“Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” – Martin Luther King
There comes a time in our lives when we begin to question our purposes & goals even though our lives appear to be running smoothly. Recently the World almost came to a standstill and after witnessing the catastrophic situations & unprecedented lockdowns due to the Corona Epidemic, I was beginning to lose faith in my strongest of beliefs. My second home “Donate an Hour” for which I volunteer, has been a major factor in keeping my spirits high by involving me in their cause. While mankind battles for survival today, the flicker of hope arrives when we see people around us devoted to a cause. I have been privileged in gaining a fruitful association with Ms. Meenakshi & Mr. Divya Prakash who are the founders of the NGO “Donate an Hour”. They are the flag bearers of Progressive Social work today and their endeavours have not only shaped up the lives & future of hundreds of underprivileged children, they have also provided people like me with a healthy platform to serve our society. I am one of the many volunteers at DoaR whose lives have gained a meaningful perspective and all we are required to do is just donate an hour from our normal schedules.
MEENAKSHI & DIVYA PRAKASH
They met each other during the course of their education in Agra, their hometown, in 2002. Their mutual ideologies were responsible in making their bond stronger & they eventually got married in 2004. Their professional commitments took them to England where they settled with a hope of fruitful prosperity in 2007. But the initial excitement began to fade away when they realised that their South Asian origin of descent was still looked down upon by the self-proclaimed British superiors in the workplace culture. Like millions of Indians whose thinkings have been re-ignited by Indian Historians & Writers (e.g Shashi Tharoor’s bestselling book “An Era of Darkness”) who have described the disasters of British Rule in India in details, Meenakshi was utterly disgusted with their mindset which continued to remain boastful of their dominant culture. It wasn’t acceptable to her that her identity as an Indian was still looked down upon in terms of progress & her country was still being labelled as being backward which was a common understanding displayed by the English. Their daughter Anvesha was born in 2012 and within the same year the couple decided to return to their homeland.
The couple got an opportunity to work in Gurgaon which they embraced and thus set upon a deep & meaningful association with the Cyber City of India in 2014. After settling down, they found out that their domestic helper was not sending their kids to school so they took the responsibility of educating them. Gradually, they witnessed a lot of children around them who were scattered in Parks and were deprived of basic schooling. They decided to spend their spare hours in the evening with them with a purpose of encouraging them to get inclined towards schooling. But there were hurdles as many citizens from the nearby area objected on their activity. I wish to mention an incident when a senior citizen literally ordered Meenakshi to move out of the park as he felt threatened by her little army. This incident was a turning point for them and like true warriors they decided that they will not allow any external force to cause hinderance in their goals. They acquired a basement on rent and gathered more than 40-50 small children from nearby slums who desperately required regular teaching. They were all geared up to meet the challenges which lay ahead but they required more people to work with them and it was not easy to find similar minded people to share their task. Meenakshi & Divya had to literally get pamphlets published which they distributed themselves, door to door, hoping to find some volunteers who could join them.
Donate an Hour was established in 2015 as a Library for educating children from slums and nearby areas and in 2016 this magnificent couple hired an entire 3 storey house on rent to convert it into a Temple of Education. Divya was so fascinated by this new found passion of teaching that he resigned from his lucrative job to focus entirely on his teaching. Such was his passion towards his ambition that he decided to give up a regular source of income and submitted himself fully to his cause. Gradually they expanded their horizons to the nearby villages of the NUH DISTT of Gurgaon which were lacking in Infrastructure and took it upon themselves to introduce a stable system of education. There weren’t many teachers employed in the Govt.School, plus the handful of children were not inclined towards studies at all so it was a challenging task to attract them to the classes.
They set up a Smart-Class project in the village KHEDLA by providing 2-3 computers and connecting them with You Tube for virtual Hindi lectures and lessons. This technique worked in bringing children to the class rooms and within months the village was transformed. The volunteers helped in cleaning the premises and also worked hard on a project to supply uninterrupted power supply by erecting Solar Street lights in the village. It didn’t take long for the government of Haryana to acknowledge their work and collaborated with Meenakshi’s team to spread the idea of “Smart Classes” which was successfully implemented in the forthcoming period. This successful program was eventually launched in Madhya Pradesh & Uttar Pradesh along with 33 Govt. Schools in Haryana.
Divya’s slogan of “Donate an Hour” spread all across Gurgaon and within a short time there were hundreds of volunteers from all age groups who were willing to spend their extra hours with a purpose of providing tuitions to students. By the end of 2019 they were able to establish more than 10 centres of DoaR in Gurgaon which have been running successfully with the help of Volunteers from various fields.
A major portion of Meenakshi’s salary is invested in providing basic facilities to the children apart from Divya’s savings and their entire family has been supporting them in their fullest potential as well.
As parents we all carry aspirations for our children & work hard to shape up their future and at DoaR the feeling of every teacher & volunteer is not lesser than that of a parent. Divya realised that there are children around him who have been deprived of schooling but with proper attention & guidance their lives can be secured so without wasting any time he took charge of their lives. He started the Explorer Academy with its first batch of class 5 students where children with potential were enrolled for regular schooling. With the help of volunteers who were willing to donate their time for the cause, EA now has 3 sections today with class 5,6 & 7 who are receiving online classes as well in this pandemic struck times.
A students requirements are not limited within a classroom and it is extremely essential that they receive an opportunity to explore the World and its various aspects. Students at DoaR are champions in various fields and leave no stone unturned when enrolled in a particular activity. They excel in sports and have been actively participating in Running & Cycling activities along with learning YOGA, Self-Defence Skills and meditation. Divya has undertaken an additional responsibility in providing lessons in Chess to some of the students who have shown potential in learning the game. You will also come across Olympiad winners besides having wonderful Artists whose Drawings, Paintings and Craft work can leave you astounded. Apart from all the benefits they have provided to children, the most valuable gift that they have passed on to them is what we consider the most essential for a human beings growth – sticking to ethical & moral Values (SANSKAR as we call in Hindi). Their upbringing is extremely superior and it reflects when you get a chance to communicate with the students. They radiate with positivity and offer immense respect to those who approach them or interact with them. Contentment reflects in their demeanour and all that they crave for is “Knowledge”. Some of the students are generously donating some of their time in the evenings to teach smaller kids in the Parks. The quality of upbringing that they have receive from their mentors reflects in them at all times.
Meenakshi & Divya are the role models who have not only made differences in the lives of the underprivileged but have also provided people like me with a meaningful purpose. The safe environment at DoaR encourages a person to spend more & more time with the children and the love that they shower upon you is priceless! There are hundreds like me who are working with them to make this world a better place to live in for our future generations and we are proud to be known as “DoaRians”. The life they lead and the path they have chosen isn’t an easier one and is full of hurdles but like they say “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better”. We salute these soldiers who have enriched the society with their selfless service.
Find out more about us at www.donateanhour.org