Sarthak Prayas, Delhi-based NGO, runs a free recreation centre for Punjabi Bagh's elderly. Its founder, Harsh Arora, talks to Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty about a plan to open five more centres across NCR

All you need to light a fire is a spark. The idea seems to have ignited in this young Delhiite the zeal to seek a life worth living. Two years ago, Rohini resident Harsh Arora gave up his American Express job to start life afresh, purely because he wanted to be on a two-way lane where there is an opportunity for not just taking from society but also giving back something worthwhile. Things took shape in the form of a small NGO alongside his new calling, that of a motivational speaker for corporate houses and educational institutions.

Now in 2011, sitting in the modest office of his NGO, Sarthak Prayas, at Punjabi Bagh, Harsh says he is certainly a happy man. Sarthak Prayas today is a name to reckon with when it comes to blood donation in Delhi, its main line of social work. “We have 8,500 donors registered with us from across the city. This equips us to help patients in urgent need of blood for free. All you need to do is dial our helpline number (45650560) between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.,” says Harsh.

Yet another aspect that Sarthak Prayas now focuses on is the welfare of senior citizens. The first stride in this regard is a recreational centre for the elderly run at one corner of the NGO's office in Punjabi Bagh. “At present, there are about 17 senior citizens, mostly women, who are members of the centre. They meet three to four times a week. It becomes a good outing for them; they get to share their problems, celebrate happy occasions like birthdays, etc. Our oldest member is 80 years old,” informs Harsh. The corner has a stand filled with the day's newspapers in English, Hindi and Urdu, besides a host of popular magazines. Comfortable sofas surround a sizeable table with boards games like Ludo and carom placed on it for them to play. Tea and snacks are provided free. It also teaches computer skills to the willing elderly.

Harsh says the initial thought was to provide senior citizens a comfortable place where they could spend the entire day. “New skills can be taught to them and those who are interested in teaching can gradually get occupied in educating slum children of their respective areas.” Translating the thought into reality has, however, met with hitches, one being the lack of funds and the other that “Punjabi Bagh is basically a rich area where senior citizens have comforts at home.” Harsh is now seeking to draw in corporate funds to set up centres based on the model in the middle-class areas of the city. “We have a plan to start two centres in Gurgaon, one in Rohini, one in Shakti Nagar and one in Pritampura. We chose Gurgaon only because most corporate offices are there and they are quite interested in helping out themselves at the centre,” he says. Recently, Sarthak Prayas got FCRA clearance too. “Now we can approach foreign funders for the centres. HelpAge India has already asked us to submit a proposal.”

Funds required to start a centre are not high. “Around Rs.10,000 per month is necessary to settle the rent and electricity bills. Newspapers and magazines can also come free. For instance, a national daily last year gave us free copies for the entire year. To foot the bill for tea and snacks, we are trying to get money by selling garbage. Plan is on to open garbage collection points where people can dump things that they don't want, like newspapers, etc.,” he explains. “Whoever wants to donate used fans, inverters, almirahs, books, refrigerators, office tables, televisions and DVD players is welcome.”

In the long run, Harsh says the dream is to open an old age home where people can have a happy sunset.

(To contact Sarthak Prayas, write to info@sarthakprayas.org or check its website www.sarthakprayas.org)