By Ila Bahal:
I used to have a look at the newspapers every morning and read how people in their articles kept saying that the country needs to change this, change that, etc. Most people filled their articles with complicated words to show their concern, but there were very few who came out of their houses and did something about the things that bothered them.
Facebook posts were far beyond annoying where the needy and poor people were photographed with someone pouting at the camera. Those photos then became status updates of pages that said ‘1 like = 1 prayer’ or ‘Facebook will pay 1$ for a Like’.
These pictures, when in black and white became a post with a catchy title that said, ‘Gareebo ko kitaab ka matlab kaha maloom, vo toh bas kagaz se paisa samajhte hain’. (The poor doesn’t know the value of a book, they only know that money can be made with paper).
Our generation has started living too much of its life online. I thought to do my part in doing something about the problems that bothered me.
I am a curious person. It was my curiosity that led me to a slum in Gwalior, where I spoke with the women and children there. I wanted to know how they went about their lives, what I saw changed my life completely.
There was little to no hygiene. Sewage and garbage lined the paths to their tents. Children wore sweaters (for lack of anything better) in the summer. But this was just the beginning.
The women in the slum faced a lot of problems. The NGOs working at/for the slum had not been able to help the slum-dwellers much. My brother and I had a very small volunteering team. We began to teach the children at the slum. There were so many of them who had never been to school, so we got them enrolled in a nearby school.
I wasn’t fully happy or satisfied with just teaching. Each time we faced a new problem, it motivated me to work harder. There were women who didn’t know that sanitary pads existed and had used filthy patches of cloths all their lives.
I don’t understand how a person can sitting at home, holding a tea cup say, “Iss desh ka kuch nahi ho sakta” (Nothing can be done to improve the situations in the country). When they should be saying, “Main iss desh ke liye kuch karna hi nahi chahta”. (I do not want to do anything for my country).
Back when he had just begun, people used to mock us. They would say what we were doing was of no use. I remember when we were collecting donated items (stationery, clothes, food etc.), there were people who donated items that were no longer of any use to them – an inch left of a pencil, leftover food etc.
It got worse when people started using the donation box as garbage bins. People threw in used sanitary pads, blood-soaked clothes and what not. My team and I had to separate these from the items we could use. We have learnt a lot. There have been bad experiences but they proved to be good lessons for us.
We taught women how to make soaps and sell them. Today our soaps are sold by the name ‘Shuddhi‘ all over the country. This gave a lot of women their independence and the ability to support their children’s education and well-being.
Today, the NGO has a name, Aahvan – Ek Pehal. We have many support centres all over the country and people recognise Aahvan as an organisation that believes in making actual efforts and bringing about change.
To me, yes, it is better than yesterday. It is better than sitting at home and reading newspapers, it is better than hitting the Like button on Facebook posts.
Until people realise what humanity means, until people realise that NGO volunteers are not salespersons, until they realise that something is missing from the society, once that realisation comes, there will still be a long way to walk.
All I realise while writing this is that, finding your purpose in life is not that hard. All you need is to look for it, find where you fit best, and make your life worth living.