Often, as we wait at traffic signals, we witness children begging and picking rags. The sight saddens us, and thoughts about what happens to these children and where they come from cross our mind. However, these thoughts often evaporate as soon as the signal turns green. 

Desmond Tutu once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” For these slum children, our heroes, Shaila Brijnath and Neelu Khanna, became that beacon of hope.  Unlike bystanders, they took action to combat this dire situation and gave birth to the Aasraa Trust. Their vision was to replace begging bowls and sacks for rag picking with bags full of books, stationery and joy. 

Aasraa Trust began by winning the confidence of these children and their parents, which, in the words of Neelu Khanna, took nine months – almost like a rebirth. Once that trust was earned, the children were introduced to basic schooling through the Street Smart programme. Besides basic literacy, the Trust provided them with meals, medical support, and shelter. 

Since they started in 2009, our heroes have come a long way. When Shaila mentioned in an interview, “We started small, but we were never afraid to grow,” it serves as a powerful lesson in determination and heroism. 

About Our Hero

Shaila Brijnath, the Chairperson of Aasraa Trust, previously worked as an Investment Banker in Europe and America before dedicating her life to uplifting the lives of underprivileged children. It was during one of her stays in Dehradun that she noticed the slum children picking rags and begging. Seeing the plight of these children was a wake-up call for her; she, at once, resolved to act on her impulse and founded Aasraa Trust in 2009. 

Neelu Khanna, the Managing Trustee at Aasraa Trust, has been working as a social activist for the past 20 years. A pivotal part of Aasraa Trust since its inception, she has been committed to the noble cause of educating and serving underserved children. Neelu made a significant career shift, leaving her corporate job in the airline industry to embark on her journey in the social sector.


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