A closer look at one of the country’s most prominent youth-led NGOs
Chennai, Mar 1: It was on a sultry Independence Day afternoon 13 years ago that a team of two doctors and an IT professional were finally able to achieve their dream of creating an accessible volunteering platform.
Cited as one of India’s largest youth volunteer organizations, Bhumi was founded by Dr. Prahalathan K.K., Dr. Harishankar, and Ayyanar Elumalai, and functions with the help of as many as 18,000 volunteers, consisting of mostly students and working professionals. It has been instrumental in providing supplementary education to children in shelter homes, orphanages, and slums in cities like Chennai, Coimbatore, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Thanjavur, Trichy, and more.
“We have about 600 volunteers in Chennai working with at least 45 different institutions,” says Ganesh Kumar, HR Head for their Shelter Home projects. “Besides our education programs which come under Ignite, we undertake civic initiatives for Catalyze, which include campaigns, marathons, and workshops for environmental conservation, road safety, animal welfare, and cleanliness drives.”
“We look for volunteers that can afford to commit to Bhumi for at least six months,” he adds, “It is important for them to be articulate and know how to deal with children. We place them in teaching programs based on whichever subjects they’re inclined towards, be it arts, science, mathematics, or even sports.”
Remembering Bhumi’s fondest success story, Dr.Prahalathan says, “During one of our earliest projects in 2006, we came across a very bright boy in Thirumullaivoyal; he now teaches children at the same center and also in three other neighbouring villages.” Since Prahalathan is a practicing ophthalmologist, he doesn’t partake in the teaching process but looks into volunteer mobilization, fundraising, and managing PR campaigns.
Although the NGO has earned credit in the social-work circuit for its substantial work, it is not deprived of logistical issues. “There are times when we have to cancel classes as third-parties like donors might want to host events of their own, and orphanages have no option but to prioritize them,” says Ganesh, “Other times, volunteers may take too many days off in a row for their semester-exams or academic opportunities outside the city, but they should understand that it is hard to build a rapport with the children and lack of consistency demotivates them.”
Instances of the volunteers’ dedication are not hard to come across though. “I got a chance to visit an all-boys orphanage and the team was distributing gifts to the children,” says Aarthi Ramnath, a media student who interned with the organization in 2016, “It seemed like the kids and the volunteers knew each other very well; they kept cracking jokes on each other and received the gifts with big smiles.”
“Bhumi has an extremely inclusive work environment,” adds another volunteer, Madhumita Raghavan, a student of social-work who worked for the Speak Out project (teaching English to primary school children) in Mumbai. “Volunteers and any ideas they pitch are received respectfully – it’s like being part of a big family of people from different backgrounds that constantly engage and enrich you. It is heartwarming when the children open up to us about their aspirations, make us believe we’re headed in the right direction.“ she quips.
“We are working with 25,000 children at the moment and aim to cross ten lakh in the next ten years,” adds Prahalathan, “The goal is to reach as many children as possible and create a meaningful contribution to their lives so that someday they feel comfortable in giving back to someone else.”