A grave danger of living in a country known for its phenomenon of co-existence of the rich with the poor, is the resultant immunity we gain to the problems that stare us in the face everyday of our lives. This easily leads to apathy or complacency. The latter is worse because each time a child knocks on the car window, we will wish to do something, and then placate ourselves by saying that when we are rich enough or post retirement, we will dedicate ourselves to working for the poor. In the interim, we will give a small rupee note away and then, move on. Here is another truth. The heart wrenching situation of many millions of people in our country is not going to improve fast enough for you and me living today to see a better country. For all you know, it may become worse. The problems are large, many, and solutions are very complex. The government is one entity. And so, here is the thing – if you feel the desire to give, then it’s not going to go away. And if your desire is true, then the only way is to start small and start now.
Because the power of a collective – a large, dynamic, vibrant pool of ideas, execution expertise, time and money, all from well meaning people – is the answer towards inching closer to a richer existence.
I recently visited an organisation called Sunday Friends. They started 35 years ago with one activity – to feed poor people living on the streets. Today they provide education support for children, medical aid including subsidised medication, blood, eye and skin donation camps and other critical activities such as repairing broken diagnostic machines in hospitals which lie unused because there wasn’t someone in-charge. Their latest activity is an information centre in a busy government hospital to guide the sick, illiterate and scared who come and don’t know where to go next. I can explain how this causes bottle-necks in the patient flow leading to inefficiencies but I really don’t need to. In fact I learnt that before this intervention, a group of senior citizens would stand and play the role of guides in the hospital. Sunday Friends is run by volunteers, who dedicate their Sunday mornings and other time as well in doing the work they do. They are professionals with day jobs, businessmen who run their own companies and family and friends to other people, just like you and me. This brings me to my point of ‘start small’, because when Sunday Friends started, they din’t have a plan. Neither did they have a large sum of money. But they had a desire. So they began with a textbook form of charity which led them to several new discoveries. “We started feeding poor people and realised that unless their children get a chance to study, they will be in the same place years from now”, said a volunteer. Today their annual expenditure is close to INR 5 crores (approx. USD 800,000). Within the social sector, just like in any industry, there is a spectrum of players. Sunday Friends may not be considered with the same diligence as a more structured non profit having a three year road map, but that is okay because they are contributing in a reliable, committed and honest way. They are not afraid to try.
Another reason why one should start small, is because doing social work is not an innate ability. If you think that you will be able to give to the social sector without having learnt how to, you are mistaken. It is an acquired skill. You will contribute with time and learn that while teaching English to a group of children, a significant challenge is their lack of motivation to attend the “free” class because of the onslaught of evening tuitions. You will contribute with money and learn that your donee doesn’t have a staff member to track the funds given and so there may be delays in sending you their expenses statement. You will contribute with ideas such as telling your house help to invest part of their earnings and realize they are afraid to approach a bank. You will contribute with knowledge stemming from newspaper columns or your own environments and observations such as the dangers of an alcohol ban in states or about why prostitution must not be legalised, but you will not be able to apply a real world solution because you have never spoken to those who face the perils of these social evils. It won’t matter that your very own maid of many years is a victim of domestic abuse because of her alcoholic husband, and she resorts to prostitution to fund her child’s education, and yet cannot stand up for her rights, with you, me or the courts of justice. All this, because we did not start small.
So stop thinking of charity of time, money, ideas as a natural consequence of when you are ready. Be humble enough to realize and accept that we cannot afford to wait. And if you decide to wait, then do not for once expect your world to become a better place without your support. Start now.
The avenues are more than what you can even imagine.