For the Greater Good

A popular adage goes, “Giving is not just about making a donation. It’s about making a difference.” We all know that money can’t buy you happiness, but spending some of that money on others can. Working for a cause that you care about can also be liberating, and many of us have experienced that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you do something for someone other than yourself.
There are lots of people out there who actually quit their safe jobs in exchange for doing something they really believe in – something for the greater good of society. This week, we pay tribute to a few remarkable individuals who lead their lives with compassion and believe in giving something back. From women empowerment and educating the less privileged, to promoting self-identity amongst the deaf and healthcare for the poor, these people work tirelessly to promote greater well-being. Take a look!          ---   Niharika

Anju Khemani Drama Association of the Deaf (DaD)

Having spent several years in the social sector, Anju wanted to break the barriers associated with people with disabilities. Hence she founded the Drama Association of the Deaf (DaD), an organisation that empowers the hearing impaired and encourages them to participate in theatre. She is also a consultant to many other organisations in various sectors.

You have been involved in the development of the social sector for over a decade. What is it that makes you want to continue in this field?
Inclusion and equity. I am privileged by accident of birth, and it is important for me to see everyone get an equal opportunity. My work has been largely with people with disabilities, and I work towards eliminating social, economic, and mental barriers. It is not fair that people with disabilities do not have access to quality education, places, and social and cultural platforms because of lack of universal design or creative solutions.  

You founded the Drama Association of the Deaf (DaD) many years ago. What does your work with the organisation entail?
Drama Association of the Deaf (DaD) is a collective that aims to build a new form of theatrical expression by introducing deaf culture to the creative world of drama. Founded in 2013, DaD seeks to promote self-identity in a multicultural society by fostering a sense of belonging in one’s own culture, and tolerance and respect for other cultures.

DaD was an outcome of my theatre course at the National School of Drama, and extensive work with the deaf community. Using sign language, the deaf actors reach out to the audience through various dramatic styles – physical theatre, improvised theatre, and musical theatre. The interactive plays engage the audience in their language and their issues. We are the first theatre association in India that actually uses sign language; all others use mines. Through DaD I try to promote the cultural diversity of the deaf's language.

The concept of DaD is very unique. How has the city reacted to the concept?
We have had amazing response from many cultural and professional institutions. People now approach us to collaborate and invite the actors to participate in events. The actors say they have seen the transformation in the city over the years. Very often they are acknowledged in public spaces, and people greet them in sign language.

What are the other organisations you work with?
I am a consultant for training and empowerment of youth with disabilities. I have travelled across the country and trained over 200 trainers who work with these youth. The content I have developed has been translated in many Indian languages, and is used for pre-employment training for people with visual impairment, physical disabilities, and the deaf.

As part of my social enterprise, I have also launched an adaptive clothes line, Ekkaika. It offers ease and style for peoplewho face challenges in dressing. The clothes are designed and modified discreetly for the users’ comfort, maintaining the style.

Ekaika offers clothing solutions for self-dressing and assisted dressing. The clothes have contemporary and ageless styles and are not ‘different’ to look at. They are different only to the users, who may have limitations with mobility or dexterity. Easy slip-on cuts, back and side open garments, velcro, flaps, bilateral zips, front dressing (instead of overhead dressing) wraps are among the many features we employ to make dressing easier and accessible to all. The need for adaptive clothing has been addressed in the West to a large degree. However, in India, the response to adaptive clothing for the physically disabled, aged, and infirm is still in its nascent stages.

Meghana Dabbara Make the World Wonderful

Envisioning a harmonious world right from her childhood, Meghana, at the tender age of 14, started learning child psychology and then began imparting value-based education to children and young people. She wanted to achieve social change, and together with three others – Khyati Chodagiri, Saumya Katuri and Pranita Garimella – she started Make the World Wonderful.

What made you start your organisation Make the World Wonderful at such a young age?
Growing up, I always wanted to see a world where people live in harmony. By harmony, I mean people understanding each other, cooperating and being happy. I strongly believe that many of today’s major problems are interwoven and that they stem from the lack of harmony. I realised that when there is harmony in a group, it not only empowers everyone in the group, but also empowers the entire group, and on a larger scale, the world.

As a child, I didn’t know how to achieve this vision, or what to do. At that point, I was fortunate to meet the iB Group, which had done notable work in this area earlier. After a series of interviews, they began training me in various fields – methods to raise children, perceptions, public speaking, etc. – to help me realise my vision.

At the age of 17, when I decided to start an organisation, iB Hubs (a pan-India startup hub that gives end-to-end assistance to startups, and an initiative of iB Group) helped me find a strong supportive team. iB Hubs identified three more equally passionate girls of my age: Khyathi Chodagiri (India), Saumya Katuri (US) and Pranita Garimella (US). With an aligned vision, the four of us began to work together towards harmony.

With the support of iB Hubs, I founded Make the World Wonderful in 2015. The four of us formed the core team of the organisation, and we look after the execution of the organisation’s activities.

Who was your inspiration and role model when you started out, and what were the challenges you faced?
When I was a young girl, my mother used to tell me bedtime stories. She used to tell me about how everyone in her village used to live together, in harmony. They lived together like one big family and would come together to solve each other’s problems. I grew up believing the world was like the one in my mother’s stories, with everyone living in harmony. But when I was exposed to the real world, I discovered that this was not the case. That’s when I set out to build the harmony I wanted to see in the world.

When we started out, building the harmony among 50 children was certainly a challenge. I think people can relate when they think about how often they get along with their own siblings; you can probably imagine how it would be, bringing in 50 children from different families and backgrounds together under one roof! It wasn’t easy at first, but along our journey, we realised that building harmony may be complex, but it is not complicated…and it is possible! We realised that respecting every child and accepting them as they are makes all the difference.

So what are your goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
We are working towards creating a world where people live in harmony. To realise our vision, we decided to start with children, as they are the grassroots of society and our future. We realised that transferring the right attitudes and values to children could be the key to building harmony in the world. Thus we initiated the ‘Child Adoption Program’ (CAP), through which we aim to raise a generation of children in an empowering culture of harmony.

We started a pilot wherein we have taken complete responsibility (including accommodation, education, and healthcare) of 50 underprivileged children. Looking after each child with utmost love and respect, we have developed an ecosystem which is raising them into agents of harmony and socially responsible citizens. We built the harmony we wish to see in society, starting with these children.
The impact? We once took the children to a fest at a national college where many NGOs were invited. During the stay at the college, children from other organisations started fighting, pulling each other’s hair, and making lots of noise. In the midst of this chaos and confusion, our CAP students, on their own, took a step forward, and asked them what was wrong and how they could help. It took them several attempts, but eventually they calmed the children down. Noticing a shortage of blankets, they asked the nearby supervisors for more blankets, and meanwhile gave their own blankets to the children. They waited until even the youngest child slept, before going back to their own beds. The next day, the same kids interacted with the CAPs again, with a feeling of familiarity and friendship as they helped each other to get ready. We were amazed at the proactiveness and maturity that our children had shown, and the cooperation they brought about in that small group. All this happened without any directives or instructions from us.

That small step forward that our children took to lead and care for others around them – this is the change we want to bring in the world. This is the kind of generation we want to create; one in which the individuals are not only empowered, but also, as agents of change and harmony, empower those around them too. In two years, the success of this pilot has earned us 1,07,000+ supporters, including supporters from 80+ countries, and from every state in India.  

What are your plans for the future?
The success of our pilot centre has given us the confidence to scale it up. We aim to establish 2,500 such fully operational centres by 2023. Eventually, we aim to reach out to all children, regardless of their background, because we believe that every child counts.

Make the World Wonderful also follows 100% transparency, which means we are open in all our activities. Our finances, policies and programs are all open to the public through the transparency module on our website. Anyone can view it anytime, from anywhere.

Check out more about the foundation at www.maketheworldwonderful.org

Mujtaba Hasan Askari Helping Hand Foundation

Founder of Helping Hand Foundation (HHF), Mujtaba has worked in the IT sector for over two decades. During this time he decided to start an organisation that helped disadvantaged members of society with healthcare issues. Two years later, he quit his job to take on his social work more seriously. Along with his team of volunteers, he assists patients with their hospital care. They also help, rescue and rehabilitate unknown and abandoned patients who’re suffering with HIV/AIDS, TB/MDR TB, leprosy, cancer or any other life-threatening disease.

How and when did you start the Helping Hand Foundation?
I started HHF in 2007 after I realised that there is an acute need to do social work in the healthcare sector.

What made you quit your corporate job and get into the field of social service full time?
I quit my job in 2014; seven years after, the NGO HHF was started. I reached a point where I was not able to do justice to my job, nor to my social work.

What’s the vision of the organisation?
HHF works in the public healthcare sector. Our vision is to make public health accessible to all, so that the underprivileged don’t fall into poverty due to high medical expenses in private hospitals. In tune with this, we have set up patient care centres in 20 government hospitals. In addition, 50+ volunteers work in these centres, wherein we provide assistance, guidance, counselling, and medical relief to poor patients in government hospitals.

How do you raise funds for your work?
We have built a large online/virtual donor community, and we also get some CSR funds and grants.

What are the common health problems your patients face most frequently?
Lifestyle diseases are on the rise in the urban poor – hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, kidney disease, etc. Similarly, infectious diseases like TB, HIV/AIDS, Hepatatis B & C are also on the rise in the city.

What are the challenges that you face in healthcare in the social sector?
The main challenge is that the health authorities do not fully understand the need for social servicesin public hospitals. Patient service in the form of guidance, navigational support, counselling, emotional support, and medical relief is very critical in cases of the lesser privileged.

Who are your volunteers and how are they selected?
HHF is an equal opportunity employer, and our volunteers are themselves worthy of being supported because of their hapless financial situations. We have very consciously handpicked our volunteers, who already have been through stressful situations in their personal lives. They include cancer, TB and HIV survivors; these volunteers have the ability to understand pain and see from their heart, which is vital in our work. This helps gain the trust of the economically weaker patients in the public health system.

For donations and more information, log on to: www.helpinghandf.org