Students For A Cause

If you believe today’s youth are all about fashion and gizmo-flaunting, think again.

SANGEETA DAS meets a few Delhi University students who work for the uplift of the poor

 

It’s the era when youth is generally seen following latest trends in fashion and flaunting updated gizmos. But not all. A few students from Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC), University of Delhi, have different priorities. They have taken up the task of shaping the future of the poor, with projects like ‘Life On Wheels – Let Them Own What They Owe’, ‘DU Darshan – Know Your Campus’, and ‘Crafting Their Destiny – Changing Lives Creatively’.

These projects, sponsored by SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise), a non-profit organisation spread across 1,300 universities in 45 countries, was first introduced in SRCC in 2007.

Meet Ashima Gupta, a IInd-year student of BCom in SRCC. She is the co-president of SIFE. “In SRCC, there are different options like debating, dramatics and SIFE, among others. The first three are quite popular among students and are introduced in the first year at the college. I was only interested in SIFE, as it goes well with my subject,” says Ashima.

Is Ashima alone in this work? “No, there are many others. In fact, there are 43 students, 31 of them joined this year, who work day and night for the success of these projects,” she says.

Soon, Ashima is joined by Mehak Nanner, a IInd-year BCom student and SIFE president. She says the projects are a big success in SRCC. “This year 310 students had applied for SIFE but 31 got selected,” Mehak informs.

Mehak and Ashima, then, go on to explain what the three projects mean for the poor.

LIFE ON WHEELS

The Life On Wheels project helps a rickshaw-puller in Delhi’s North Campus take loan from Punjab National Bank (PNB), after which he is provided with a rickshaw that promises a jerk-free ride, besides providing space for holding water bottles and newspapers. The rickshaw has an extended roof that covers both the rider and the commuter. Also, the project provides the rickshaw-pullers a navy blue uniform with SIFE nameplate.

In return, the rickshaw-pullers is expected to deposit Rs 40, on a daily basis, for a year with the contractors. “The contractors deposit that money in the bank as a window repayment of the loan. After a year, the rickshaw-puller owns the vehicle,” says Ashima.

The project has benefited the poor. “Now with savings of Rs2,500 per month, their lives are much more secure,” she says.

Ashima is supported by Nayan Chand Guho, a rickshaw-puller from Burari Sant Nagar. Beaming with hope, he says, “I earn Rs 200 to Rs 400 per day. On an average I am able to save Rs 100. This is supporting my family in a big way.”

Most rickshaw-pullers are seasonal and they migrate from other States in search of work. But they face several problems, including abuse from commuters and harassment from MCD officials. Hans Lal Shah (38), hailing from Bihar, opted to work as rickshaw-puller to support his family of five. But he was unable to make both ends meet. “Only six months ago, I got the SIFE rickshaw. Now I do not have to worry about my family’s future and MCD officials while plying on the road,” he says.

Ram Shiromani Nirankari (42), another rickshaw-puller, feels the project does not only provide financial support but also invokes a sense of pride in him and other fellow rickshaw-pullers. “After plying on roads with my new rickshaw and uniform I feel better,” he says.

NEW-AGE GUIDES

Under the DU Darshan project, rickshaw-pullers act as guides in University of Delhi’s North Campus, showing historical sites like Old Viceregal Lodge, Flag Staff Tower, Khooni Khan Jheel, Pir Ghaib, Asokan Pillar, Mutiny Memorial and Chauburja on Kamla Nehru Ridge.

Harshini and her friends were overjoyed with the experience. “Oh, it’s great and also affordable. I never expected that our rickshaw-pullers would be knowing so much about these places,” she says.

“The main motive behind this project is to generate funds for rickshaw-pullers who earn less on weekends in comparison to other days,” says Ashima. These trips are organised on the weekends, and those interested in visiting the sites will have to pay Rs 70. Foreign tourists will have to spend Rs 150 per head.

One problem facing rickshaw-pullers is illiteracy. They are not being able to talk to foreigners. And, so the need for English classes. SIFE has tied up with ETASHA, another NGO, which will take English classes for them.

Rickshaw-puller Nayan, who had studied up to Class VII, says, “These classes will help us deal better with foreigners.”

CRAFT YOUR DESTINY

 The third project, Crafting Their Destiny, provides training to people residing in West Delhi’s Nihale Village (a slum area) to make cards, book marks, etc, for which SIFE provides raw materials. These finished products are available in various shops in Connaught Place and Khan Market. And, the earnings go to the poor.

These projects have also helped the volunteers. “Applying theoretical knowledge to practical challenges gives a sense of immense satisfaction. Reaching out to the underprivileged also helps us develop our soft skills,” says Ashima.

These efforts have not gone unnoticed. SRCC has already bagged the 2010 Regional Championship Award – the first college in the country to get such recognition. And the students are not done yet. “We are now aiming for national and international awards.” Mehak adds.

(This feature write up by the author first appeared in Sunday Pioneer Agenda on October 17, 2010).

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