Different strokes


The youngsters today are not driven only by their narrow, selfish interests, as is widely believed, but many are trying to play a positive role for social upliftment. Anvi Mehta profiles two such youngsters and their efforts for the weaker sections of the society.

A conventional degree, a secure job and a settled life – the young generation is always expected to follow this cycle to lead a successful life. While the ‘70s
and ‘80s generation struggled to question the norms, the ones born after the 90s have started seeking different answers.
The youth of today does not believe in money-making, but aspirations have evolved from living luxuriously to adapting a minimalistic life that helps in building happy communities. This realisation among the youth of today has resulted in a developing interest towards the social sectors. There is a rise in sensitised youngsters who work for a cause, be it a donation drive for the needy, or a cleanliness drive for the environment around them. What is more interesting is the section of youngsters who have gone a step ahead and instead of volunteering for a short period of time, they have left their career paths and opted for social work as their calling.
There is a different zeal that drives this category and their passion is a motivation for the coming generations. I have come across two such heroes from our society, one who has started an NGO to work for widows in Pune, and another, who quit her IT job in Bangalore to work for a backward rural community in the hills of Uttarakhand.

Mitti Ke Rang: Spreading colours in monochrome lives

Amit Jain (27), had come to Pune with 1000 rupees in hand and a B.Com deree. It was the year 2012, and getting a good job was not a cake walk. After struggling for a month and appearing for many interviews, he landed his first job. “I come from a lower middle-class family and have faced many hardships. My father passed away when I was four, leaving behind his wife and two sons, and a loan. Due to the outstanding loan, from a very early age, I was familiar with words like nilami (auction) and jhapti (struggle). I worked hard for academic success throughout school. I wanted to be an engineer, but had to choose the Commerce stream due to financial constraints,” says Jain.
Conditions began to improve once Jain started working. He climbed the corporate ladder rather quickly, and had a lucrative career to look forward to. Amidst this, he started a social venture in 2014 called ’Mitti Ke Rang’ (MKR) that conducted weekend activities related to social causes. “We had corporate contacts and together, we organised for book donation drives, cleanliness drives, awareness drives on traffic and so on. But, it was in the last few months that the NGO’s goals and missions started to take a concrete shape,” he adds.
Since the beginning of 2018, MKR in partnership with iVolunteer, a veteran in the field for involving volunteers in social work, started the ‘The Malwadi Project’, a community centre focused on the community of Malwadi, aimed at training young children and widows. Since childhood, Jain had to face challenging situations because his mother was a widow. “Just because my mother was a widow, she was not allowed to take part in prayers/rituals, marriage ceremonies, or apply mehendi (henna). After my father passed away, my mother didn’t know what to do to run the house. She was not aware of her rights. In a fraction of a second everything changed after my father`s death, and she was completely unprepared for the life ahead. Raising two children with no financial stability was not an easy task. This was my trigger to start working towards widow’s empowerment, because I do not want any other woman to feel as helpless as my mother did. I could not find any organisation that could help our family, and because I know the impact on women and children when the only breadwinner in the family dies, MKR now focuses mainly on improving lives of widows by empowering them – one step at a time,” he concludes.
MKR has been allotted two large rooms in Pune by the state government, where it plans to start a library with over 2,000 books in June 2018. This library is the start of sensitising widows and educating them about their rights. MKR aims to provide knowledge about the world strong women leaders of the society, and create awareness about the potential each woman has through books, human library sessions, and storytelling methods. Alongside, MKR will train widows in vocational skills like tailoring, stitching, etc.
As of today, they have partnered with twelve local, four national and six international organisations to advocate the cause of widows, and to support them with required material and also involve more than 100 volunteers in social service offline. By 2020, MKR aims to expand their work across India, especially in places like Vrindavan, where widows reside together and have no means for earning except asking for alms.

Himalayan Blooms: An all-women social enterprise empowering the hill communities
A Bangalore resident, Pratibha Krishnaiah (33) enjoyed volunteering in ashram schools over the weekend while working for a MNC (Multi National Company). One day, she came across a rural development fellowship called SBI Youth for India Fellowship (YFI), and her life changed. Never had this Bengaluru girl imagined that she would be one day living in the hills of Uttarakhand, a state that is thousands of kilometres from her hometown.
As a YFI fellow, Pratibha was placed in the Khetikhan block of Champawat district, one of the 250 backward districts in the country. She had to live with the community, understand the gaps and start a project with an implementation period of 13 months. It is during this time that she started Himalayan Blooms, a venture to empower the hill communities.
She had noticed that women in the hills were the sole drivers of their households, men either worked as labourers or drivers. Despite this, they were often undermined.
“Women there knew how to knit and crochet, that was something they did during their free time. I knew I wanted to work on something that empowers these women and give them financial independence. Hence, I started teaching them designs that can work in urban markets,” explains Pratibha. Himalayan Blooms participated in its first exhibition in Bengaluru in 2015, where they sold knitted and crocheted hair accessories, scarves and winter wear.
There was no looking back for Pratibha or her women after that. She had started with a SHG (Self-Help Group) of 10-12 women, and today she has over 80 women associated with HB. With the help of angel funders from the USA, Pratibha expanded her project and stayed back in the village even after completion of her fellowship tenure of 13 months. “I had started it and I did not want to leave it orphan. I had decided to keep working for the venture until the women are trained to handle all the operations,” she added. It has been four years and Pratibha continues to stay in Khetikhan. The locals no longer see her as an outsider, she has become a ‘pahadi’(mountain woman) and enjoys the customs and lifestyle of the hill community more than the cities.
Pratibha’s enterprise has started working with designers in India, producing exclusive winter and baby wear for them. “We have started receiving good orders from designers. We are trying to make new designs of crocheted cotton dresses, home décor and baby wear. Our women are improving and we have a set of them who are experts at
finishing and packaging. Two of the women who weren’t acquainted with English, emails or laptops, are today using a system for accounts, inventory and sending emails to customers. They send me daily updates on WhatsApp in English when I am out of the village,” states Pratibha proudly, who has seen these women’s confidence levels increase.
Now entering the tailoring and stitching section, Himalayan Blooms is reaching out to other remote villages in the district where the living conditions are worse. “Women in a few villages are uneducated, but have a lot of passion for doing something. We have already started a tailoring centre at one such village, and are expanding to two more soon,” she concluded.
Speaking of how a change in her career path has affected her life, she added, “It is much more fulfilling than working in a city. At the end of the day, Himalayan Blooms is empowering women who were never given much importance in their households. Now, one of the women is an equal earning member of her family, and one widow is living respectfully, earning for herself rather than asking for money from her family.” There are many such success stories that Pratibha has seen come true because of her one intervention.
All you need is the integrity and dedication towards the cause – is the message from the young social entrepreneur blooming lives in the hills of Uttarakhand.

Anvi Mehta

After completing her engineering, Anvi Mehta interned for a newspaper and was freelancing. She worked in Uttarakhand as a SBI Fellow for a year. She loves to travel and document different cultures and arts.