As more and more youngsters are joining hands to do their bit for society, a few talk to Uthra Nagarajan about incidents that changed their perceptions forever…

In this cacophonous, busy world how many of us have time to give something back to the society? We are caged in our own world of social networking, materialistic needs and career oriented goals. While there exist also youngsters who have taken it upon themselves to bring about a change. A lot of youngsters have taken up social work and ventured into non-government organisations and they all have a story to tell. During their work on field, these youngsters have experienced something that changed the way they perceived the social problems prevailing in society.

Pratik Kanodia, Official photographer of Kora Kagaz

I had always imagined villages to be a backdrop for showing poverty in the country, with no proper sanitation, food, and electricity. During one of our distributions in a village of Arcot, I realised that it was not so. Housing the Irula tribe, the living conditions of the people is worse than any of us could imagine. There was no proper sanitation, no electricity and no proper houses for that matter.

I also visited ‘Valeyur’ and ‘Vilangadu’ villages which are close to Arcot. Kora Kagaz distributed 900 books in these villages. And the fact that a few books can help educate the few in these villages and change the face of that village excited me. I realised what a big difference a little effort could make. I joined KK with the intention of taking a few good pictures, but ended up seeing the bigger picture in the process. I realised that I was not working to take pictures, but to change perspectives, to better lives. My efforts have doubled ever since, giving my work more meaning.

Kora Kagaz (www.facebook.com/Kora.kagaz7 ) is a project that recycles unused wastepaper into new books and given to those who cannot afford them and used paper is recycled.

Jithin Nedumala, Co-Founder, Make a Difference

The first few months when I taught in the YMCA Boys Home were really good. And then the first reality check happened. By the time the kids reach Std X, more than 70 per cent dropped out of school and by Std XII, about 95 per cent of them dropped out. So I started spending more time with them to figure out the reason behind this. And what I found out was not encouraging. We as a society, treat them like second-class citizens. We give them clothes and food that we don’t give our children. We send them to schools that we would never imagine sending our children to. I was once waiting with the children for lunch to arrive. That’s when it hit me what kind of a psychological impact this had on the children. We are raising an entire generation of children thinking that they are just good enough for the leftovers. They were not bred to believe that they would someday become doctors or engineers, but just drivers or cleaners. This was a really bad phase in my life. I was mad and angry at the whole situation. The adults have created this system which the kids wouldn’t be able to get out of, the vicious cycle of poverty.

Operating now across 23 cities with 5000 children and 2000 volunteers, MAD (www.makeadiff.in) works with orphanages, shelters and children at risk to ensure their education is not stopped. Most of these children tend to drop out of school at the age of 15, but MAD makes efforts to continue their education.

Zav Foundation

Even before Zav became a formal organisation, we, as a group of like-minded students who wanted to give back to society, used to visit Government schools and orphanages. The irony was that many schools didn’t have official teachers. Whenever we had time, we used to visit and tried to help them in academics, and narrate stories to boost the children’s confidence.

A couple of years back, we visited a Government school in Nagadevanahalli in Kengeri, Bangalore. We approached the authorities and spoke to them about our initiatives, our involvement and what we do. They were pretty hesitant as we were just students back then. With great difficulty, after three or four times, we got our first chance to interact with the students. We were just a fledging organisation and it was a huge crowd that we addressed. The zeal and intensity with which they responded was mind boggling. Craving for someone to reach out to, share their problems and look up to, the intensity of the students moved us. The intensity with which we worked actually grew after this and we decided that we needed to go big to expand our ambit. That was the time when we actually thought of a big organisational structure.

Initially called as Mission Zav, Zav Foundation (www.zavfoundation.org) invests in many initiatives such as youth leadership programs, career guidance workshops, civic awareness, blood donation drives and many more.

Vivek Rathod, President, Trendsetters

I studied in an engineering college and one of my friends expired last year. We were so moved by his death and we wanted to do something on his behalf. I came to know about Pushpakalakar, a resident of a slum near my house. He was born with only one kidney. And that kidney also failed by the time he was 22. His parents sold everything they had in their native place and came to Vishakapatnam for better treatment for their son. We collected Rs. 11,000 and gave it to them. But he needed around Rs. four lakhs for surgery and medicines. We decided to take up this problem through our organisation and started a donation campaign on Facebook and also met many people personally. We were able to collect Rs. 1 lakh. We talked to the hospital authorities and requested them to reduce the price and they agreed. When everything was getting ready, Pushpakalakar’s health started deteriorating and he died on April 10, 2013. This was a big blow to us. But then we had a chance to do something for his family. So we are planning to get his brother a job.

This incident moved us and created a greater awareness towards society.

Trendsetters Charitable Trust, Vishakapatnam (www.facebook.com/Trendsettersngo), is the brain child of Vivek Rathod. Along with him Ravi Kanth Reddy Sathi and Vijay Potnuru started working for it. Their focus is blood donation camps, dental camps, diabetes checkups, tree plantations, and educational help.

Phebega Pericho, President and Co-Founder, United Arms Charitable Trust

I am a Technical Writer Analyst at Dell India and helped establish United Arms Charitable Trust at the age of 22. I visited an orphanage recently, called ‘Home of Faith’ in Hennur, Bangalore. During my previous visits to orphanages, I had always observed a clear demarcation between orphans/street children and children belonging to stable homes. In most orphanages, I observed children to be constantly in a state of waiting. It was as if orphanages resembled a train platform. Children waited for meals, waited for volunteers to come and help them, waited to grow up and be independent. In the ‘Home of Faith’ orphanage, there was no waiting. The children were so content with what they had. They were happy. They had a home, not an institution, which took care of them. When we asked the caretaker who the youngest kid was, he pointed to a chubby three-year-old girl playing with her brothers and sisters. Later I realised the girl was actually the caretaker’s daughter. He was bringing up all of his 22 kids as his own. This was the kind of social change I wanted to experience.

Phebega helped establish United Arms Charitable Trust (www.unitedarms.in) to develop her own plan of change. A team of seven youngsters in the age group of 18 and 26, they have conducted various programmes in association with other NGOs. Some of them are blood donation drives, free cataract screening and surgery and general health camps.

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