ByÂ Anwesha Dhar:
It was around 8:05 pm, Monday evening when I was frantically searching for a recharge outlet in my neighbourhood. It was a big day for me-I was finally going to get on a call with Jithin C. Nedumala, the founder of ‘Make A Difference’, for the first time, not as a volunteer of the organisation but as a correspondent.
Jithin’s story is one which has never failed to captivate thousands of youngsters of our generation. Seven years ago, Jithin stepped into a shelter home in Cochin to celebrate his friend’s admission to a prestigious college with the children there. Once there, awed by the enthusiasm shown by these kids and more so, their request for books over anything else, he never really looked back. He kept going back there, and slowly, observing and understanding the problems that are deeply rooted in our society, he resolved to take action. He called some of his friends who agreed to help, and that is how MAD was born. Today MAD is India’s fastest growing youth volunteer network, with chapters across 23 cities in India. So when my phone started buzzing at 8:10 pm and the name flashing on the screen was Jithin Nedumala, my heart started throbbing. When I profusely apologised for being late, he simply said, “Don’t worry about it” in that easy manner which makes him extremely popular with all the volunteers in the organisation.
Once we started talking about MAD and his journey, I could not help but ask Jithin what is it that actually made him go back to the shelter home and not slack off like so many of us whose resolve to do almost anything wears thin within two-three hours. “Nobody looks up to the youth,” he said, “nobody expects much. When I went to this shelter home, these kids actually started looking up to me. For the first time in my life probably, someone expected something from me. It attached a sort of responsibility.”
Being a college student himself back then, the road was not a very easy one, he agrees, but one of the greatest things he had was the support he received from his friends. “They were all super supportive. I called a couple of my friends to talk about it and 25 of them agreed to be a part of it. Everybody wanted to do something, they just didn’t know where and how. When this came along, all of them immediately decided to help.”
MAD since then has grown and developed into an organisation running many projects with the help of its volunteer network spread through the country, mainly comprising college students or young professionals. Being primarily a ‘youth’ organisation, was it difficult to make people take what they were trying to achieve in a serious manner? “When we started out, there were multiple challenges. It was not just about being young and not being taken seriously by those whom we approached. The greatest challenge was the perception of these children by the society in general. They have a lot of opinions about these children, a lot of stereotypical notions. These kids are treated like second-class citizens, being fed leftover food to eat and old clothes to wear. There is this entire class system in place…and MAD directly tried to tackle that.”
Seven years into being, MAD has established its reputation of being a platform that ‘empowers youth to become change leaders who drive positive social impact in the lives of children-at-risk.’ So in a country where this very power of youth is given no space or is undermined at every step by the society, what has been his learning by working with them as far as this very ‘power’ of the youth goes? “One big advantage of working with the youth is the sheer amount of hope each and every one of them embody. They really believe that if you do something good, it will have a positive impact. They are so vibrant…so optimistic. Their belief that good begets good never dies.” Jithin concedes to the fact that sometimes working with the youth has its own limitations. “It is a long-term commitment. When you are mentoring a child, one year would probably create a difference in their lives, but it won’t be much. Sometimes it takes 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. Young people often think it to be too long. They show impatience…they want to finish off faster. If you wish to really impact a child’s life with your mentorship, it can take up to 20 years.”
Today Jithin is credited as one of the pioneers of social entrepreneurship in the country. When asked about his take on the future of social sector in the country, he answered, “Real change comes about when there are solutions that work and there are institutions to deliver those solutions. We lack in these solutions-we still do not know how to keep women safe on the streets, we still do not know how to combat the problem of malnutrition in children…The government is there but it is an implementation agency. The solutions need to come from us, from young people who can come up with innovative solutions.” He added how we need more young people more actively involved in social space. “They need to ask themselves, what they would like to see as their legacy twenty years down the line. Would they want to partake in the corporate field and multiply their own profit margin or would they like to be someone who actually brought significant change in the society?” He does feel that the scene is slowly shifting though, “More and more youngsters are coming in. Frankly speaking, they probably have a lot less pressure than their parents had in their time. They can choose to do something that can drive change.”