My Journey at GiveIndia — Part I
No, this is not in any way linked to IPL. This is a story of the heroes I met when I was in Chennai, only two weeks into my job at GiveIndia.
I remember I had gone to Chennai, all the way from Kolkata, with only two bags in tow, to get a whiff of my role, and the work that GiveIndia does.
Every day, I would reach my Manager Archana Hari’s place early in the morning. I learned about the work and discussed everything from work to Game of Thrones to Imagine Dragons. She also fed me my first “Idli-Podi”! She taught me how to make a small trench in the podi, pour coconut oil in it, mix it with your fingers and have it with pretty much anything under the sun! Vendakkai, Thayyir Sadam, Varthakuzhumbu were my new (and only) Tamil learnings! Her two little ones would run in and out of the office space, asking me politely to join them for lunch and games.
My manager and I would hop on her scooty to fetch ice cream near the beach side (Elliot Beach was dangerously close by!). These rides were accompanied by stories of Chennai floods that ravaged the city many times. How she and her neighbours opened their doors to people affected by the floods was an eye-opener for me. It astonished me how this city stood back up, following one trauma after the other. The twinkling lights and the subtly lit roads had not a scratch on them. There was almost no proof of the bruises. Chennai turned out to be an endearing city, much like the one back home.
But this is only a part of how I saw the beginning of my journey into the GiveIndia world. My idea and experience of the social sector was very limited till that point. It bordered only on education and a few cleanliness drives here and there.
To be honest, I took up the job because it promised: “25% of a month requires traveling”. To back that up, there was also a database of over 200 organizations around India, from Kashmir to Kochi, Rajasthan to Tripura! My heart pounded with joy (and nervousness) when I had to visit the first 5 NGOs allocated to me that were based out of Chennai. I would be their ‘Relationship Manager’ and as we would refer to them later, they would be ‘My’ NGOs.
TANKER Foundation was the first organization I visited (TamilNad Kidney Research Foundation). The office was an apartment in T Nagar, with a small team of ladies working in silence. I spoke to their CEO, Latha who was impeccably dressed in the most perfectly pleated saree I have ever seen. She explained to me what TANKER does. This was an organization that worked solely towards kidney diseases of the underprivileged.
Sabitha, one of TANKER’s staff members, took me on her Activa to the place of their operations, a hospital. I was a little reserved about visiting a hospital. My phobia of doctors, needles, and blood always gets the better of me. To my surprise (and delight), this was the cleanest, quietest and most pleasant hospital I had come across. I interacted in half-English and half-Hindi with some of the patients there. I would call this the starting point of my continuum of new realities that would keep changing me in small amounts.
I met Dr. Prahlathan next, the founder of Bhumi, affectionately referred to as ‘Doc’. One of the most humble people I have met, Doc welcomed me to his office along with his team. He told me everything I needed to know about their operations. He even directed me to one of their programs in Thideer Nagar in the evening. I went through very narrow lanes of a slum, which otherwise remain hidden from the public eye. I landed in a small concrete room filled with kids who were happily painting.
My next two hours were spent listening to the kids reciting and singing in Tamil. We did not understand each other’s languages. The smiles on our faces and the warmth exchanged was enough of a relationship built in those few moments. Bhumi enables after-school education in slums and shelter homes around the country. They have been igniting hope and leaving a large impact on the underprivileged youth of India for years now!
I met Sai next, an iron lady who started EKAM Foundation. She is the most jovial and positive doctor I have ever seen! Along with her team, she saves the lives of babies who are born at risk. One visit to their operations put me in a trance altogether. I found myself at the Institute of Children’s Health, a Government Hospital in Chennai. There it was, a science lab with heavy machinery and incubators which EKAM sponsors. These babies were hardly a few months old, born with varied risks, unimaginable ones at that. Their lives were miraculously saved by EKAM.
With DEAN Foundation, I tagged along one of the home visits. It was palliative care for a patient with cheek cancer. No, I did not have the guts to sit through the procedure. But I could not help feeling respect for these nurses. They visit patients and clean up cancer infections on a daily basis for a living. To top it all, Archana had told me about Deepa, their Founder, and CEO. She mortgages her own jewelry to keep the organization running. A lunch with the staff at DEAN was a bonus and an honour!
My last visit in Chennai was at The Banyan. It was an establishment, tucked away in a forgotten lane in Mogappair. Lunchtime was being wrapped up at this home for the mentally ill. I met Uma, a resident at the Banyan who made paper bags very diligently. She started demonstrating but got distracted midway. I learned that she was an English Teacher earlier. Her deteriorating mental health brought her here and she was healing. I also met Mariam, sitting at the sewing machine in silence, making pretty bags. The Banyan showcases these handmade goods at exhibitions.
Content, I made my way to Mumbai office. I was ready to continue the journey that had such a warm, meaningful and wonderful start already! As I complete a year today, I can still see myself gushing about My NGOs. I am still at a point not even close to midway on my continuum, FYI.