Express News Service
ERNAKULAM: A lady with a kind heart. That’s how those who know Cristelle Hart Singh like to define her. For the past 20 years, Cristelle — an Anglo-Swiss national — has been engaged in social work in Kochi, especially among children who have suffered sexual abuse.
She started as a volunteer with an NGO in Mumbai working among street children. “I fell in love with the country and wanted to stay back after my tenure with the NGO was over,” Cristelle says. She then decided to start an organisation that would work towards rehabilitating street children. Thus was born Dil Se, which she founded with the help of a friend, Marina Racine, based in Switzerland.
Does the name Dil Se have any connection with the famous A R Rahman song? “Yes! It was named thus because of the Mumbai children who would go around singing the song,” she says. Since 2000, she has been living in Kochi. “Now I am a Kochiite,” says Cristelle, who knows a smattering of Malayalam.
She has set up and run several children’s homes, helped families in need with food and education, and worked with people living with HIV/AIDS. “During my work among the children, I came across many sexually abused children. These were kids who had been abused by their fathers, stepfathers and other relatives,” she points out. Over the past eight years, Dil Se has taken in and cared for over 55 teens who had been abused sexually.
Many of these teens ended up getting pregnant with no place to go to. “When a 14-year-old who had previously been cared for by Dil Se became pregnant, I thought of setting up a home exclusively for them. These girls not only face stigma and rejection by family and the community but also don’t have a place they could go where they would be properly taken care of. That is how Tejus Home came into being,” Cristelle says.
Set up in partnership with Birth For Change, the care home opened in November 2012. Amid the Covid spread, the care home has not been functioning but she is hopeful of reopening the facility in the coming months.