1994-1996: Founding the Structure
Dr. Meyer-Hamme had been working recurrently in Calcutta for the charity NGO "Doctors for Developing Countries" (now called "German Doctors") from 1990. It was here that he became familiar with the problem of child labour, not only on his daily walks through the slums but also in the surgery and was also confronted, inter alia, with the harmful consequences as a result of their deteriorating health. He began to look for ways to allow at least some child workers to attend school. In 1994, the project initially started on a private basis with 25 children.
The immense response and helpfulness in Hamburg in 1995 led to the founding of the non-profit and charitable organisation "Help for Education and Life Guide Organisation", in short: H.E.L.G.O. e.V. Also in 1995 an Indian partner organisation with the same title was established in Kolkata attending to the work with the children on site.
Classes initially took place under poor conditions (e.g. in stairwells or in small huts) in the districts of Tikiapara and Buxarah and since 1996 also at the garbage dump in Liluah. As the families of child workers often have to rely on their children’s wages, compensation for loss of earnings is necessary once the children start attending classes instead of working. This is done by means of food regularly received by the mothers of the families.
1997 H.E.L.G.O. rented the first flat for lessons. The project children now also receive daily a cooked meal. In addition, the organisation opens a small clinic next to the huge rubbish disposal tip in Liluah. Almost all of the child workers there are rubbish collectors.
Initial training was started for some of our teachers in Montessori education whereby the success was rather marginal.
With the purchase of two other apartments the centre of the project was established in Tikiapara. The first "Hostel" was also founded there. A second one was founded in Buxarah a short time later which existed for a few years. In addition to this we have been able to offer sewing and knitting classes for girls since 1998.
An invaluable co-operation with a large vocational training centre of the Don Bosco Order begins (http://www.donbosco-seri.org). Since then our children have the possibility to start vocational trainings there after school education.
2000-2006: Problem Years
Several cases of fraud committed by various Indian organisations led H.E.L.G.O. e.V. to draw the necessary conclusions and split from dishonest partners. This demanded quite a considerable effort to still ensure the necessary help for the children for a long time. But the result has proven to be worthwhile as the education and vocational training for the children did not have to be interrupted despite all these difficulties. Simultaneously we have gathered valuable experience that would possibly help us to identify such problems at an earlier stage.
Since 2006: Constant work for the children with multiple partners
In 2006 the Indian NGO HELGO NORTH POINT took over the responsibility for the H.E.L.G.O. CHILD LABOUR PROJECT. This NGO was our Indian partner for six years until irregularities in the bookkeeping came to light. It was only due to the visits of Dr. Helgo Meyer-Hamme and the committee members of the project that it was possible to avoid even greater damage by conducting regular checks and deciding on respective consequences.
In April 2013, the project site in Buxarah was closed down for logistical reasons but only after all enrolled children had completed their schooling. We now focus on our work on the two remaining sites in Tikiapara where there are so many small workshops in which one will find child labourers and Liluah where children work as rag pickers on the garbage dump.
In April 2013, the Indian NGO SAMARITAN HELP MISSION (SHM) (http://www.samaritanhelpmission.org) took over the responsibility on site and with a lot of effort helped to create a framework in which especially the level of teaching and social work has been significantly improved. The duration of the cooperation was limited from the outset with the agreement to continue the work in the long run with another organisation in India.
In 2015/2016 we had a partnership with the Indian NGO Bengal Service Society.
Social work in our project assumes an increasingly central role. Social workers maintain a close and regular contact with all the families of the children involved in the project.
Another focal point that has become quite significant in the last two years is the training of teachers and social workers in professionally-led workshops and who are subsequently monitored. Especially German experts, who are actively present in the region, play a major part in ensuring that more and more opportunities are developed to provide professionally sensible assistance.
Now, after 20 years, the children of the first generation have long since left the school. Many have received vocational training and founded a family. Dr. Helgo Meyer-Hamme is frequently visited by several "former" project children whenever he stays in Kolkata.
The German organisation H.E.L.G.O. e.V. today has several hundred members.
In India there are about 120 children freed from child labour who receive intense support in our project. This number is not intended to increase substantially in the future as we want to be able to guarantee the overview of the project as well as the quality of it.
In collaboration with other affiliated Indian social organisations, however, we cater for more children from very poor families to attend schooling, which would not be possible without our help.