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Giving What We Can—The National Conference on Youth in Social Change

The first session of the National Conference on Youth in Social Change 2018 commenced at 5:30 pm on Saturday, welcoming students, faculty, and volunteers of DaanUtsav to the Dr. TMA Pai Halls in KMC. After a short welcoming speech by the Convenor of the National Conference Vishal Kashyap, the Chief Guest Dr. H S Ballal, the Pro-Chancellor of MAHE with over four decades of contribution to the institution, was invited on stage to light the lamp and commemorate the event. Dr. Ballal then addressed the gathering with a short yet inspiring speech about an institution’s responsibilities to society, besides expressing pride that the conference attracted delegates from outside Manipal too. Following the Chief Guest’s speech, the Guest of Honor Dr. Vinod Bhat, the former HOD of Community Medicine at KMC and the 6th Vice-Chancellor of MAHE was called upon the stage to deliver the inaugural address. After sharing his wise words on the importance of creating social impact via the Academy, the inaugural session concluded with a vote of thanks by Tarangini S.

The panel discussion which began at 6 pm, was preceded by a short 5-minute news broadcast on social change presented by DaanUtsav. The moderator for the panel discussion, Mr. Venkat Krishnan, addressed the audience and briefly introduced the esteemed panellists of the session – namely Prof Madhu Veeraraghavan from TAPMI, Mr. Vivek Sharma, the Program Director at Gandhi Fellowship and Ms. Kanika Sinha, the Director of Outreach at ComMutiny. Mr. Venkat K asked the panellists various questions regarding their organisations and their experiences with social change, which the panelists responded to by sharing inspiring anecdotes, personal and public development goals and a united aim of ‘creating social change and transformation within oneself and society’.

Ms. Sinha shared a touching example of auto-drivers in Lucknow advocating for women safety as well as including the transgender community for employment, further urging the audience to take an initiative in social change. Mr. Vivek Sharma also talked about how the Gandhi Fellowship aims to achieve at least 5 to 6 of their designated 17 Social Development Goals. To quote Mr. Krishnan, “Failure is a fundamental right.” He pressed the youth to take initiative, irrespective of peer pressure and parental restrictions, instilling in them a motto of not fearing failure. All the panellists collectively put forth a central idea of shifting focus from oneself to the community. The panel then took questions from the audience, in which a multitude of delegates from MAHE took part but this was cut short due to time constraints due to which the panelists then urged more delegates for discussion outside the halls. The panel then dissolved after receiving mementos from the students of MAHE, and the conference shifted to the cultural programme for the night.

The second day of the National Conference on Youth in Social Change commenced with a light shower of rain, with volunteers and participants from various colleges enjoying steaming cups of coffee with breakfast. The TMA Pai Hall soon spurted into action as the teams began putting up their posters for display and inspection. The students had put their hearts and souls into making some of the most beautiful illustrations. The icing on the cake was that a detailed look at the poster would reveal multiple creative ideas aimed at social work for the society and the environment. The posters screamed out in a million voices, young and bold, addressing issues like hunger management, waste disposal, noise pollution and the present day scenario of nursing homes.

The day followed with the launch of Manipal Seva Mela – an exhibition of various NGOs. Representatives of various organisations like Teach for India, Gandhi Fellowship, Power and Bhumi, interacted extensively with the crowd explaining to them their plan of action and the kind of work they involve in. It was an excellent opportunity for people interested in volunteer work to build contacts with these NGOs and get inducted subsequently. Alongside such info-stalls were a bunch of NGOs like Nandu’s Art and Unique Creative Art selling vibrant trinkets and handicrafts. The vivid display of the wide range of products attracted a lot of people. The primary program organised in the morning was the NGO talk by Vivek Sharma, the Program Director at Gandhi Fellowship and Kanika Sinha, the Director – Outreach at ComMutiny. The speakers went on to share their experience of building up their foundations followed by presentations and videos about it. Mr Sharma shed light on social entrepreneurship- its growth in the coming years and a few handy tactics for its successful implementation. Next, in the speech delivered by Vinayak Lohani, the founder of Parivaar, the audience navigated the various philosophical and emotional concepts associated with the idea of social work. The audience was all ears to the golden words of wisdom of these panellists and felt heart-touched by their stories and beliefs.

In a question-answer round with Mr Vinayak Lohani, The MIT Post was privileged to gather a few insightful takes on his organisation – Parivaar. Apart from being one of the largest free residential institutes for underprivileged kids in West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, Parivaar also conducts multifarious welfare programs for all age groups.

Q: At what point of time did it strike you to drop a lucrative career opportunity, being an alumnus of IIT and IIM, to instead open a shelter home for the underprivileged kids?

A: For many years in life, I have blindly followed the whims and fancies of the society around me. I got inducted into IIT, was placed at Infosys and after that pursued my MBA at IIM. I was victimised by the herd mentality. One needs to look inwards and figure out their calling.

It was in IIM that I first worked as a social helper on a huge platform. I founded a club for social work volunteering. It was the first of its kind. The club functioned on a clause that no volunteer would ever mention any social work in his resume through this club. I wanted it to be a selfless act and was surprised to still see a huge influx. This laid the cornerstone of not sitting for placements this time and opening a shelter home.

Q: Parivaar only inducts children from underprivileged backgrounds who are mostly seen to be in the age group of 5-10. It must be emotionally challenging for such a young child to leave his/her home and trust a complete stranger. How are the first few days of the child at the new home? Are there any special familiarisation techniques?

A: The kids inducted into our home don’t have any family support. They are orphans or belong to single parents living on streets and railway platforms. Some children were stuck in child labour or were victims of trafficking before joining Parivaar.

A lot of girls are rescued from red light districts and mass prostitution areas. The generation to generation involvement in prostitution makes them a high probability area of kids tied to the shadiest perils of life. They are in an unprotected environment without families. Once in the institution, we provide a holistic environment for mental peace and growth throughout the years of his/her stay. Otherwise, at the level of families, or the local environment solutions in the forms of various welfare programs are provided that would be best not only emotionally for the child but also financially for the organisation.

Q: Parivaar now houses more than ten thousand kids as permanent residents. Is it difficult to find an equally massive staff for various domains, who hold a deep conviction in the organisation?

Of course in this sector, one of the most determining constraints for many organisations, particularly at grass root levels, is low resources. There is a dearth of competent and dedicated individuals who are willing to work at such organisations. Hence, hiring volunteers can be a challenging task at hand. In fact, that to a very large extent determines the rate at which we scale.

One must be on a lookout for people in similar fields. This increases your reach and spreads the word that you are open to volunteers. We find individuals interested or engaged in social work and wish to expand their reach and environment. Some of our kids who passed out of Parivaar are working full time with us now.

The afternoon session of the second day of the Conference saw a panel discussion on Daan Utsav, the nationwide Festival of Giving held annually. The panel consisted of Dr. Prahalathan Karunakaran of Bhumi,  Aarti Madhusudan of Governance Counts and Navaneeth U, MAHE with Venkat Krishnan of Daan Utsav.

The panel introduced the basic concept of Daan Utsav and discussed various ways people all over the country can give a helping hand to anybody in need.  Aarti Madhusudan talked about some of her experiences in Chennai spreading the word about the power of giving and inculcating the culture of Daan Utsav, like children taking the place of their mothers in long queues to fetch water. Navaneeth U, who leads the MAHE Volunteer Services Organisation as its Student Ambassador, talked about the organisation’s deeds, which have ranged from collecting funds for causes through car washes to sessions with children in slums and orphanages. Dr. Prahalathan, who has chosen to give up his medical career to build his own foundation, Bhumi, to volunteer and help, talked about the need for parents to inculcate the idea of giving. He said, “More than the teachings in school, it is the parents who need to inculcate the idea of giving”. He mentions that college students should volunteer to teach elementary students to bridge the gap, if not to eradicate illiteracy completely.

With the end of the panel discussion and the end of the afternoon session, the audience took away not only the warm emotion that the conference radiated but also their knowledge about what counts the most, “The act of giving without having second thoughts.”

Image Credits: The Photography Club, Manipal