Contributed by Arun D Sinha Management Consultant and Independent Certified Executive Coach) and Mr. U Vasu Rao (Former CEO & Managing Director of Larsen & Toubro and erstwhile Chairman of the Society)
We saw Children walking back from School barefoot..........
Four retirees were having a sip at their respective drinks in the evening. Discussion was on the subject of repaying back to the Society, in some way, what benefits, direct or indirect; they had received when they were young. This was the year 2001.
Where there are four Indians, there are thousand thoughts, but not much agreement! "Let us start with something simple!" Said one, "Like what" retorted another? A moment of silence and just then they saw a group of children trudging back from school, in crumpled uniform, a bit dusty, after a full day's school work and play....... but all of them were barefoot. "We can provide them shoes, for instance" said the initiator of the thought. The kids were asked questions like "Which school do you all study?" "When you grow up what do you want to become?" "Where do you all stay?"
It emerged, the kids studied at a school named: Chennakeshava School, located in Michaelpalya, Bangalore. They all came from the lower strata of the society, however their aspirations were high! One wanted to become a Doctor, others Lawyer, Mechanic, Nursing staff etc. High thoughts! After all, Lotus a beautiful flower, always grow only in muddy waters and no wonder Lotus is the National flower of India.
Not satisfied just with providing shoes, this Voluntary Group extended their efforts to provide nutritious breakfast, regular annual health check up (including dental + eyesight), and reinforced the school activities by Training Teachers; Teaching spoken English to students; Elementary Computer education; building a Library; Constructing Hygienic Toilets in the school and not forgetting arranging free mid - day meal etc.
"Diamonds can wait!" said the nephew of one of the original 4 members. He was visiting India from New Zealand and on that day he had set out from the house to buy a Diamond Necklace as a present for his wife, on their 25th wedding anniversary. On the way, he tagged along with his uncle who had to fulfill a commitment at the school. Impressed by the voluntary work he took out his cheque-‐ book and made a handsome contribution & continued to do so year after year total now amounting to Rs.6 Lakhs. Best was yet to come! Daughter of another member who has law firm in US handed over a cheque for Rs.1 Lac to the Chairman- wait, there is more to come - after going back to US, she donated a little over Rs.10 lakhs! Did she stop there? No sir. Another Rs.10 Lakhs came in the following year as well! What's pertinent is that, members & their families and friends have collected all the funds through voluntary contributions. A few companies have also given donations. A friend of the Society Chairman, who lives in US, has provided Office space and administrative help to keep the overheads to the minimum. Indirectly, Government of India has helped by making Donations to the Senior Citizens Group Society, Exempt of Tax under section 80G of the Income Tax Act of India. Now the society has been permitted by Government to receive Donations Directly in Foreign Exchange. A few Charitable Trusts and Corporations have lent their helping hand too when approached
"Shouldn't we as Senior and retired persons be helping the aged?" Time and again discussions center on this topic. And the answer is "Yes ........but only as a side activity". The society does render some help to an old age home. This is the Humanitarian Home -‐ a home for the destitute at Honnur, an outskirt of Bangalore where too the group has been rendering a lot of help including setting up a Physiotherapy Centre from funds raised through passing the hat around amongst the members.
"How about helping the Villages?" Can we stop urban migration of youth by making farming and village activities more paying? At Sonahallipura village near Bangalore, one of the members has taken the initiative of supporting education of girls. To promote education regular awards are being given to girls who show "best improved performance"! Thus all are encouraged to perform and not just the brightest. The ladies of the village have been taught the skill of making Hygienic Sanitary pads which are being sold at subsidized rates. All this is being done through involvement of the villagers, local authorities and a bank.
Are you a Woman or Man who feel Senior and retired from active life? – Well how do you use your wisdom, accumulated expertise, Time and Financial resources gainfully now? Ancient Indian Culture had prescribed a simple solution when you become old.... Go to the forests, meditate and accumulate wisdom and spread your thoughts. This stage of life was called 'Vana-‐prastha'; where Vana = Forest, Prastha = Going. In today's world, aging population is growing in large numbers; simultaneously forests around the world are depleting. Thus this ancient prescription is no longer practical! Hiding in Concrete Jungles is also not a solution. From a small beginning of 4 members -‐ We now have multiplied manifold….and we are looking for more. Fortunately, the members have found that there is so much to contribute every day that this voluntary Society has remained untouched by politics and politicking. Today, Charitable Trusts and Corporates in India are also looking for Social Organizations doing productive work at the ground level. This helps them spend a part of their profit, to discharge the obligations towards "Corporate Social Responsibility"
Debts have to be repaid – this is the unstated Mission of the Group. We all have received so much from our forefathers, parents and earlier society. Such a debt ("Pitri Wrin" in Sanskrit) as per Indian philosophy can only be paid back to the next generation, as most of the earlier ones are dead and gone! One of the European Philosopher, J S Mill cynically expressed: Charity is an expression of feeling of Superiority, and "Charity breeds dependence, rather than autonomy". Since our members have no such feeling – this Senior Citizens' Society is merely struggling to pay back its debts.