consider them my family. And I’m curious about how large-scale development aid is organised.’

Helping from the heart

‘I keep the project and my life in The Netherlands as separate as I can. Currently, I have a parttime job at Education First. I plan to continue with the Sonar Pushkar Project but I’m educating teenagers in the village so they'll be able to take it over someday. This takes a lot of time and energy, but I do it from the heart. Whenever I have days off, I travel to Pushkar to manage the project. I give Hindi and English lessons there and visit the local school to see how the children are doing - and if they are still going to school every day. I sometimes organise school trips or sports days. I also inform the parents of orders made and help guide the process of creating new hand-made products.’

‘It makes me happy to help these people. It’s been only three years, but I see so much change already. After my bachelor I want to study the master International Development Studies; later I’d like to work at a subsidiary organisation of the United Nations.’ Does she still have the time to be a student? She laughs: ‘Yes, I also do normal student activities. But this passion project only makes me more motivated to study and enjoy life in The Netherlands. I realise how much freedom and opportunities we have here and how high the quality of education is.’

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members or students, every other week. Who are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Suzé Klok
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