Summer vacations are all about lazing at home or going out with friends,watching television,playing video games and eating good food. But how about a summer vacation with a twist? Rahul Shitut (20),a graduate from Vivekananda College,decided last year to spend his summer vacation in a different way. He applied for the iVolunteer Indian Fellowship Programme and headed to Beed to work with the NGO Rural Development Centre for six weeks.
The NGO started iVolunteer fellowship programme in 2005 with an aim to sensitise the urban youth on the development challenges that rural India faces. The programme which started with 14 volunteers,has now grown to 60 students this year. The students are placed in pairs for six weeks with workers from NGOs living with the rural community and working on social development projects.
The NGO I was with,worked for the development of Dalits and other people who were earlier downtrodden and harassed. We had to prepare a report on the work that the NGO had been doing there and also give our inputs on how to improvise, says Rahul,who felt that staying in a rural area like Beed was a complete eye opener for him.
After three weeks in the fellowship programme,there is a mid term review conducted by the NGO and an iVolunteer representative. At this time,we get to tell them what we have been doing and if there is anything we need or we expect. They too review the situation and help us get settled. They also tell us what they expect from us during the remaining programme, says Mihika Mirchandani,a media graduate who went to Gujarat in 2007 to work with the NGO Lok Vikas. We had to document the lives of women who had benefited from the NGOs work. Things like walking for long hours,cooking,washing clothes and doing household chores were new to most of us there. But we learnt to adapt to the place. You never know what your limit is,until you are pushed to do it, Mihika says.
So how did this programme come about? Shaladh Sahai,the director cum co-founder of iVounteer says,A survey we conducted showed that there was a lack of awareness regarding the development challenges that are present.
Also,people held quite a low image of NGOs and volunteering. So we felt it was quite necessary that the people who would lead the country tomorrow as entrepreneurs and industrialists have an experience working with the rural sector.
Initially,although this programme was funded by Sir Ratan Tata Trust,majority of the participants happened to come from upper middle class who could afford to pay for this programme. We charge around Rs 15,000 for six weeks of which Rs 3,500 is returned as stipend for the stay. We also reimburse travel costs. We also have scholarships for students who are interested, Sahai says.
At the end of the sixth week,there is an End Point Meet in which all the participants come together to talk about their experiences and learn from others. Sahai says the fellows come back after having an exposure with the rural way of life. It makes them broadminded and enables them to accept other cultures and traditions that exist.
It also makes you question many things such as poverty,hunger and human dignity, says Zainab Kakal,who has done her programme with the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme at Panchpipri. An experience like this is extremely powerful and rewarding. It can make an impact in your life.