In October 2012, while at a friend’s house, we sit chatting about what each of us does professionally. Conversation inadvertently moves to social causes and to what we do for the community that has laid the foundation for what we are today. (I know there will be arguments to the contrary, however, I do believe that community always has a role to play, however minute it may be, in grooming every individual). And giving back to the community in their own way are two such individuals – Shobha Murthy and Anuradha Padmanabhan. Anu is a freelance soft skills trainer who often lends her expertise to and works with multiple NGOs in the area, Aarambh at Turbhe being one of them. Run by Shobha Murthy, the founder, trustee and director of Aarambh, the Turbhe center is one of 10 community centers - across all of Navi Mumbai. Each center caters to about 15 pre-primary kids and 20 children in the class 1-10 range.
Caring for others beyond your immediate family and friends circle is something that really needs to be appreciated in this time and age. After what we go through with the proverbial grist mill, who has the time or inclination to look beyond our daily routines and chores – much less spend that time on kids and youngsters – none of whom are your own? When iDiya and Indiblogger come up with a social change contest as part of IndiChange, I am instantly reminded of Anu. On call, I want to know what Aarambh is all about and she explains patiently. Aarambh centers are essentially community centers that work with underprivileged children and women from all backgrounds of life – children of sex workers, day labourers, house help etc.
|A volunteer helping children with Art.|
|Mid-day meal time|
15 years ago, when a few scientists from BARC volunteered at Aarambh, they set a new record. Teaching evening classes after work, they painstakingly worked with children who were only too eager to learn. The result? For the first time since its inception, students of Aarambh passed their standard 10th exams in their very first attempt! Up until then, students needed 2-3 attempts to clear their exams, if at all. The volunteers have long since been transferred to other locations, but they still call up to enquire about ‘their children’. I ask about funds and she tells me, inflow of funds is decent but not steady. Conglomerates like JP Morgan do pitch in. ‘Money is money. If not today, it will come in a few months. But how do we spark interest and initiative in individuals?’ She asks forlornly.
Education is a powerful medium by which slowly and steadily, the gap can be reduced if not bridged completely. But urging the underprivileged comes with its own set of challenges. When my mother tried to encourage our house help to study, even opting to take classes for her after work, she refused. She does not have time for it. Compared to education which can give her a good future tomorrow, she needs the money today.To pay bills and run the house, to pay for her brothers’ education and such. But let not a few such obstacles bog us down. For every person unable to attend school because their circumstances don’t support, there are still many more who have the un-quenched thirst to learn and are willing to!
|Aarambh children participate in a dance show.|
|At Aarambh, women learning to sew.|
|A young Picasso calls out to you!|
For six centers which are located en-route to major IT parks, the centers should ideally attract more educated youth and adults – considering that they’re open from 9 AM to 9 PM. Shobha Ma’am tells me ‘The kids all live in the vicinity. If we tell them to come for a class at 7 PM, they’ll be there. 8 PM, they’ll be there. They’re hungry to learn. And people don't even have to teach 100s of students. It's 15-20 max. Not like schools.’ Thoughts churn around in my mind. For interested individuals, an extra hour after work – twice a week or so shouldn't seem like such a bad option, should it? She asks me then, what is it that stops people from volunteering? If they want to be paid monetary benefits, then it isn't really volunteering, is it? People don’t communicate their expectations from the experience. She tells me, Aarambh is ready to pay for conveyance, provide certificates of experience and such if that is what is required. But people are still not interested. In the end, she leaves me with a question. ‘If the educated won’t do, then who will?’
So, I ask you today, what is 3-4 hours a week? It’s akin to giving up 45 minutes of TV time a day. Is that so difficult? To face a book instead of spending that ½ hour a day on Facebook? If not for anything, do it for Karma. What goes around, comes around. Do good unto others; good will come back to you. Do it for selfish reasons. But do it. And be serious about it.
Mundane chores often consume our day and we find that we have no time for anything else. But a few years down the line, when you look back at your life, wouldn't you rather feel good about having done something effective? If we set our hearts to it, we would start loving the effort too! A child from a slum is waiting for your helping hand eagerly. Let not the reluctance of visiting a slum hold you back. Organizations like Aarambh help bring them and you together under one roof. Take that first step, you will not want to let go of the little hand. Go out there and put in a few hours each week for a cause close to your heart. You will not regret it.
Enquire about such initiatives in your vicinity. Take that first step. Aarambh. It is a beginning.
For more about Aarambh:
Contact Number: 022 27680965
Note: The above post is based on true conversations (quoted verbatim) with the two exceptional women. Image credit for all images rests with aarambh.orgI would love to hear your views!