The Day I Ran ... For Hope.

Today has been a very satisfying day for me. I participated in an event called “Run For Hope”, organized by Lovedale Foundation. It was just a 5-km run intended to raise funds for constructing a school for the under-privileged children, the funds coming in the form of registration for the event.

The run itself was not anything special. It started around 9 am from Vittal Mallya road and terminated at the same place after about 35-40 mins. The event, attended by hundreds of Bangaloreans, was flagged off by Kannada film actor Ramesh Arvind. Good to know that the stars are involved in such noble causes. At first, I was kind of put off by the media presence at the venue; but later thought it’s a good way of spreading the word. After all, more the publicity such a foundation gets, the better.

I must say I had underestimated the effort it would take to run for 5 kms. I found myself constantly getting tired. I must have covered around 15-20% of the distance walking rather than running.

Throughout the run, I kept asking myself the same question again and again – Was participating in this run worth it? I mean, have I made a significant difference, or any difference at all?

My questions were answered when I completed the run and entered the playground from where we had started. About 20 kids from the foundation were there, clapping and cheering the runners to the finish. One boy of around 9-10 came up to me, offered me a Dairy Milk chocolate, and said “Thank You uncle”. And I must say I have never felt so proud before! This was a “thank you” coming from a kid who has been through a lot of turmoil at a very young age. The kids at the foundation are children of HIV+ parents, some abandoned, some previously exploited. At this tender age, they have faced fear, loneliness, uncertainty, exploitation – they have experienced it all. So a “thank you”, uttered by this boy on behalf of the entire bunch of kids, was nothing short of the greatest compliment ever given to me.

I am happy that I finally got a chance to do something that I have been advocating for a very long time. I just hope that this continues. After all, Hope was today’s central theme wasn’t it? Hope for the children; Hope for their future.

As I said at the beginning of this post – Today, the day I ran for hope, has been a very satisfying day for me.

10 year Old Kids Show the Way

This is a really encouraging example of children showing the way. This story is about Girish Koushik and Kishan Srikanth. Girish, a 10 year old boy from Mysore; is the Under-10 world chess champion. Until recently, he was considering quitting the sport. Reason – paucity of funds; and the (very unsurprising) apathy on the part of the Govt. You can read about it here

When Girish and his family had all but given up hope, they found help from unexpected quarters – from another child prodigy! An article titled “Children help little chess champ” appeared on Page 1 of the 23rd May Bangalore edition of The Times Of India (I am saying this because I did not find any corresponding article online). The article says that Kishan (a 10 yr-old who holds the Guinness World Record for youngest film director), has chipped in to mobilize funds for Girish. Kishan has appealed to friends in school to contribute their “one month’s pocket money” for Girish’s cause. Kishan has also suggested TOI to set up a Genius Foundation Fund to help not only Girish, but also other talented children. The foundation’s main source of funding would be pocket money contributed by children.

Kishan has been able to collect about 15 thousand rupees – an amount that may not suffice Girish for even one month, if he has to get proper coaching and other facilities. However, some corporates have shown interest in sponsoring Girish in the future. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is, children showing the state government how things can be achieved, provided the goodwill exists. A 10 year old child has done what the Government has failed to do. Or rather, a 10 year old shown that focusing on things that really matter will lead to a win-win situation (someone pleas explain this to the government!). I’d also like to add here that the movie which Kishan directed is called “C/o Footpath” and is about under-privileged street children. Another example of children taking up the cause of society.

This is immense good news – it paints a very bright picture of the days to come. As I keep saying, children of today are the future of this country. And if the children of today consist of the Kishan’s and the Girish’s, then the future of our country is in good hands. Hats off to Kishan. Hope he inspires other people (kids and adults) to do something similar. And all the best to Girish for his future.

Looking forward to the days when the grown-up Kishan’s and Girish’s will be the face of India. Jai Bharat.

To Give or Not to Give

It was a cold morning in New Delhi. I was travelling in an auto. The rickshaw stopped at a traffic signal; and a very cheerful-looking child beggar approached me. Having recently read this article which talks about parents almost forcing street children to beg, my mind was in a dilemma - whether to give alms or not. As a matter of principle, I avoid giving alms to beggars who I think are capable of doing some "work". Only if I see very old people or a beggar with an infant in tow do I consider giving alms.

Anyways, I was still contemplating whether to give alms, and if so, how much to give. But what the boy said caught me completely unawares. He was not interested in money at all. "Bhayya, thoda paani de de re". The kid was begging me to give him water!!. It took me a moment to realize that he had seen the mineral water bottle in my hand. I was stunned. Throwing all logic right out the window, I wordlessly handed over the bottle to the child. Forceful begging or not, how could I refuse to give water? He was overjoyed at receiving the bottle. He did a little victory dance of sorts and proudly displayed his prize to other kids at the signal, before disappearing into the crowd.

The signal changed to green and I moved on. But the image remained in my mind for a few days afterward. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind. Had the kid been genuinely needy or thirsty? If so, the situation of the poor in our country is worse than I had imagined. I mean even beggars are entitled to atleast one proper meal a day and in any case sufficient water to drink! On the other hand, had the child asked for water simply because he had seen the bottle (had he become a real kid for just a brief moment)? In which case, had I done the right thing by giving the water after all?

It beats me as to why do children have to be forced to beg!! Probably because begging earns more money than doing petty jobs? For one, children in India are made to work for half the wages (compared to an adult); but a child beggar can probably "earn" much more than an adult (the sympathy factor). This also gets us to the topic of child labour; but I think this topic merits a separate post, so I'l reserve it for another day. Coming back to the current topic, what the parents dont see are that if the kid goes to school instead of wasting his childhood in begging, he'l probably get a proper "job" and in the long run. But alas! the illiterate parents live for the present; and are not future-thinking.

In any case, this whole though-process seems to have come to a nought since I still dont have an answer to my question - If I see a child begging, do I give alms or not? Am I helping a child (a future citizen of the country) by giving some small change? Or is it an irresponsible act which will only harm the future? Now-a-days I seem to be only coming up with questions rather than answers; I seem to be posing more problems and solving less of them!

SOS Children's Village - A Humbling Experience

My friends - Ashish, Shweta, Shashank and Resha suggested to me that we begin the new year with a visit to SOS Children's Village at Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore. SOS is basically a non-profit organization committed to helping children in need. I had heard much about the place and was longing to visit it, so I jumped at the idea. I can summarize the experience in one word - humbling.

We reached the place around 1 pm. What struck me immediately about this place was that it seemed so much more peaceful than its surroundings (Bannerghatta Road is as far from "peace" as is possible). We were shown around the village by a gentleman who doubles up as the escort. We were bombarding the escort with questions regarding the foundation, its goals and its functioning all the time. This was the first time I was visiting an orphanage, and frankly, I had no idea what to expect. Srijith, the escort, told us that the village has 16 houses, each with 8-12 children and at present, there are 150+ children. Each house has a "mother", and children across all age groups. We visited 2 of the houses and met with the children. The women apparently undergo 5 years of training before they take over as mothers in the villages.

The experience inside the houses was the highlight of the visit for me. It felt so good to see the cheerful faces of children whom fate had dealt such a cruel blow. They mingled so well with us. The younger children were very excited to have visitors. They showed us around the house, jumping and dancing around all the while. The kids attend schools, music classes, dance classes, sports and what not. The sponsorship model is such that each individual or corporate contributor sponsors one particular child. Contributions need not be monetary - there are people who volunteer for activities like teaching during weekends and the like.

We had been told that the main objectives of the SOS village were that the children should never feel they are orphaned, they should be able to live a normal life, just like any other child, that they should grow up to be responsible citizens of the nation. We got to see this first-hand. The feeling of oneness among the kids is evident. They really do live like a family of brothers and sisters. We also met one girl, a former resident of SOS Village, who has now secured a job! One feels so happy hearing such encouraging news.

After spending more than an hour with the kids, and clicking a few snaps, it was time to say goodbye. As I came out of the gates, my mind was a mix of emotions. At first, I felt sad and sorry for the children, for they have been through lot of grief and sorrow at such a young age; but then I felt happy that there are people who care. People who have dedicated their entire lives for the sake of such children. What a way to start a new year! Special thanks to my friend who introduced me to such a place.

SOS Children's Village deserves to be commended for this exemplary show of humanity and brotherhood, at such a large scale. The thousands of selfless volunteers and teachers deserve all the respect one can give. Hats off to SOS, hats off to all those volunteers. I shall consider myself a worthy citizen if I can emulate even a fraction of what they have done.

Signing off on a hopeful note - Hoping for a continued bright future for all underprivileged children.

Disclaimer: This is my personal blog. All the views and opinions expressed on this blog are entirely my own and do not reflect the views of my employer, organization, relatives, friends, acquaintances or any other person/entity.