I started my professional career, in an organization where CSR had been imbibed in the firm’s culture, but I used to wonder – “What’s in it for me?” I would like to share with you 3 sets of life experiences where I walked away with an answer to this simple question.
One of the first opportunities that came my way was through my association with SOFOSH. This required me to work with toddlers who had been abandoned by their parents/relatives and were now housed inside a government hospital. Many of these kids were physically or mentally challenged. Some of the smiling faces and giggling sounds were of kids who sadly had just a few more months left in this world.
Taking sweets or chocolates on the first day, for a bunch of 2 – 5 year olds seemed most apt, given that it is usually rare for kids to not like such treats. Imagine our surprise when we realised that all that these kids wanted was just to be picked up. Yes! Not the delicacies, but just to be picked up in our arms. Yet, when we tried to pick them up, we were admonished by the caretakers. They knew this would condition the kids to demand more of it once we left.
I was shocked.. I had never realized the importance of simple gestures in life and probably was more materialistic, but that experience was an eye opener for me.
As I continued my CSR journey, I joined another initiative called Ekalavya. This involved working with the children of commercial sex workers.
I expected this to be far easier, considering that they were relatively older (8 years and above) and healthier kids. I was wrong. The living conditions were inhumane, to say the least, but that wasn’t the biggest surprise. Our group was oblivious to the fact that these innocent souls did not understand the concept of a conventional male-female relationship. During our first interaction with these kids, we were asked intriguing questions, which we were ill equipped to answer, given that we went there as a mixed gender group of volunteers. They didn’t even know the things we take for granted in the outside world, such as a shopping mall, a zoo or a park. Taking them out of their shell to a normal world was the most difficult project I had ever handled….. and possibly ever will.
After a few years, I joined an organisation in Mumbai and almost immediately joined one of its CSR initiatives – called Udaan. I’m a proud member of Team Udaan working with underprivileged kids from slums in and around Powai. Around 4.5 years back, when we started working with them, we had to teach them to read, not just in English, but in Hindi as well. We eventually graduated to spoken English, and even games. One of the students started beating me in chess, just after a few games, which probably makes me either a very good teacher or a terrible chess player.
What is heartening to note today is that some of those students are part of the Udaan teaching faculty. In fact, one of these students is pursuing a nursing course at Hiranandani hospital while one of them is doing Computer engineering from VJTI.
I’ll close with an incident, which happened when I was visiting Pune a few months back. I was in the Pune Central Mall food court when I suddenly came across a couple of girls simply standing in front of me with big smiles on their face. As I observed closely, they seemed to be looking at me with an air of familiarity. It was then that one of them said “Bhaiya, did you recognize us? We are now working for McDonalds.” I then gathered that they were the same girls whom I had worked with around 7-8 years back under the Ekalavya initiative.
I had managed to bring some positive change in a stranger’s life and at the same time undergone a transformation myself. Are you also ready to change and be changed?