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Making a difference

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MAHESH RAMAKRISHNAN reflects on how youthcan take out time to give back to society.

philanthropy:Agastya has adopted a teaching method which believes that learning is best undertaken through observation.
philanthropy:Agastya has adopted a teaching method which believes that learning is best undertaken through observation.

The term “philanthropy” is frequently used by the media these days. Tales of the affluent giving huge sums of money to various foundations have created a distorted image of what it means to give back. In India, the tradition of giving back dates to the Vedic age. Dhaana , the notion of selfless giving to society, was the paramount social responsibility of the citizen. In the last 300 years, our society seems to have forgotten our responsibilities towards our fellow men. Never has the chasm between the haves and have-nots been this wide, and the world’s economic framework seems to show no indication of this gap getting smaller anytime soon.

Learning through observation

At the age of 17, I have neither a war chest of funds, nor the backing of the Gates Foundation. One resource I do have, however, is time. I have chosen to engage in giving back to society by dedicating that time towards various causes. For the last couple of years, I have had the privilege of volunteering my free time to the Agastya Foundation in Kuppam, Andhra Pradesh. Through their use of mobile labs, Agastya delivers a world-class science and mathematical education to children in rural villages.

The difference between conventional lecture education systems and Agastya’s teaching method lies in its approach: learning is best undertaken through observation. During my last trip, I had the chance to see the hands-on impact that Agastya is having on these rural children. Agastya is building a quiet confidence in these children, whom they believe have the potential to become India’s most valuable resource.

Even for those who are a bit more adventurous, there are ways for you to help. Start an awareness run, raise funds — there are endless ways for you to make a difference. This summer, I decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and sent out mass emails asking for help. A decent sum was raised for helping Agastya fund one of their outreach programmes. With Swami Vivekananda as my inspiration, I implore each parent of the privileged class of India to allow their children devote some of their spare time during weekends and holidays towards worthwhile causes. After working with these children, it is clear that they cherish personal human attention and interaction. Taking time away from watching a single test match or IPL game is a sacrifice that every teenager can make to help the cause of our underprivileged brothers and sisters. There are well over a million different philanthropic organisations in India trying to make a difference. I am sure these organisations would love to receive help from the youth. We can create a land in which all Indians can pursue their dreams with equal opportunity and hope.

The writer is a student at

Trinity School, New York


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