Seven, the number, might have a significant importance in the field of ‘Number Theory’ – in Ramanujan-Nagell equation, but to me it has a different significance in a different context. When I go back seven years from today, I see myself getting into an engineering college right from my school. You might be wondering how an engineering degree in India suddenly has become significant, but, what was significant in my story is the reality I got exposed to during the same time.
Every time I crossed the broad streets of Kolkata, I came across deprived faces of all varieties – from infant to old all-around. With my fresh adulthood, I wanted to do something about it, leveraging the ample freedom and leisure that the age eighteen could offer. In April 2011, I stumbled upon CRY – Child Rights and You’s website and came across some incredible stories of change. It inspired me to write to CRY and within a week’s time I landed up in their Kolkata office. (Well, landing up in that office was a journey in itself, for which my treasure hunt skills owe a round of applause). And you know what, after a day-long session, I was fully convinced to be associated with the vision and mission of the organisation.
Since then, I never left a single opportunity to make a spot under CRY’s umbrella. Over these seven years, I have worn different hats in the organisation. The very first was that of a field volunteer. It was only two other people and I who began to explore one of the most deprived pockets of Kolkata, with scores of underprivileged children residing in it. It was a mammoth challenge in waiting – a migrant community which spoke a different language, practiced a different culture and lived in one of the dirtiest and complex slums.
Forget about making a change, it was challenging for us to find our ways without losing ourselves in the labyrinthine allies of the Rajabazar slums in central Kolkata. It was very hard to even make a scratch on such an ‘alien’ land. The parallel task was to start dealing with different local administrative entities most of which were resistant and critical of what we approached to do. In the first one to two years, there was very slow progress in terms of change – so slow that it was not unusual to lose all hope.
But, slowly, with very trivial stories of change we started to gain visibility and credibility. The community finally accepted us, and things started rolling a bit faster as the three of us grew as young leaders leading a larger squad of volunteers. Amidst all these challenges what was satisfying was to be working with a team of diverse individuals tied by the same vision, and the small changes that made the community smile brighter.
It was mid 2013, and I chose to collaborate more and took an internship position for over 10 weeks. In this phase I created several pieces of content for children, helped CRY design multiple fund-raising and advocacy campaigns and initiatives. Even after my internship, along with the regular field work, I continued working in the content creation team to help design, maintain, and increase reach of the blog of the CRY volunteers in Kolkata.
This continued till mid 2014, and I had to move out of Kolkata with a job opportunity. It was personally challenging to leave a team that you have built from the scratch and been through ups and downs back in the city for nearly four years. To keep the volunteer in me alive, I started volunteering as an online volunteer where I took up different tasks ranging from creating content to different skill-based data analytics jobs.
As I have lived the life of a volunteer, I know how much even a small contribution helps the volunteer teams or CRY at large. After I started earning, I have also become a donor where I donated my share occasionally to different CRY fund-raisers and campaigns.
These different profiles have helped me shape my values, grow as a leader and taught me few of the very fundamental learnings for life. As I got exposed to the reality at an impressionable age, and worked closely with different individuals, it shaped my value systems considerably. This experience complemented the books I read and the values my parents tried to inculcate in me over the years.
Today, when I lead teams in a true corporate environment or lead different CSR activities for the organisation, I often fall back on the different leadership learnings I gained solely from my journey as a volunteer. I couldn’t thank myself for deciding to join CRY at that early age and submerging myself to reality.
The author is an active volunteer with CRY – Child Rights and You, works as a consultant at Ernst and Young’s Analytics practice where he consults different global organizations and lead projects to address their business problems using sophisticated analytics techniques. He is associated with CRY since April 2011.