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Monday, Nov 15, 2004

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House of learning

Christel DeHaan, founder of the international NGO Christel House, gave up a high-power corporate life to work with poor children

Christel breaks stereotypes about NGOs and those who run them. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

FORGET YOUR stereotype of an NGO. Stuck in a cramped corner of the city, its director (wearing handloom, of course) peering from behind a stack of files. Christel DeHaan, founder of Christel House, the international NGO working with underprivileged kids, will tell you things have changed.

Professionally run

She gave up a high-profile corporate life (as one of the founders of RCI) to work with children and her NGO is run professionally, as any corporate house would be. Third party auditors, transparency in finances, and a stakeholder group overseeing the projects.

In town to inaugurate the new centre for her Indian school, DeHaan says all her schools follow the core philosophies urging the children to be "honourable, dignified human beings". Her schools, in Mexico, Venezuela, South Africa and in India, aim to provide all the tools necessary to help children break out of poverty. The school currently holds classes for kids from KG to Grade Six, and the school will keep increasing classes as the children grow.

It's not just Math and English that the children are taught but also what DeHaan calls "life skills" — opening bank accounts, greeting people, learning about computers, etc. "Education will be the equaliser," DeHaan emphasises, and the approach at Christel House extends to embrace all facets of the children's lives.

"Kids from poor backgrounds get stuck since they don't have a good education, opportunities, self esteem or human dignity. We want to provide change beyond just food and shelter and provide a model for lasting change through education and life skills," says DeHaan. Buses transport over 500 kids from their homes around Bangalore city to the school on the city outskirts where the children are fed two meals a day and snacks. Initiatives by the school also include community outreach programmes with the parents and caretakers of the children.

Successful model

Combining her corporate background with her commitment to the social sector, Christel DeHaan is aiming to increase the number of children in its school here, while creating a successful business model for other companies to emulate.


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