Release date: Dec. 14, 2004

Emory Students to Open Home for Street Children

Street children in India, many of them drug-addicted and facing a bleak future, have found student advocates a world away at Emory University who are intently working to open a home for them this spring.

The impetus is Emory sophomore Elizabeth Sholtys, who, after extensive volunteer work and public health research in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), says she could not simply walk way from the many children she met without vowing to make a difference in their lives.

"In the end, I made a promise," Sholtys says. "There are children waiting for me to come back, and we have an awesome responsibility to make this happen."

The result is the Ashraya Initiative for Children, a nonprofit organization formed to open the home in Pune, India. Sholtys founded the group with fellow Emory students Sudeep Rangi, Zahra Hadi and Amber Wang.

"Ashraya" is the Hindi word for home, protection, refuge and trust -- exactly what the initiative hopes to provide when it begins its pilot program. The students plan to take in about 15 children during the next three years.

The board consists entirely of students, four from Emory and others from Princeton, Warwick College in the United Kingdom, McGill University in Canada and the College of the Atlantic in Maine. Since its inception in April 2004, the group has worked out of Sholtys' apartment to get the project off the ground.

"We're not a group of college kids trying to raise 15 street children by ourselves. We're working to coordinate a team of professionals to provide the comprehensive help these children need. We have access to resources and connections, plus the passion and the time to make it happen," says Sholtys.

The inspiration for Ashraya came from Sholtys' experiences with similar programs in India. She spent her senior year of high school and the following year (before coming to Emory) at the Mahindra United World College of India near Pune, where she volunteered at homes for street children.

Last summer, Sholtys conducted a health survey of street children in Mumbai under a Scholarly Inquiry and Research at Emory grant. She found that many of the children under seven are addicted to inhalants, and older children used a low-grade form of heroin called "brown sugar."

On the weekends, she took four-hour train trips to Pune southeast of Mumbai to meet with public health care workers and government officials to plan the logistics of opening the home. She will return in January, completing independent study courses that dovetail with her efforts on the home.

The estimated start-up cost is $75,000, plus about $10,000 a year to run the home. For now, the students are researching grants, and soliciting family and friends for funds. They've also put out donation jars in several businesses in neighboring Emory Village that are bringing in a small but steady income.

Sholtys said the key to empowering children is to provide a social network outside the home by getting them involved in community service projects. "We're really interested in not keeping them in this victim position," she says.

Part of her plan is to hire two full-time caretakers, one of whom will be 18-year-old Kavita Bhoite, a former street child who lived in a railway station for seven years before being taken in by a similar home.

For more information, visit the Ashraya Initiative for Children Web site at


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