Let’s Initiate, was a social initiate by a bunch of University students with a nurtured idea to invest their time and effort for social good. Very quickly an initiate started by two people was able to organize a Chennai wide event for Swach Bharat, transform the orphanage dormitory infrastructure, garner a lot of support and participation and make an impact, even be it at a smallest level. While things were at its best, it also hit a hard stop in the muddle of emotional battle for sustainability, little far fetched vision and race of life. It was never very clear under self imposed justifications so the question still remains “what happened, did it fail or has it lived its purpose?”
Let me try to write this article as a story, a real life story.
Once upon a time back in 2014, it all started in most cliched places of all, a coffee shop, Cafe Coffee Day coffee outlet in Chennai. A few hours back I got a call from Sam, in excitement, he rushed on as soon as I have lift the call and spoke “Can you open the link I texted you, I want you to give me a feedback on my this new initiate I am planning to work on”. He was excited and waiting with all ears to listen to some positive laurels. It was a Facebook page “We Initiate” which he later explained is intended to create a social awareness and inspiration to its readers. He had just one post with a 2 mins video from YouTube describing Indian innovation over the years and why we Indians can do great achievements. At this point, I myself was looking for doing something different and expressing my views as a content writer and this was opportunistically not quite fitting, but interesting at first thought. “I need you on this, to create content for my page, would you be interested?”. It was a no thought required offer to accept his invitation but what happened over the course next few minutes changed the idea completely.
Discussion on his idea of the posts and how he want to contribute something back to the society even if it is smallest way possible took us to his elder brothers NGO, which work towards employment opportunities for weaker sections. The entire idea started to fascinate me and I wanted to be right away part of the NGO but also triggered an old memory which we started to discuss on “you know my friend Mounica from Electronic and Electrical Engineering, she also is an active social contributor, she regularly visits an orphanage on weekends and spend time and helps them with their requirements to whatever extent she can”. I can get you in touch with her and may be that could be one of your next post on your page, something about her making a change in society.
Most of us come from humble uprisings and middle class family. Which is tricky you see, we are desirous like none, yet at the same time, down beneath empathetic to the entire concept of unprivileged and hardships of life.
Lesson-1: A persons identity mattered so little to them than their mere presence
I met and spoke to Mounica, about the idea of mentioning about the orphanage and her activity in a social media post. “A definite no!, I do it because I like it, it makes me feel good, not for attention” she refused down right. It took some time to convince her, but what played a key part to get her onboard was her love for the kids and passion for going good for the underprivileged. She agreed at the point of discussion when I mentioned, “this can help these kids, imagine, when more people starts visiting the place and engaging with the orphanage, it can turn out to be big and what is the downside, no one is going to read it or care for it.”
We reached the orphanage well before she arrived and here is where we learnt out first lesson. We were greeted and accepted so instantaneously by kids and teens alike, as if they were familiar with us. During our entire stay, they kept us close, moving around us, holding our hands, playing with us, talking and telling their daily stories, introducing their friends and some shy and scared kids sitting and constantly staring with their deep rooted and glittering eyes to be talked. A persons identity mattered so little to them, than their mere presence in there small isolated world, which they have started to appreciate.
Lesson-2: Starting something small and wishing for something big is better than closing your eyes at the end of day with a feeling of something to be done
Mounica arrived and there was a glow in these kids eyes as they ran to her with open arms. There was definite bond she had created. She patted them playfully and inquired about their well being as she walked towards us. We talked a bit before she left to have a word with orphanage madam in charge. On her way back she introduced us to madam in charge and took us to show around the place. There was a two floor dormitory and office building at one end. They had mattress laid on the floor across the room, with little space between their beds to move, everybody had their own trunks to keep their clothes and books and their daily grooming things were laid out on their trunk. It was not at all a bad environment, it was neat and clean, but it wasn’t better either. It was dull and lacked color, but was definitely filled with these kids smiles and energy as they getting ready for weekend specials. There was big open area outside their dormitory, surrounded by dinner hall, classroom and a wall separating residential apartment on each of the other sides. Their food area had limited access to hygienic drinking supply and pending sanitation related repair works. This is where we learnt our second lesson. Looking at our first timer emphatic and pity looks, she cheerfully and with hope explained “There is a lot to be changed here to give these kids a better sense of living, we have done some work over the months with whatever money we can raise, but its a big battle and slowly it shall transform into a better place“.
We sat down to interview her, but the purpose of this meeting has changed completely and my mind lingered all around the place. My heart felt heavy and there was an instant empathetic connection forming in. I interrupted her “How do you raise money for carrying out the improvement activities”. She sighed and replied with raised eyebrows and shrugging her shoulder “I and my friends contribute whatever we can, they visit once in a while, I visit frequently to get the requirement from warden on essential needed by the kids and what can be done and also to meet these little naughty guys”. The interview was over before it started and the foundation for “Lets Initiate” was laid out on the idea “What if we help you to get more support and eventually raise more funds through our Facebook page”. She was calm but overwhelmed “that would be great, we can definitely capitalize on the extra money for setting up hygienic water infrastructure”.
Lesson-3: Helping underprivileged and contributing to society is hidden deep beneath in everyone of us, most of us don’t find a right platform to take a step
Our agreement lead to launching an online campaign was created to garner support from people and donations. Money always creates skepticism so we modeled our campaign towards essentials (books, clothes, games etc.) rather than cash donations.
Our third lesson came from the campaign. We realized, helping underprivileged and contributing to society is hidden deep beneath everyone of us, most of us just don’t find a right platform to take a step forward. Sooner, with campaign posters put up in university hostels, spread out through Facebook and word of mouth. It took the page followers to 300 and there were many people inquiring and willing to be part of our next visit.
For the support and energy we got, the current thought of planned activity was not enough. There were people ready to make this into something memorable for themselves and as well as kids, debarring both of them this moment would have been a bigger regret. We elevated the idea from what was a donation activity into a full fledged carnival for them. But the core idea what has always been for Let’s Initiate was “sustainable value creation”. We believed, fun was something definitely these kids deserve but this was temporary and without doubt, there will be uncountable circumstances when we will not be there every weekend in their life. We wanted to impart more than fun, or lets say along with fun, a bigger confidence in them, motivate for life with purpose, introduce to them the possibility and greatness can be achieved even by most underprivileged.
As a kid their minds are at their prime, at its sharpest and in most receptive state and molding them now towards positivity was the charity we embarked onto
Lesson-4: Helping needy is not a charity or give away, its the costliest and rare gift to your soul, be greedy, steal unconditional happiness for your heart
We started at morning 8 AM, we curated educative sessions mixed games and fun activities to not make them hates us for killing their weekend. Unintended, what we identified surprised, a hidden gem of talents. One of them was exceptionally brilliant in dance, one in singing, one in writing, all self learnt from watching TV during weekly movie sessions and reading books donated to them. Later this lead to discussion with people to represent these kids in competitions for there future. We did, games, poetry, teaching, counselling, story telling, motivational session with videos and personal stories, lunch and yes, lots and lots of food through out the day
We spent 10 hrs. with them, all the while we thought we were doing a good job and giving these kids really a good time and today they are going to sleep with a smile in their faces but what we didn’t realize was they were giving our soul a greater sense of happiness it has every embraced before and we had a most satisfying sleep ever
What touched most was their parting gift, there words and love. They sang a thank you song for us, all in a formation, in chorus and with animated actions. Among all one thing that stuck to us till this date was their words, “Do you guys have to go, nobody stays with us, can you stay with us tonight” with tears in their eyes, faded happiness and sad sunken faces.
Lesson-5: Most undervalued gift in our life is having someone to talk to
Over the course of few months we did a medical camp by inviting a doctor family to support us in our cause. We did multiple visits following our first visit, though not all of them were at the same scale, for a reason to not make them habituated things that are not sustainable, but there were games, good special lunch, spending personal time with these kids and understanding their problems and more importantly listening to them.
We learnt our fifth lesson that most under valued gift in our life, is having someone to talk to, orphanage, is not just a place to shower money and gifts, what they most require is a brother, a sister, a father and a mother for them to embrace. We were able to become the brothers and sisters for them to . “I have parents, they come to visit me frequently and get me food to eat and small gifts” said one of the kid with a depressed voice. “I guess they don’t love me because I am not good and they don’t want me” she added. Shocking it was for us, we later understood, their parents financial condition didn’t support them to raise a kid and orphanage ensured their kid was well fed, educated and have a good place to sleep. Eventually, towards end of your day, we tried our best she felt better and have a different perspective, as a brother they could find someone to speak to and get shown the way forward.
Lesson-6: Fate is a neutral energy and our actions transforms it into a positive and negative force that we know as “opportunities come to doers”
Over the next few weeks and months we grew in size with more and more people volunteering to be part of giving themselves the gift of this happiness. So grew our ability to organize activities and initiatives which solved their problems. At the same time, sticking to our core belief to teach them both mental and physical abilities which will be useful for their life.
One of the bigger problem was access to purified drinking water, well for the scale of the orphanage it was an expensive piece of equipment. From the first day of our interaction with orphanage the problem openly visible but not an easy one to solve by bunch of college students with no funds. As our activity grew and more and more people started to join us. We got wait purifier installed, supported by one of volunteers family.
Eventually, our weekly engagement and fun with the kids was being observed by the residents of the adjacent apartment overlooking the orphanage. One week when we returned to orphanage, we were surprised to see their dormitory was fit with double beds, good mattress and pillows. A senior IT employee living in that apartment has approached his company and arranged for it under their CSR activities with a verbal note left to us “I have been observing what these college students have been doing and it made me feel good and encouraged me to do my part in it”
This is where we learnt our sixth lesson that fate, as we say, has done the magic, is sometimes just every whole hearted step you have taken in your past and present that has created the magic
Lesson-7: Not everything is failure, somethings have a life of its own and it is how it is meant to be
The journey of Lets Initiate was forged on the foundation of volunteers from the college, our friends and place we were staying and studying. Towards the end of our college days, as we were about to be graduated, last 6 months were tough and packed up. We had very minimum interactions with the kids and as we moved out of college, people dispersed to different cities on their jobs and thus came a hard stop to Lets Initiate. Repeated attempts to revive the effort failed as foundation eroded. Is this a failure of sustaining the efforts? Was this life of this initiative? I dwelt on this question a lot, but looking back at all the learning i had and the kind of person it made me today and i believe it has changes some part of everybody involved as well. Looking through this lens, it has lived its life and i rest it with no regrets but with a promise, the good it taught will be part of my life and activity ever
Special thanks to Mounica, without whom this would not have been possible. Heartfelt thanks to all who has been part of this wonderful journey