Showing posts with label Underprivileged. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Underprivileged. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Changing Lives.. Making a Difference

As a leader of yet another community service project, I visited an NGO that does some amazing service among the less privileged among us.

The Freedom Foundation, founded in the early '90s was born out of a need that two philanthropists, a Doctor and a De-addiction Therapist, knew existed.
Starting in a location that was way out of town at that time, the center initially treated (alcohol/drug) addicts who needed help. However, Dr Ashok Rau and Late Karl Sequeira soon realized the need for a center that would care for children who are HIV -infected.
Thus began, the current facility at Geddalahalli, roughly four kilometers from the Hennur main road.

What started with three students have now grown to over 25 children who live full-time at nine of its nicely furnished rooms.
Of course there are a lot of NGOs that do outstanding work in the field of HIV research and care, but what struck me about The Freedom Foundation was how bureaucracy and civic apathy can stunt even the most altruistic NGO.
Meeting with the director at the NGO, I could understand the pain - of not having donors, of not having sufficient funding, at fighting a loosing battle - and the determination. Take for instance, the case of two orphaned siblings. The three year old girl was HIV positive was forcefully separated from her seven year old brother, who was HIV negative. The government naturally believed the boy stood a better chance of a good life, gave him up for adoption. The Freedom Foundation, on the other hand believed that the siblings must not be separated, being as it is that the girl didn't have her parents and her brother was her only family remaining. After months of legal wrangling and much debate, the honorable courts did find sense in letting the brother be with his younger sister.

If being HIV positive was not a death sentence in itself, red tapism makes it even more exasperating.
Barred from receiving any foreign aid by archaic rules, I could feel the plight of survival.
To a government that believes being HIV positive is a punishment for your lifestyle choices, every victim is just another statistic.

I went around the in-patient facility, surveying and understanding the needs of the Foundation. Partly because I would be leading a team of 14 from my Company who will help 'Beautify the Centre' and make the day a little more joyful for the children and partly because I was moved by the plight of the Foundation that is visibly struggling.

As kids, they didn't choose to be branded, but as adults we can make sure they have a fair shot at education, a promising career and a family of their own. 
While many talk about equal opportunities, our schools, colleges and workplaces are not willing to walk the talk.
I was told how the warden and the Director had to pull strings to convince the institutions to admit the HIV -infected and -affected children to schools and colleges.
Isn't this another face of that prejudiced monster we call - Corruption?

While we are eager to spend thousands on wasteful birthday bashes, anniversary gifts and exotic vacations, what we forget to remember is how just $75 would take care of the costs of the ART for one child in a month. And it costs just $150 for an entire year's education for that child. Surely, we can afford this. Can't we?

If seeing is believing, the Freedom Foundation is indeed an eye-opener. I'd recommend you to visit them, even if you don't have any intention of serving their cause. I came away thinking of the many ways that we take our charmed lives for granted.

If you think you would like to contribute to a noble cause, please visit them here where you can contribute just about anything. 
Your change could make the difference we need.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Learn, Earn, Stand tall


As part of the ThomsonReuters Community Service team, I have been fortunate to be a part of several projects.


The first project for this year that I'll be a part of is organized by an well-networked NGO called Unnati (An SGBS trust initiative).
First of it's kind that I'm being a part of, Unnati enables and empowers underprivileged students in a competitive world.


Meeting the director of the NGO was a wonderful experience. Unnati identifies between 100 and 200 students who are socially and economically underprivileged. Nearly all of the students that are selected to study here are from family below the poverty level. Apart from having no knowledge of English and very limited chances of a gainful employment in a fast paced job market, these students aren't much different from you and me. 
They are ambitious (one student graduating out of the seventy day course aspired to be a Managing Director of a Hotel one day), they have the same fear of the stage, and will face the same challenges that you and I will face. But just because they live in a shanty house or in a village or slum, we are biased against them. 


The eight year old not for profit NGO, depends on 90 other NGOs and many of it's alumni for its students - from 18 to 40 year olds. Costs are met by generous donors like Google et al.


Once at the Centre, they go through a thorough screening process that separates the truly deserving from the 'just lazy'. 
There after they go through a seventy day vocational training and personality development course that is structured and tutored by professionals who volunteer their time and effort. Students are taught vocational training (like guest care, tailoring, industrial painting, security, paramedics, and retail sales and marketing) in state of the art class rooms that are donated by companies like Philips, and the Infosys Foundation..
Of course like any other organisation, Unnati goes through the pangs of attrition too.
But what surprised me is how attrition tapered off after just 10 days of class. The students apparently are convinced about the effect that Unnati has on them in a week! 
At the seventieth day we see how such a structured environment, that places emphasis on underprivileged individuals getting the right kind of vocational training that  equips them for the modern workforce, achieves when nearly all the students graduate, with a job. Many of the students earn between Rs 3000 to Rs 9000 as their first salaries!


Today, sitting among the students at their valediction ceremony, I could feel the excitement, the enthusiasm and the confidence that all of these students possess. The students performed skits on money management, etiquette and life skills. 


It's hard to imagine how any organization can transform a person from being underprivileged to being part of a highly trained modern workforce. But watching the students graduate with pride and honor, I know Unnati has done the impossible. 
From a lump of clay to a beautiful piece of art.


Amidst all the anarchy and chaos in our society, Unnati comes out as a beacon of hope. The hope that not all is wrong in the world today.


Their motto: Learn, Earn and Stand tall, rings through all their students. 
Unnati: A wonderful example to emulate


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