Author: Anjali Sarmah, Bhumi Fellow

What is social change? Is it possible to eradicate societal inequities without charitable support? These are some questions that were running on my mind as I worked on two major components of my project. 

Of charity and changeGive a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for his lifetime.

I’ve come across many variations of this proverb. I always found it fascinating as it embodies two different approaches to tackling inequities – charity and social change. As someone who has been trying to make strides towards social change for the last year, it was interesting how uncomfortable I felt while trying to mobilize resources. Charitable support, in simpler terms. 
While reflecting, I felt this was disconcerting because I once used to find it easy to say things like “money is not an issue” with no second thought. This is a stark indicator of my privilege and upbringing. Of course, money is an issue – a gateway to resources, experiences, education. In our first week as Bhumi Fellows, we had in-depth discussions about cultural and social capital. While that was a tiny step towards understanding a child from a low-income background, the last two months have been a giant leap. 

What worked for me?

I have been working on my fellowship project. It is a year-long endeavor to provide sustainable solutions for challenges in my school.  One challenge that I wanted to address was brought about by COVID and its far-reaching impact. My school is a low-income private school in North Chennai. With school closures and the lack of access to the internet, several parents had opted to take a “gap year” of sorts. Their thought process was that only limited outcomes can be achieved through e-learning. However, this is a symptom of a deeper problem which is that of the several lakh jobs lost last year. Many families cannot afford the school fees and were avoiding calls from the school or taking a TC.  While the school is doing its best to assure parents that online learning is accessible irrespective of fee payments, a lot of parents were still reluctant.

To do my part, I started a fundraising campaign to provide scholarships to 21 students from my school. The support and contributions that the campaign received were overwhelming. We’ve raised over 3,45,000 Rupees so far; something I could not have imagined when I started this campaign. Parallelly, I was working with an NGO called Guzarish to procure books for primary school students of my school and a co-fellows school. Their initiative called BooksForAll aims to collect books from organizations/individuals and re-distribute them to children from low-income communities at little to no cost. My aim was to focus on basic skills that were being lost – writing, reading, and a medium for expression. Each child was given one cursive writing book, one art book, and a storybook. To this end, we procured 935 books in total, and have already distributed them to over one hundred and fifty children. 

Through this entire process, we have been working with the parents and children to ensure that children attend classes and make use of the resources being provided to them. Circling back to my initial point, I think today I realise the value of giving a person a fish and also teaching them how to fish immediately after. I believe one cannot function without the other and it is up to us to find a sustainable balance between the two. 

#BhumiFellowship #Bhumi

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