By Anjali Shivananda:
Looking Beyond One’s Comfort Zone
It has always been my innate wish to be part of a change and impact the lives of underserved people in a meaningful way. This thought landed me in CRY – Child Rights and You – an Indian NGO that has been upholding the rights of children for the last 40 years. Today as I summarise my experience; I feel humbled to be part of a journey that has helped more than 300 children in the last 7 years.
My first experience of visiting an Anganwadi Center (AWC) in the slums of Bangalore evoked mixed feelings. While an AWC is supposed to cater to the nutrition needs of pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and children between the age group of 0 to 5 years, the real plight of children in these AWCs pushed me to despair.
The first AWC I visited was located near drainage and it can stir any one’s humanity on seeing how these children huddled themselves in a shrinking space. I wished and hoped the state of other centres were not the same. But my hopes lowered as I found rats running among the grains meant for children. This convinced me to work more towards this cause and eventually, I continued my association with CRY as a volunteer. Volunteering at CRY has made me sensitive to social issues which I was not aware of until I stepped foot in a lower socio-economic community in Yeshwantpur. This period has not only been defined by the people I met in the community, but also the passionate volunteers who came from diverse backgrounds but yet were united in passion. Our commitment could be witnessed in a range of issues we worked on, but one such cause that still stays with me, after seven years, was our effort to set up an AWC.
Being associated with CRY, the importance of Anganwadi was well ingrained within us, and our experience of seeing its condition in the first-hand convinced us to act on our concern. Yeshwantpur didn’t have an Anganwadi and it was time we took the onus on us to try making a long-standing change by facilitating the set-up of one AWC in the area.
The volunteers took up this cause, which required endless visits to government officials, and persistent follow-ups were made to ensure an AWC was set up in the area. This experience made me realise the difference a group of volunteers can make collectively by just dedicating their time and effort. Documenting the gaps in AWCs, to petitioning for the AWC, along with active follow-ups with the local governing bodies, were some of the insistent steps we took to facilitate its set-up. These experiences made me realise the importance of a rights-based approach in comparison to the needs-based approach, which is less sustainable when compared to the former.
So Little Done, So Much To Do
When all the hard work and efforts bore its fruits, we absorbed the importance of “You” in Child Rights and You. Sympathising with the difficulties faced by children is an easy task. The crux, which we learned, is how to turn opinion into actions. Finding the right sources of change-makers in the government body, to sharpening our call to action, and being inclusive in the entire process, were some of the key points that helped us achieve what we dreamt off.
The progression of time marked a trajectory of change in me as an individual. Interning and volunteering, as synonymous as it sounds, are, however, different in many aspects, and the exposure each provides varies by margins. However, both these fields created a space within me to grow as an individual and take up the values of responsibility, maturity, and accountability.
Somewhere along the ride, the country presented to me the harsh reality of human rights and its violations. Basic human rights enjoyed by us, constitutionally, which must be mandatorily available to all citizens of a country, is, unfortunately, a privilege many can’t afford. These realisations have not only presented to me memories worth a lifetime but also motivated me to work for people for whom basic rights is a far cry.
Anjali Shivananda holds a bachelor’s degree in law and is currently working as a Senior Associate at Samhita Social Ventures.