“Of course, one can do great work for the society. However, a greater contribution would be to integrate more people in your cause, directly, so they can see the plight of the underprivileged and take the initiative forward at an individual level.” Dinesh Kumar Gautam, founder Drishti Foundation Trust, works for the underprivileged section of our society, with this broader perspective in mind.
Born in Gubana village in Haryana, Dinesh himself had faced a lot of financial difficulties while growing up. Dinesh recalls the days when he had just moved to Delhi’s Najafgarh area for his further studies and wanted to pursue a computer course. His dad had to ask him to not pursue it because he couldn’t afford the fees.
“Computers had just come into existence and I, too, like a million others wanted to learn this new machine. However, the fees were very high and my dad couldn’t afford it. Sometimes, things pinch you so much that you decide never to go back down that lane. Somehow, I decided that I’ll never learn the computer,” he tells me over the phone.
Later, Dinesh went on to study journalism and obtained a diploma in the field from National Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi. After which he took up a job with a Hindi newspaper whose head office was in Gurgaon and then he started paying frequent visits to the rural areas of Rajasthan. “I visited many places like Alwar and Bharatpur, in the Mewat district of the state, and it was there that I realized the lack of proper education, especially, for the girl child.”
In 1999, Dinesh started a school in Alwar and to manage its smooth operations, he shifted his residence to a place nearby. “With the support of the Panchayati Raj in the village, I undertook many initiatives for the empowerment of children in the village through education,” says Dinesh. However, as his personal life responsibilities grew and he got married, Dinesh switched his job and started working in the corporate sector. A consequence of which was that in 2004, the school had to be shut down.
“I took this decision with a heavy heart as I had to fulfil my familial responsibilities, too. However between the years, 2004 and 2011, I undertook co-curricular activities for the slum kids in Delhi and also worked on various other initiatives,” he confides in me. “However, as I shifted to Ahmedabad, Gujarat, in 2011, I decided to take forward my work in a structured way,” adds Dinesh. Hence, Drishti Foundation Trust was born.
“I kept the name of my foundation after my daughter to show to the world that daughters are a family’s pride and not a burden. There’s a saying, Bhagwan betiya unhi ko deta hai, jinki haisiyat ho, unhe sambhalne ki (God blesses only those with a girl child who can afford to take care of them). I was blessed with a girl child, and only then did I find success,” he says, and I hear the pride in his voice.
Today, Drishti Foundation Trust runs two schools, one in the Jawahar Camp slum area, Delhi, and other in Vatva slum, Ahmedabad.
“In the Ahmedabad school, we have from nursery to senior secondary and apart from academics and co-curricular, we also focus on personality development and skill training,” says Dinesh. “You see, many of the underprivileged get the education, but, they are not taught the etiquettes, the mannerisms, and other personality traits, needed to get a decent job. Therefore, even when the opportunities are available for them, they fail to utilize them. So, we organize various personality development and image consultancy workshops for them,” he explains.
Drishti Foundation Trust is also extensively working towards providing dental health care to the underprivileged. When I ask Dinesh why he specifically chose dental, he replies, “You cannot fathom the severity of dental problems people of all ages are facing in rural areas of Rajasthan. My first dental check-up camp was in 2015, in Harshauli in Dudu district of Rajasthan and I was shocked to see the dental issues the adults and kids were facing. The fluoride content in the water they consume is so high that it is posing threat to all age groups and dental checkup and treatments are expensive, they have no choice but to suffer.” He further tells me that in rural areas, on an average, there’s just one dentist for one lac people and medical insurance doesn’t cover dental care expenses.
“This motivated me to undertake this cause and we have been aggressively conducting free dental check-ups and care camps in five states, namely, Ahmedabad, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, and Uttarakhand.” Dinesh further reveals how his camp in Gurgaon for the government employees highlighted another major issue. “These were the people who even had access to dental checkups which is covered by the government and, yet the poor dental health and the increase of oral cancer patients amongst the industrial labor force was alarming and depicted the lack of awareness on their part.”
Through his NGO, Dinesh then set up a dental clinic in Gurgaon for patients who couldn’t afford the treatment in private hospitals. “You’ll be stunned to know that the space for our clinic is in a government hospital. So, it’s not that the government doesn’t have a proper infrastructure. The issue is the dedication of the people appointed to carry out the work in the government spaces,” Dinesh explains. “We just asked them for their space and all the other things we are managing on our own. And, one has to see the quality of treatment and dental care that we are providing at the facility. Our focus is on preventive care rather than curing the disease and we are working on it through extensive awareness campaigns.”
Dinesh also opened up on the importance of bringing the community together to contribute in the social work. “Drishti Foundation Trust does not have any employees, only volunteers. Also, we do not believe in cash donations. Instead, we are just bridging the gap between the donor and the needy. There are so many Governmental schemes for the underprivileged and almost every company has a set budget for its CSR activities, however, they are not being directed in the right direction and that’s exactly what I am doing. Even for the CSR activities of the companies, I insist employee engagement so that they can see the ground reality which motivates them to take up a social cause at an individual level.”
“Similarly,” elucidates Dinesh, “we do not help the underprivileged monetarily. If you give them the money then it’s like you have cut their motivation and urge. For example, there were these two girls, who were exceptionally good in academics. However, they came from very difficult backgrounds and had no financial support from their families. So, we arranged a part-time job for them. Now, they both work at a Pizza joint after their studies and earn ₹7,000 each.”
Drishti Foundation Trust has set many milestones, be it in education, dental healthcare, or overall development of the underprovided. ‘Mobishala’ is one such initiative by Dinesh that is still close to his heart. “The idea of Mobishala came during the demonetization time. We all know that the biggest impact of note-ban was on the poor and illiterate section of the society. They didn’t have the cash nor were they equipped to use technology for trade,” he explains. Thus, they started training them on how to use their mobiles for monetary transactions. Dinesh tells me that this initiative is still continuing in rural areas of Ahmedabad and Gurgaon.
Discussing the family’s involvement in his work, Dinesh happily says, “There are times that I am short on cash and my children ask for a thing and I have to tell them that I’ll get it with my next month’s salary. They never complain about it and that’s the biggest thing. My wife and my kids understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing and fully back me up.”
Reminiscing over one such memory, he tells me, “I still remember that one day, after returning home from her skating lesson, Drishti saw a few street kids playing with tires. Next day, she went with her mom and distributed toys which were given to us by the Hypercity collective for a campaign.”
Dinesh also reels in his biggest inspiration and says, “My role model is Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Imagine, bringing together, so many languages, so many different thoughts, in what we know as states of India, he’s truly the father of the Republic of India. He, too, brought together different opinions and filled in the gaps, and they had to give it one name. I, too, aspire to serve as the link between the people who wish to help and people who need the help.”