Wondered if we could do more with Orkut and Facebook than just play games, share thoughts and pictures? How about working for a social cause? At a time when most people were caught up with throwing a digital sheep at their friend or stacking up testimonials, Alekhya Banerjee started Saaral.

The mention of Orkut and Facebook will probably draw empty stares from the 35-odd children at the Home of Hope orphanage in the city. Say Saaral instead, and there are beaming faces.

At a time when most people were caught up with throwing a digital sheep at their friend or stacking up testimonials, Alekhya Banerjee started Saaral. Created as a community on Orkut to help orphans and the elderly, she says she hoped to be that ‘drizzle' that falls on parched land.

“When Orkut started, there was a community for everything. So, I thought I must start one too, to help orphans. And, luckily for me, it worked!” she recalls how it all began when she was in college. Today Saaral (ph: 98840-14555 / www.saaral.co.in) has grown into an established NGO, with over 7,000 members.

Initially, there were scattered visits to orphanages, spending the day playing with and giving away goodies to the children. Today, the members counsel at juvenile homes, help smaller NGOs, and install solar lamps in villages.

Coming together

Maniventhan, one of the organising members of the NGO says: “People from diverse backgrounds — from a magician to the vice-president of a company — help our NGO grow.” Using the far reach of its members, they now network through companies such as the GRT Group of Hotels, IIMT Gazhiabad, and Zoho Corporation.

Maniventhan, Alekhya and a few others now run a consultancy firm, and 90 per cent of their employees are volunteers with Saaral. “Whenever we meet our clients, we spread the word about the NGO and its activities. If we come across talented people at juvenile homes or other places we visit, we suggest their names to companies, and get them jobs,” he says.

And, they go almost only to NGOs on city outskirts. “We want to help NGOs that have neither funds nor branding. We choose the more obscure NGOs, and provide them with things such as groceries and school fees for the children,” says Alekhya. Their fund-raising and organisation continues to be largely online and mail-based.

Online support

And, there are many such success stories of youngsters getting together to do their bit to society, with great support from online social networks. Bhumi Chennai, for instance. It's a volunteer organisation that focusses on giving supplementary education to the underprivileged. Though not started on an online forum, Facebook and blogging has fetched it a lot of volunteers. “One-fourth of our new members every month come from Facebook. Our page on Facebook has around 4,000 fans. And, word spreads when they share links of our activities on their profiles. We regularly update our page and our blog. And even on the blog, there is an option of sharing the post on many social networking websites,” says Prahalathan, one of the co-founders of Bhumi Chennai (Ph: 98942-09741 / http://bhumichennai.org/).

Use it for gushing about your amazing holiday to your friends or to find a donor for a cause, social networking sites become who you want them to — a good Samaritan, or just a host of applications!

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Asha SridharJune 28, 2012