Butterflies' story is linked to Rita Panicker’s life story and engagement with children living on the streets. It all began when she lived in Mumbai and taught at Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She lived in the suburbs and had to commute by train everyday to the institute. She used to see number of children at the station and in trains. They intrigued her, she wanted to know who they were. She met these children and spent time getting to know them. Their stories were wild, like Bollywood scripts. Somewhere along Rita knew all of it was not true but their positive spirit, generosity, resilience, their whole take on life are lessons which she keeps learning even today.
When she moved to Delhi with her husband on his job transfer, Rita decided she would work with children on the streets. Rita along with Asst. Professor P. Nangia did a Situational Analysis of Study of Street and Working Children in Delhi for UNICEF in 1988. It was the first study on the subject on the country. It gave her an insight into their lives, why they are on the streets. Her interest deepened and she decided to work with this group of children.
Rita visited 11 organisations in the country to understand the existing programmes for street children. She met 11 amazing charismatic founders of these organisations. They shared their learning’s with her. The lessons she learnt from this exposure was that the approach and strategies to work with these children will have to be different from the beaten track of conventional interventions of institutionalising children.
Thus was born Butterflies with the core value and belief that it must be a democratic organisation and children’s voices have to be listened to seriously. Children’s participation in decision making processes is central to Butterflies’ work ethos. It is non institutional in its approach as Butterflies believes that institutionalising children should be the last resort. The importance of strengthening families and communities to protect and take care of children is strongly advocated as families are the first line of defense for children. Butterflies’ emphasis is on supporting children to continue schooling, impart life skills education so that they can exit from generational poverty.
Since its humble beginnings in 1989, Butterflies has grown into a movement with 140 staff reaching out to almost 5,200 children every year and has touched the lives of almost 44,000 children till date. Even as we grow in numbers, the Butterflies story still centres around protecting & empowering every street & working child in India.