Not every step in life is planned but at times it is consciously driven. Sometimes, things hit you when you least expect them to. And they hit you so hard that you can’t help but do something about them. Some encounters change your life completely. Today, I share with you the life-changing stories of GiveIndia’s partner NGO’s Founders. These changemakers of India share what triggered empathy within them and led them to impact the lives around them.
“I saw this girl performing at the wedding in my home town near Varanasi, in 1988. The way people were looking at her and treating her, shocked me. It was then and there that I decided to do something to free girls like her from such a profession,” recalls Ajeet while talking to The Better India.
After the performance was over, Ajeet approached this girl and asked her if he could do anything for her or her children. After convincing the girl, he adopted her three children. He was just 18-years-old, studying in his first year of college. His family was not supportive but Ajeet was determined. He started teaching them in his spare time and also started going to the red light areas of Varanasi to teach the kids of sex workers. He didn’t take long to understand that the problem was much deeper and more complex than he had thought. It was then he started Guria in 1993 to fight against the sexual exploitation of girls.
Guria has rescued 2,473 people from slavery, including commercial sexual exploitation and bonded labour. It is also fighting a legal battle for many and has filed a new Public Interest Litigation(PIL) in the Supreme Court, for the rescue of 1.2 million minor girls from the brothels all over the country. Standing beside these girls and one of India’s changemakers, Ajeet Singh was determined to fight against sexual violence.
“It was one of the usual days of winters. I was on my scooter when I noticed this rickshaw which read “Laawarish Laash Uthaanewaala” (this rickshaw lifts unclaimed dead bodies). I curiously went to this man standing near it and asked him what it meant. Habib Bhai told me that he carries unclaimed dead bodies for Delhi police. He carries around 4 to 5 bodies every day in the summer, and during winter, there are usually 10 or 11 bodies. I couldn’t understand. I mean if I could survive that temperature then how could someone else die because of it?”, said Anshu.
He started going everywhere with Habib Bhai. One day, Habib’s six-year-old daughter, Bano told Anshu, that on some nights, when it got freezing, she would hug a dead body and sleep. It didn’t bother her, she said, as the body wouldn’t twist or turn. That’s when Anshu realised how a few pieces of cloth can mean the difference between life and death for some people. He went home and put together 67 clothes to give away.
Over time, the initiative took the shape of Goonj’s flagship initiative ‘Cloth For Work’. Goonj started working with rural communities. Villagers would make roads, clean ponds, build bridges, dig wells and as a reward they would get a ‘Family Kit’. The kit is carefully made of all basic materials. Usually second hand but carefully chosen things including clothes, utensils, sanitary pads, sujni (multi-purpose mattress) and many other essentials. Goonj’s team members are working as changemakers in the lives of many. In 2017-18 alone, Goonj worked with more than 3,660 villages undertaking 4,200 rural development activities and distributed 1,40,000 Family Kits.
“I was crossing one of the wards, and my eyes fell upon the tiny foot of a baby girl, probably a few months old. Although I never got to see her face, her legs reminded me of my own daughter, who was around the same age at that time. The fact that the child inside could have been mine was the moment of epiphany which not just broke me emotionally, but drove me further to act upon it,” remembers Purnota while talking to The Better India.
Purnota used to contribute half of her salary for the treatment of children suffering from cancer. That day, she visited the hospital to follow-up on her donation. This chance encounter with a poor little girl changed Purnota’s life and that of many thousand children in the country.
When Purnota realised that the hospital lacks funds to feed nutritious food to the children suffering from cancer, she started donating all her earnings towards them.
She soon realised that she could not manage to continue her initiative alone. She quit her job, teamed up with her friends and started the Cuddles Foundation in 2011. Today, this changemaker is saving little children in 13 cities across India with 22 hospitals on board as their partners to the cause.
Prakash belongs to a poor family of Relangi village in West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh. Despite poor financial conditions at home, his father was very particular about his education.
One day, when Prakash was standing outside his college, he saw an NGO distributing clothes and food to the old people on the roads.That sight moved him and he actively got involved in volunteering activities in his college. “Since I was from a BPL family, I could relate to how small acts can make a huge difference in people’s lives. When I was a kid, my brother and I used to celebrate Diwali with only a handful of crackers and that used to make our day.”
In 1987, a cyclone hit Andhra Pradesh and many villages were completely submerged. Authorities were reluctant to help due to difficult conditions. Prakash explained how he, with six other local volunteers came forward. The volunteers later started a society which is now called Asha Kiran, led by Prakash as the Chairman.
Asha Kiran is committed to facilitating the sustainable development of coastal communities in Andhra Pradesh, India. It is currently working in over 40 villages of the state. It runs various development initiatives including vocational training, community health, and environmental programs. It is also committed to reducing school dropout rates of children from economically backward families.
“I had gone to this shelter home in Cochin to celebrate one of my friend’s admission to a prestigious college. I was awed by the kids’ enthusiasm and more so by their request for books. Generally, nobody looks up to the youth, nobody expects much from them. When I went there, 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.”
As promised, Jithin and his friend delivered the books to the shelter home. When they visited the home again, they were surprised to find out that children had not only read the books but had written reports on the same. Moved by their willingness to learn, Jithin kept going back to these children. He wanted to do something for them. Being a college student himself, things were not very easy. One of the greatest things he had was the support of his friends. He made a few calls and 25 of them agreed to voluntarily teach these kids and that is how MAD was born.
Today, MAD is India’s fastest growing youth volunteer network, with chapters across 23 cities in India.
Someone has rightly said that you need not be rich to help someone, you just need to care! The journeys of these changemakers reiterate the notion that there is no ‘right time’ to do the ‘right thing’. At times, you just need to follow your heart. Join these changemakers to change the world, one life at a time.