Meet Sachin Patwardhan and Rohini Jog who had worked among natives in Africa to help them earn a livelihood. In the process,they found themselves
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others, Mahatma Gandhi had once said. Two of Mumbais residents,who went to Africa separately for a year as part of a programme to help natives earn their livelihood and guide them in business,had done exactly that.
Back in the city,one of them a few years ago and the other in July this year,both of them say their stint in Africa has helped them in seeing the world from a whole new perspective. Life was comfortable for Vile Parle resident Sachin Patwardhan,35,as a programme associate with a leading software MNC. The pay was good and so were the perks. Married for the past five years,Patwardhan has a three-year-old son.
It was following an urge to do something for the society that he applied for the iVolunteer Overseas. He was chosen to volunteer with a local organisation in Africa,which he accepted. He was told that he would be sent to Ghana as part of a team comprising volunteers from many countries and work alone with a local government body.
I was informed that I would be working as a livelihood development advisor for the Bongo district assembly. I went to Ghana in July 2010 and worked for a year there. It was a trying experience but one that changed me as a person, Patwardhan recalls.
His job was to assist the government body in developing the local economy. Helping the local economy sustain itself is not an easy ask. I had to come up with various strategies to ensure that it flourishes. I decided to bring locally produced products to the forefront handicraft,poultry and the like. Products which would help the economy at the grassroot level had to be given importance. I devised strategies to ensure that these products were bought by people.
His initial days in northern Ghanas Bongo province were tough. It was tough living away from my family. I missed my wife and son terribly. Cellphone did help but it was a remote locality and there were numerous occasions when there was no network; I had to think of something else every time I felt home-sick, he recalls.
The weather was also trying. The summer lasts seven months and temperatures touched 43°C. It was difficult,but the smile on faces of people after I helped them was worth it all. In fact,when my stint ended,everyone came up to me and asked me to stay back. It was a touching moment, Patwardhan says.
Rohini Jog,39,of Mahim worked as a business development head for a marketing firm in Kampala,Uganda. She had also contacted the same organisation and was sent to Uganda in March 2005. I was sent to Kampala because I came from a business background. I had to ensure that the local initiative Roses of Mbuya makes money. It was a group of 15 which stitched clothes and made embroideries. A lot of money was invested but the project was making losses. I was sent to try and change the fortune around.
Jog says she tried to get contracts for the workers. That helped them increase their revenue. From a loss-making venture,the Roses earned a profit of $5,000 in nine months.
However,there were some difficulties,too. Everyone who worked at the Roses,except their supervisor,was HIV +ve. The money that they were getting was not enough as they also had to ensure the medications. After we made profits,the situation changed. A difference was seen in their mental and emotional state.
Jog had extended her term for another three months and returned to Mumbai in July 2006. I stayed back for a few more months. I wanted to train someone to continue my work. The Roses still needed to sustain themselves. I did that and came back.
Patwardhan says the stint was simply life-changing. I have learnt so much as a person. I know what it means to help others. I have seen how one person can try and help change a whole community.