In a way, the lift she gave an old woman and her grandson proved serendipitous for M. Kannipriya. The grandmother spoke about the financial burden of raising a child whose parents had succumbed to HIV. That got Priya, who was working with R. Meenakshi's Society For Positive Mothers Development, thinking. She decided to do something about educating children orphaned by HIV. She started Viyam in 2008 with help from a few friends. Today, the foundation funds 10 children.
Also doing his bit for education is A.G. Karunakaran, president and CEO of MulticoreWare, Inc. in Silicon Valley. His first raised funds for the local temple festival at age 11. In 2005, he chipped in with funds and time to help improve the academic levels of the students at Families for Children (FFC), an orphanage in Podanur, Coimbatore — today, two students study engineering and eight others are in an arts college.
Venki Venkatesh, director of engineering at Atrenta, Inc, and one of the founders of India Literacy Project (ILP), dreams about seeing a 100 per cent literate India in his lifetime. ILP, started in 1990, was inspired by Pameshwara Rao of Bhagavathula Charitable Trust. Initially, ILP supported a number of small literacy programmes. Today, it pursues about 100 literacy projects. Also, in association with the Karuna Trust near Bangalore, it has transformed the lives of nearly 30,000 people.
There was no proper road in Banjarpalya, near Bangalore where Baskar S., co-founder Amagi Media Labs lived. Because of this, the children in the village school lost out on lunch supplied by ISKCON's Akshaya Patra programme. He helped build a road. The kids ate, their health improved. So did attendance. A happy coincidence, for Baskar is “afraid of the deep divide in education where a rich kid and a poor kid with the same competency don't get the same exposure to excel”.
Serving the underpriveleged
These individuals join the ranks of people across the globe that derive joy in doing things for the underprivileged. Their inspirations are different, but the unifying factor is the heartfelt need to give back to society. Happily enough, their tribe is increasing. Slowly, family, friends and acquaintances are joining the loop, creating a community that volunteers its time and resources.
But, why is volunteering so important in today's age and time when people hardly have time for themselves? Baskar feels it is his duty to volunteer. “There is a sense of responsibility in doing this, and I'm fortunate I'm in a position where I can do it,” says the tech entrepreneur. “My wife and I have committed to not pass on our wealth to our children, and I'm hoping we keep our promise over the years.”
For Karunakaran it was a visit to a slum in Mexico along with a church group, his son and some friends, that moved him. They had volunteered to build two homes and a library. “The tears of joy in the eyes of the families who received keys to their home, was worth it all,” he reminisces. “In a place like FFC where the kids are given food and shelter, but there's no one to follow up on their education, volunteers and tutors can make a significant difference. That's why we started a tuition programme,” he says.
Another organisation that runs on volunteer strength is Eureka SuperKidz, an AID INDIA Education initiative. Started by Balaji Sampath, its Village Education Centres help underprivileged children in Tamil Nadu — this year's target is 75,000 kids in 1,000 villages.
Making it work
How easy is it for the volunteers to strike a balance between their undoubtedly hectic schedule and their passion? The trick, says Karunakaran, is to demarcate it as personal and professional. “The volunteering aspect is clearly a personal effort. Try to involve your family; that way, you get an opportunity to spend time with them also.”
Says Baskar, “The easiest is to provide money; the hardest is time and work from my end, which I have done quite inadequately.” Kannipriya, who has a young son herself, says that by serving other children, she answers a bigger calling.
It is the reason why Venki believes in squirreling away a minute here and a minute there to ensure his soul is satiated. “There is always time in the evenings, weekends and holidays. There are also pockets of time that can be utilised during mechanical chores. Being organised and managing time helps. But the most important thing is having a will.”
And there seems to be plenty of that. Forget people, individuals are volunteering to take care of animals too. Nigel Otter's India Project For Animals And Nature (IPAN) in Masinagudi, the Nilgiris, sees a steady flow of veterinarians from Finland, Europe, the U.K. and the U.S. who bring the latest technology to this remote outpost. “It's advantage all. Thanks to volunteering, they get to see things they've only read about. And, the animals benefit from cutting-edge treatment,” says Nigel.
But, what's the greatest advantage of volunteering? Says Venki: “We all volunteer to ‘give' but we invariably ‘get' more. You meet great people, learn to look at life in the right perspective. And, knowing you've made a difference, however small, in others' lives is a reward unparalleled.”
Do your bit
Keywords: India Literacy Project