By Jamuna Rangachari
The success of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) across the globe, has allowed the ordinary citizen to take responsibility for the welfare of fellow human beings
|Murali (centre) with teachers at Sevalaya|
It was a Subramanya Bharathi poem that inspired 11-year-old Murali – one that affirmed that a true Saraswati pooja would be to start free schools where there were none. He connected this with Vivekananda’s philosophy – if someone is hungry, then food is his God – and that of Mahatma Gandhi – India lives in its villages. Today, the campus lives and breathes the three philosophies, together referred to as BGV. An orphanage, an old-age home, a goshala, a medical centre, a craft centre and a library are part of Sevalaya.
Services and philosophy extend beyond the campus. Sevalaya recently conducted a BGV philosophy course in the Coimbatore prison. Seminars on themes including prohibition, basic education and communal harmony are conducted regularly.
Then and now
Murali and five others founded Sevalaya on May 29, 1988, with five children and a small rented house in Sivanvoil village. Formal classes began in 1991. Having come a long way from there, the school now maintains a pass percentage close to 100 per cent in the X and the XII board exams. No ordinary feat this – we are talking of first-generation learners who come from illiterate families.
Twenty-one years ago, children in Kasuva would work for meagre wages – in fields and brick kilns – and it was hard to convince villagers to send them to school. Today, Sevalaya gets 500 applications for 50 seats a year – mostly from among the poorest of the poor, who apply because they have actually seen Sevalaya change lives. The institution now teaches 1,050 children for free, 100 of its alumni are in colleges, and some have become software engineers and bank officers.
Measures of success
‘I wouldn’t have, even in my dreams, thought that my son would one day become a software engineer and get into a big firm. I was just a peanut seller at Thiruninravur station. Sevalaya is solely responsible for my son’s growth,’ says Ilayaraja’s mother. IIayaraja, a Sevalaya student, now works for TCS and is also a trustee in Sevalaya.
Indeed, in nearly 15 villages near Sevalaya, there is no child labour now – all children are in Sevalaya. Less alcohol is consumed in these places, and the use of hazardous industrial waste oil in the nearby brick kilns has stopped.
Volunteerism is always in the air, with 50 to 60 youth engaged in community service at any given time. Still, Sevalaya has to contend with two challenges that every expanding organisation faces – raising funds, and hiring committed manpower.
Sevalaya University in sight?
When Sevalaya was an elementary school, there were drop-outs after the fifth grade, and when it was upgraded to high school, students dropped out after the tenth grade. Then, the higher secondary school came up, and now, bright students are funded for college. Sevalaya supports the higher education of about 100, with 20 in engineering colleges.
Murali feels that running their own university might be not only cost-effective but also more relevant, with job-oriented courses
To know more about Sevalaya, visit: http://www.sevalaya.org/home.html
“Where is Sneha Sadan,” I asked a young man on the road trying to find the place. I was in an auto. He smiled and said he was heading there too. I asked him to get in and we begin to chat. “This is my real home,” he said, with a smile. He had come to the organisation as a young boy who ran away from his home in Andhra around 15 years back. Though he never really undertook formal studies, he trained to be a mechanic, was employed with a technical company for a while and then came back to Sneha Sadan, his first home.
Such stories abound in this haven, which provides succour to many in the streets of Mumbai.
Providing a bedrock of support
“A family is the bedrock of society and the little ones are often misled, deprived and ignored by many of us,” says Father, whose first priority is to reunite the children with their parents, if it can be done.
At the contact centre, usually the first place a child comes to, the aim is to make the children comfortable, knowing they have a place to turn to. Some of them do not really take to studies, as they have tasted freedom, and don’t realise that studying will help them in the long run.
Those who do come regularly are reunited, rehabilitated or put through formal school. They are encouraged to follow their own traditions, and when their origins or traditions are not known, they take a decision only after careful thought.
Sangeeta Punekar, a social worker at the place, explains how they try to use different models in different places, all in the best interest of the child. “Some communities are open to bringing up the child in his or her own place, and if so, we enable that,” she says.
With 16 centres all over Mumbai today, Father Placido gives full credit to the vision of Father Ricardo Frances, SJ, the founder of the institution, who was very keen on providing a haven to the underprivileged.
This is a complex issue, however, which cannot be resolved by one person alone, he realises and hopes the day arrives when all children are noticed and nourished. “Every life is precious, yours, mine and the street child’s. If we would look at them and listen to them, they would become visible again,” says Father, who is spending all his waking hours polishing these gems.
Sneha Sadan – some facts
The organisation has over 16 centres all over Mumbai. The contact centres are at Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Borivli and there are 15 centres all over Mumbai and one at Lonavla.
Father Fonseca Placido was also on the think tank of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to set up the childline service. He has been on the expert committee to frame the law for children in India called Juvenile Justice Act. He has also pioneered the concept of Corporate Social Consciousness, and was part of the think tank to develop Childline in India along with TISS.
What we can do
• Childline service links to all homes in India and it is a free service,
• Call 1098 if you see children employed when they are not supposed to be. The reach has now extended to over 33 cities in India.
• Follow up on the case and get involved when possible
• If you can volunteer your time, don’t hesitate to do so.
To know more about Sneha Sadan, visit: http://www.snehasadan.org
“When I see the smile of a child who has had a cleft lip surgery, it is the best reward I can expect,” says Zelma. Sharing her journey of being sent by the Tata group (Voltas) to manage the project, she agrees that professional services and time are the best help a company or even an individual could offer. “From my side, I never lose hope and optimism, and I have been amply supported by all the team members.” I walk across to meet a couple of the team members, Olga Monteiro and Neelam Kshirsagar. Olga avers that working late and hard has never been an issue. Seeing the poor benefit has brought in tremendous rewards.
Jadu ki Gadi
Indeed, that is the way Impact India functions. So great are the benefits and the success of their projects that Impact India has been invited to extend consultancy services, for similar ventures in other countries of the developing world!
“The Magic Train” – Jadu ki Gadi as it is also known as, was launched on July 16, 1991, and so far over 500,000 Indians have benefitted from this amazing project. The Lifeline Express has miraculously brought medical service to thousands of poor and deprived people in India, and has helped them to regain their eyesight, their hearing, their very health, and all this entirely free of cost! This hospital on rails travels to remote parts of India with a medical team and other railway staff, who offer their services entirely free. The doctors and nurses are a committed lot, and work long hours to treat as many patients as possible.
The modus operandi of the Lifeline Express is as follows: It arrives at a particular railway station in a remote part of our country, and remains on the siding platform for a 30-day duration. The people in the surrounding villages are informed days in advance about the arrival of the Jadu ki Gadi through various means such as the town crier with his drum, distributing leaflets, and a megaphone on a cycle rickshaw. Those people who are suffering from disabilities and illnesses start converging, with family members in tow, to the train from all directions.
First they go through a check-up, where the doctors decide upon the kind of treatment each patient will need. Then the patients are given the treatment or an operation, depending upon their ailment. Arrangements are made for the patients and their families to stay overnight or even longer. Once the treatment or operation is completed, the patient gets follow-up medical treatment and advice, and is then allowed to return home.
The step ahead
The organisation is now working for the Community Health Initiative of the government in the tribal area of Thane district, and hopes to set a model that could be replicated all over. This was after all, a logical extension, as Impact India wished to leave a lasting imprint. “We are always open to people coming in,”says Nilima and avers, “When people ask, ‘Can I help,’ the answer is always yes.”
To know more about Impact India, visit: http://www.impactindia.org
Most companies and organisations have ‘profitability’ and ‘growth’ as their goal. In the NGO sector, the real goal is that the NGO itself should not be needed anymore, as and when the issues it was dealing with, are issues no more.
Let us not forget that though these are tumultuous times, it is a world where hope gleams from true heroes. It is a world where one has begun to recognise that collective happiness alone can bring in lasting results, and a sense of well-being. It is a world where not just cash and riches, but the feeling of making a difference to the world, is seen as true success.
NGO sector today
“The awareness and appreciation of the work being done has certainly increased with increased visibility. It has even become a career option for people wishing to contribute to society. People trained in social work, and professionals from diverse backgrounds, are working with NGOs. After all, the area and gamut of work in an NGO, is wide and diverse,” says Vinay Somani, the head and founder of Karmayog, a Mumbai-based website, which networks various NGOs.
One sees local NGOs mushrooming, and larger ones playing a larger role. Prof Mani, a human resource professional, an advisor at SIES College, a faculty member at TISS, and actively involved in many social areas, avers, “I do believe the NGO movement has picked up. There are larger NGOs as well as smaller, localised ones, which have come into existence.”
To grow holistically as a society, one needs to foster this sector too. Noshir H Dadrawala, the CEO of the Mumbai-based Centre for Advancement of Philanthropy, a company specialising in areas of charity, law, finance, management, taxation, resource mobilisation and human resource, agrees, “Along with the government and the business sector, the voluntary sector is a vital component of modern society. NGOs, though often financially dependent on government and corporate grants, play a vital role in helping the government implement welfare and development, and help corporates in building better communities.”
Shift in consciousness
Prof Mani says, “People can see emptiness in material pursuits, and they turn to working for others, and being conscious of how much joy there could be in helping the underprivileged.” Some try to help on their own, but the structured approach that NGOs offer becomes a better area to begin. Vinay avers, “I personally have become far more sensitive and enriched, after my involvement with NGOs.”
The youth today are not only volunteering, but are also starting their own NGOs. Varun Rangarajan, from Tata Consultancy Services, was instrumental in starting many centres all over India, beginning with one in Chennai. Now, Dream India 2020 is a totally volunteer-driven organisation, which works to reach out and educate. Even though he keeps travelling back and forth between India and the United States, new entrants keep the centres active.
Looking at the plight of children attending night school, Nikita began her own NGO, Masoom, enabling the children to get good quality education.
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While not all may be starting their own NGOs, many are beginning to get involved. Prof Mani stresses, “Today, success comes faster, and therefore, the search for higher purpose is faster too. We can see this happening in colleges, even schools, and also in companies. Initially, it used to be part of the extra-curricular activities, but I feel that now there is increased sensitivity among the youth, in specific, and everyone in general. People are recognising that what counts in life is what we do for others.”
Though one may lament about Gen X and Y, it is a fact that many of them are doing much more than their predecessors in this area. Vinay Somani avers, “Even though the youth today are extremely busy, they do spare time to get involved, and are more sensitive.” Companies too are doing their bit.
The Tata group has always been active in the social sector. Similarly, Infosys now has a philanthropic wing, Infosys Foundation. It has now introduced a sabbatical scheme, where managers are loaned for a year to NGOs. Navin Krishna Tarur, Lead Consultant, is now on a sabbatical with IAD (Institute of Applied Dermatology), Kasargod. IAD is an NGO, working on an integrated approach for the treatment of filaria, by combining various systems of medicine like ayurveda, allopathy, homoeopathy, physiotherapy and yoga. With his managerial experience, he is helping in creating strategies, and in lobbying the government bodies such as Ayush, for greater recognition. Appreciating the initiative, he says, “This opportunity has enriched me so much, as I have interacted and understood local issues and initiatives.”
Recognising this, many companies are reaching out, not just with funds, but with involvement. The involvement even helps them fine-tune their activities. “Companies, whose CSR activities are located in the area where they operate, are better off as they know the real issues there. Also it is a way of helping the local community, and environment, from where the company is using resources of land, water and air,” says Vinay.
Individual social responsibility
There are no clear benchmarks for an NGO, as it is a subtle aspect that they seek to address. “The first factor is whether the work of that NGO is coming from the heart,” says Vinay. This naturally requires involvement and interaction. As Prof Mani says, “A thorough knowledge of the area in which the NGO is working, is necessary before analysing these factors. So, everywhere, involvement and dedication of some time is essential. Reading the reports and meeting the beneficiaries could also help increase the credibility.”
Where figures are involved, it would help if the activities are bona fide. Noshir stresses, “An NGO should be registered, have a credible Board of Governors/Trustees, have its accounts audited, publish annual reports, and generally be transparent and accountable to all its stake-holders.”
Again, it is involvement and time that is important.
Instead of just criticising, each of us could help a lot by being more aware. Prof Mani says, “I am personally concerned about what help we can provide, and not who provided the help. The solution lies in more people taking individual social responsibility. There have been situations, where items not needed by one NGO have been gladly sent across to other deserving NGOs. The benefits of synergy are always exponential. I think it is natural that there are many players, as the issues being addressed are diverse and the approach is personal. For instance, several NGOs may be helping cancer patients; while one may provide medical and financial help, another may provide counselling services, while yet another may offer a hospice for palliative care.”
Similarly, disabilities are of various kinds, education needs are different and so are health issues. For instance, Sevalaya, near Chennai, offers much needed education to children, Childline helps street children, and Lifeline takes health care to rural areas (see boxes)
The way ahead
“There are two issues that NGOs seek to address – advocacy of rights and delivery of service. Those NGOs, which work on advocacy, would hopefully succeed in changing the law and may work to enhance the law or move to another area. Similarly, the government would hopefully incorporate the service being addressed into their policy, and the NGOs would work to expand their area of operation,” says Vinay. Just like charity begins at home, so does concern for local issues. “I do see smaller, more localised NGOs who are able to address the issues in their own area,” says Prof Mani, and avers, “Individual social responsibility should come from within, for it can make the world a better place to live in.”
|Vinay Somani: An ex-IITian who chose a more caring approach|
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