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Small pebbles, big ripples

I remember my super seniors in high school were a very responsible lot. And I don’t just mean academically; they were socially proactive. They taught one of the cleaning staff English. I don’t remember her name or my seniors’ even. But I’ll never forget how diligent they were with teaching her every Saturday, after school hours. Today, that cleaner is a kindergarten teacher at my old school.

I never gave it much thought back then. But now that I think about it, I realise my seniors were exemplary citizens long before they were adults. There are many more youths like them. And the more I look for them, the more they seem to be all around us. There are college students who collectively donate money to educate underprivileged kids and even keep track of their progress. There are youngsters who petition for plastic-free school and college campuses. There are teenagers who teach children of their domestic help math and science.

Take Youth For Parivarthan (YFP), for instance. The youth volunteers of this organisation have cleaned and painted at least four walls and flyovers on the route I take to office. They’ve done this across several localities in Bengaluru city. They do this in the hope that people will stop dirtying the city, and I must say it has worked surprisingly well. Amith Amarnath, 24, founder of YFP, explains, “A children’s playground near my home used to be filled with garbage, making it inaccessible to the kids. So, a couple of my friends and I cleaned up the space and painted the benches in there. In the following days, we noticed people were hesitant to dirty such a clean place. That’s when we decided to do this in as many places as possible.”

Youngsters like Amith are so driven to be responsible even before they’ve experienced adulthood in all its facets. According to sociologist Dr Malathi Venugopal, 16-25 is an age group that’s easy to influence and mould. “Individuals this age are very impressionable. So, it’s easy to bring them into an ideology. And if such youngsters find meaning in it, there’s a very good possibility they will carry on such initiatives later in life as well,” she says.

“While implementing social initiatives can prove to be challenging for the zealous youth, they’re actually opportunities for developing hardcore leadership skills. It’s the reason I’m able to build myself a career in social welfare.”

This is certainly true of Ashwini Krishnaprasad, 27, who had worked as a Gandhi Fellow soon after she graduated. During that time, she had had the opportunity to bring about a sea change in the education system of a village she was posted to work in. Having completed the fellowship, today, she nurtures her sense of social responsibility as the founder of Superheroes Incorporated. It’s an organisation that provides career support to vocational students and helps them improve their standard of living.

It’s not just that Ashwini continues undertaking such social initiatives long after leaving the fellowship. What’s interesting is that she has managed to make a living out of this drive. According to her, youth-driven initiatives give volunteers more than a cause to work for. She explains, “While implementing social initiatives can prove to be challenging for the zealous youth, they’re actually opportunities for developing hardcore leadership skills. It’s the reason I’m able to build myself a career in social welfare.”

Such a win-win scenario would certainly benefit everyone in the long run. If an individual could earn a living by bettering the lives of others in a society, then that’s good news for the youth as well as the social welfare sector. So, perhaps, it’s not very surprising that Ashwini isn’t alone in being able to make a living out of social work. Manasi Joshi, 27, an engineer by education, chose to work in the HR department of Youth For Seva (YFS), an NGO that supports impoverished schools, hospitals, and shelters.

The number of such youngsters striving to make positive changes in society only seems to increase every year. When Amith started YFP in 2014, it was just him and a few of his friends cleaning neighbourhoods and painting walls. Today, there are hundreds of volunteers who’ve joined him in the cause.

They say charity begins at home. I say it begins with the youth. The ripple effect that socially proactive youngsters create is very powerful. Their persistence snowballs, gradually building a vast network of volunteers and social workers. They might not create a wave overnight. They might not change society drastically. But the youth do create a long-lasting positive impact on the lives of those they try to help. They’re budding heroes doing their bit for the society. Their efforts might be a whisper, but a whisper that echoes.

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