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Posted at: Nov 5, 2017, 2:02 AM; last updated: Nov 5, 2017, 2:02 AM (IST)


Sharing your resources or time is not always easy. But there are many who have discovered joy in this simple yet difficult art

Sarah Berry

Sharing our resources, time, ideas, skills, etc. with those in the need of it may find its way  back into our lives in diverse ways, as each one of us has our own interpretation of ‘giving’. Despite limitations or associated challenges, there are many people, who have made a deep impact on society. 

Empowerment at grassroots

“Lives transformed by empowerment are inspiring to witness,” says Dr Suri Sehgal, founder, Sehgal Foundation. Sehgal left India in 1959 to pursue higher studies in the United States. After finishing studies, he embarked on a successful career there, first as a scientist and later as a businessman, eventually settling there and raising a family. “I always felt passionately about giving back to India, whenever possible. This opportunity came my way in 1998, when my wife and I sold our business. We used the bulk of the proceeds to establish two foundations: one in the US and one in India, both with the goal of making a difference in the lives of the poor in rural India.”

Sehgal Foundation’s work began in Mewat, Haryana, with a small team of dedicated and talented social scientists. Each member of the team had a free hand to test ideas, learn, and grow. This led to an integrated sustainable village development model, used first in four villages, the focus of which has evolved over the years to make an impact on more than 700 villages, across five states in India, with more villages being added each year.

When asked about any success stories that left an impact on him, Sehgal eloquently explains: “Change at the community level has brought girls back to school, kept more girls in school longer, promoted gender equality and healthy practices that inspire others in the villages. I have seen the difference that good agricultural practices can make to a poor farmer’s income. I have seen what secure and adequate water means to a village, as well as the empowerment of villagers through good rural governance as they become engaged citizens.”

a platform for the voiceless

Ranjana Rajpal’s ‘art of giving’ has been of a different kind. It has been more than 40 years since Rajpal has been working for the cause of stray animals. Such is her commitment that come what may, food for almost 400 dogs is prepared at around 4 am, with a different meal every day. Not only is the food preparation and delivery a huge task, but, in addition, sterilisation and immunisation are other challenges. In addition, sick or injured animals find respite in her efficient and reassuring hands. “This has been my calling as far as I can remember. It has not been an easy journey though, as resources are always a constraint — whether financial, human or otherwise. Surprisingly, my experience has always been that when I voice a concern, someone, in some way or the other, always responds to the need — indeed, a miracle. My reward has been the unconditional love I receive from the animals. What more do I need?”

Where there’s A will

However, ‘giving’ is not always an easy process. It requires understanding the concept and having the will to partake in the journey, which may be marked with challenges. 

Sudharshan Agarwal, a former bureaucrat, is the mentor of the Himalayan School Society, under the aegis of which the Him Jyoti Boarding School (for girls) and a vocational training institute has commenced its work for under-privileged girls. “While serving as Governor in Uttarakhand, I set-up this boarding school. It was a bold experiment — a free boarding school for bright young girls from underprivileged families. Approximately, 110 girls have passed-out in five years after completing Class XII, with most of them getting admissions in prestigious colleges. The success stories are countless. Vineeta Pandey, a daughter of a daily-wage earner, topped a Leadership Awards Programme, and has also been to Brown University — an Ivy League varsity in the US, on a 10 day summer camp. Can you imagine the exposure for this young girl?”

Do the challenges intimidate? “There are always challenges. I handle these as these come. No point worrying without cause. I believe a good cause never runs short of resources. There is always an answer to the need, even if a wee bit delayed,” he adds with a smile. 

Transforming lives

Geeta Dharmarajan founded Katha in 1988. It is a non-profit organisation that focuses on education, especially of children from poor families.  The NGO works in teacher training, children’s education and literature in underprivileged areas across India. Dharmarajan has devised a learning tool called Story Pedagogy that has helped transform the lives of over 3.9 million children and youth — through books, schools, libraries and learning centres. Dharmarajan, who was awarded Padma Shri in 2012, for her contribution, explains, “Our storybooks create reader-leaders. Our ‘books and curriculum for life’ help children read more confidently, helping them help themselves to come out of poverty. Katha’s bold innovations in curriculum and praxis have helped us retain students at a young age, when they are most likely to drop out of school due to various reasons.”

Drop by drop

Any journey towards good usually begins small. In the mid-1970s Kartikeya Sarabhai, Director, Centre for Environment Education (CEE), started VIKSAT, an NGO working to create involvement of citizens in the development process. “As a student, I was always amazed at the volunteers who were working for the development of the country. It was at Cambridge that I really decided to work in the development field. There were many challenges ahead but tougher the challenge,  more innovative the solution. In 1984, almost simultaneously with the formation of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the CEE was set-up as a Centre of Excellence of the Ministry. Today, we have a school network of over 2 lakh schools, a youth network in South Asia, an NGO network strengthened by the GEF-UNDP Small Grants Project and so much more. The idea is to generate awareness about the environment of which we are such an integral part, and in placing focussed efforts in making education a tool for sustainable development.”

Simplifying science

The UP Science Centre in Bundelkhand, founded by Asheema Singh, has been promoting a different aspect of education: promotion of the scientific temper. According to Singh, her organisation, which comprises, chiefly, of volunteers, has reached approximately 75,000 students, teachers and individuals through its short and long-term programmes. “The aim is to help students to identify their hidden talent, tap it and, thereby, enhance self-esteem. I feel great pride when I meet students, who have been a part of these programmes, and who now hold respectable and responsible positions. Our objective is open the mind’s eye,” says Singh. “I only wish that more companies would revisit their CSR objectives and focus on areas which need such interventions, rather than solely focusing on metros,” she adds. 

Caring through communication

We all understand the importance of communication in today’s world. Varoon Anand, theatre artist and director, contributes to this important cause by facilitating workshops that encourage children to become a part of this important genre of performing arts, not only with the objective of mastering verbal and non-verbal expressions, but also with the intention of finding answers to the questions of life through self-exploration. As he says, “Each one of us is our own guru; it is the self-discovery that needs to be initiated or encouraged.”

All these unlikely heroes in their own way are proving this basic tenet: “All that you have shall be someday given; therefore give now, so that the season of giving may be yours and not of your inheritors.”


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