June 24: This is a bank with a difference. For, you hardly meet any adults here. The place is run by children and has children as members.

Welcome to the kids bank of Juhapura, a working class locality in Ahmedabad. It is called the Sarjan Bank.

The bank was started 22 years ago as part of a programme called Sarjan. It was started by a group called the Ahmedabad Study Action Group. This organisation has been working for poor people in Gujarat since 1973.

The bank is run by Reshmaben Musabhai Desai. And she is all of 15 years old, according to a report in ‘The Week’ magazine. As the bank manager, Reshma handles the savings accounts of children between 3 and 12 years of age.

But her job is not only transacting money transfers. She also makes sure that the child is withdrawing money for a valid reason. When clients come to withdraw money, Reshma asks them why they want to withdraw money. Very often she even goes to their houses to cross check on their explanations before allowing a withdrawal!

Reshma encourages savings. A board outside the small room that serves as the bank proclaims, “Our savings are for our difficult days.”

“Earning money is no doubt important. But learning to save is more important. Even our parents learnt this because of Sarjan,” Reshma told ‘The Week’.

Friendly Neighbourhood Bank: For Kids Only
Friendly Neighbourhood Bank: For Kids Only [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Reshma, who is a ninth standard student, has a tight schedule. She helps out in the housework at home, attends morning school and then finishes her homework before reporting for work at 1 p.m. She stays at the bank counter for two hours and does the accounts with Salimbhai, another ninth standard student, who was the manager before her. Then she hands over the cash to Madinaben, the incharge of the Juhapura centre, and updates the passbooks before leaving for the day.

The bank has 36 account holders and a total deposit of Rs. 2,200. The bank does not pay interest. But, that has not discouraged the children from turning up to deposit even 25 paise.

What is interesting about the bank is that it is not merely a bank. It is also a community centre. The centre was set up in 1976 by Fulchand Purwar, who used to play musical instruments for children. The centre conducts education programmes for children of the locality. There are eight centres of this kind in Ahmedabad. Now it has also taken the children living in the city’s railway platforms under its wings.

There is one condition that the children have to fulfil to come to the centre. They must attend school. They come to the Sarjan office after school and then their fun starts. They paint, play, run a library and a tiny dispensary, bring out a handwritten, weekly newspaper and make greeting cards.

Sarjan sells the cards and the profit is shared among the children, who save a part of it in the bank, give another to their families and keep aside a third part to go on tours. In fact, some students earned up to Rs. 1,600 last year.

The passbooks at the bank are also made by the Sarjan children. They are made with blank pages of notebooks pinned together, with neatly drawn lines for debit and credit. The greeting cards are used as covers for the passbooks. As a result, they look colourful and very different from a staid bank passbook. After all, that is the aim of Sarjan: to bring colour to the lives of people.

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