WITH corporates now having to publicly declare their contribution to the social sector, the call for civil society to pull their weight too is getting louder. But while Individual Social Responsibility is something everyone wants to do, few get down to actually doing it. For Harsha Sawlani, a resident of Dubai for 39 years, it took only an instant to decide to take 20 children from the Ladakh region, who were left stranded when a cloudburst devastated the area causing flash floods in 2010, under her wing.
“I was on a trip a few weeks after the cloudburst in August 2010, and happened to come across the children that were victims of the floods. Each one had a different story, but all needed a home, and had to be rescued from the harsh weather conditions immediately. At the time there were around 20 children and the Druk School was willing to school and board them, “ says Sawlani remembering the tough time. The Druk School, situated on the Leh-Manali highway, became popular as Rancho’s school after Aamir Khan’s character in the film.
[creativ_pullright colour=”red” colour_custom=”” text=”‘Because it was beyond my individual capacity to do so, I asked family and friends to sponsor a child each. That’s how the first 20 were sponsored, the rest were through word of mouth as well.’ – Harsha Sawlani”]
The number of children at the school soon doubled, growing to 42 children over four years. To fund and look after so many children is quite a task physically as well financially. Sawlani got her initial sponsors through an email that she sent to friends and family. She says, “My email detailed my commitment to funding the education and lodging of 20 children, but because it was beyond my individual capacity to do so, I asked family and friends to sponsor a child each. That’s how the first 20 were sponsored, the rest were through word of mouth as well.”
For Sawlani, who is based in Dubai, it has been easy to find sponsors in Dubai itself for this cause. The fact that this initiative was run by an individual in a non-structured way (unlike an NGO), is what attracted sponsors, she says.
“There is transparency in all transactions,” says Sawlani. “I spend time at the school every year reporting back to the sponsors about the progress of their sponsored child. I also encourage sponsors to visit and meet their child so that a bond can be created.”
Sawlani is now looking at taking the next step for these children. “I aim to set up a vocational training center in Leh for these 42 children and others so they can have the opportunity to sustain a livelihood.” Sawlani leaves it to the sponsor of the child to decide until when s/he wants to support the child, through schooling or further studies. “These children are like any other children who have dreams, like some want to be doctors, some want to go in to army. If the sponsors can support that, it’s great, else the vocation center is what will give them some skills to earn a living.”
Most NGOs activities take place in states where industry is active, and places like Leh, Ladakh and other North-East locations, are easily forgotten for wp activities. Like Harsha being an individual has taken up this project in an area like Leh, corporates can do things quite easily in these parts of the country.
Sawlani says, “The corporate world has the means to do anything. If remote parts of Ladakh are accessible, then so is the rest of the north-east in India. If Pepsi and Coke can get there, with their drinks, then so can NGOs and individuals.” She quips, “There are flights to this region daily, so it is not too difficult for wp activities to be carried out in all parts of the country.”