Sunday, January 31, 2021

Lead Read by Give India

Quick catch-ups with thought leaders in the social sector. Original Post

STARTED by a small group of friends in 2006, Bhumi provides the youth with a platform to serve the society and bridges the gap between the educated and the uneducated. Bhumi today is one of India’s largest independent non-profit organisations for youth volunteering.

It enables a pool of about 25,000 volunteers who educate and mentor children from orphanages, slum and village community centres across the country to give them a better future. The learning experience is mutual – volunteers gain perspective and the experience to mould themselves into tomorrow’s leaders.

In this first of a new series of quick catch-ups with thought leaders in the social sector, we had a chat with Bhumi co-founder Dr. Prahalathan KK to know what makes him tick as the head of an NGO  – and as a person:

Q. Share one of your first experiences of being involved in the social sector? A moment that is significant to you in some way

I still remember my first class as a teaching volunteer in 2006,  what I experienced shocked me into continuing what we started. 

We were allocated a group of middle school kids at a shelter home in Chennai, where we divided the kids into groups and split ourselves to ‘teach’ them. The first class was an ice breaker – we introduced ourselves, why we were there. When we asked them what they wanted to learn, they asked for lessons in English, Computers, Maths & Science.

It was a two-hour session, and we found that some children were struggling to write their names in English, so we helped them. One of the children gave up and said she could not do it!

To ease the mood we then switched to a small pop quiz on general knowledge – Who is the PM of India, who is the President, the national anthem, father of the nation, etc. When one of the children said she did not know the capital of Tamil Nadu, I felt incredulous and refused to believe her. I then realised there were a few others in our class who did not know it either.

The class soon got over, we bid goodbye promising to return next week. We had a debrief in the portico in front of the house where I shared my disbelief at what happened with the group. 

I left the place ruminating about the kind of education I had received and the gap these children had to fill. I felt grateful, committed, and motivated. In the next few weeks, Bhumi was born.

Q. What is the biggest problem you face as an NGO working for Education?

Inequality in access and opportunities to receive quality education resulting in sustainable livelihoods is one of the biggest problems. We at Bhumi have taken a multi-pronged approach to address supplementary education, scholarships, school transformation, and promoting admissions under Section 12(1)(C) of Right To Education, to name a few.

What I am most passionate about is getting more young people into the education sector to solve this challenge – both as volunteers to provide supplementary education and as a Bhumi Fellow.

Q. When would you say that you have accomplished what you set out to do? As in what goal would you have to get to?

I am extremely optimistic, but I do not think the goal I strive for will be achieved in my lifetime. An ambitious goal is to get every Indian volunteering and make volunteering a national habit. People should be able to volunteer for civic issues that connect with them the most. India will be a more equal, influential, and socially conscious society.

Q. Can you tell us of three changes you will make or have made to your life because of the pandemic

I have rediscovered my love for reading. I have completed over 40 books since the lockdown began. This is what stands out for me when I think about the pandemic pause.

Apart from that I have been able to manage a very regular sleep pattern now – I wake up around 4.30 AM, start my day with black coffee and The Hindu E-paper, I complete my walk and emails before the day starts. I have dinner around 7.30 PM and hit the bed by 10 PM. I have even started doing more household chores and have cooked a few times to surprise my wife, Vaishnavi.

Q. If you could invite three famous people, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why? What would you speak to them about?

I would invite Mahatma Gandhi, I have been deeply inspired by his life, how a seemingly flawed person went on to inspire a whole nation. I would also invite Aamir Khan and Rajinikanth to try to convince them to promote volunteering and the Right To Education like how actor Siddharth did.

Interviewed by Abhishek Pde———————————————————————————————————–

Established in 2000, GiveIndia is India’s most trusted giving platform for donors. Our community of 1.5M+ donors and 150+ corporate partners have supported 1,800+ nonprofits, impacting 10M+ lives across India.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Before Bhumi - Second Centre #1

Volunteers kept joining us every week and we quickly decided to start a second centre. We wanted to start in a slum community, hence we found an organisation that was working in Pudupettai community in Chennai. 

I went to their office in Egmore, Chennai for permission. They were surprised we were not a 'registered organisation' I was questioned a lot about that, I explained about the informal nature of our group. They requested us to request permission on a letterhead. I quickly put together a letterhead and went there again and they permitted us to start our weekly classes. The organisation CODIAC was conducting skill development classes in the rooftop of the Govt housing board building and they agreed to share the space with us for our classes. Their staff would be present at each class too (To the left of the group pic)

On July 1, 2006, we had our first interaction with the children, an ice breaker. We played a lot of games with the children. What I remember from that day is Prakash teaching the students Karate. 

We asked them what we could teach and listened to them. The children wanted to learn English, Computers, Maths & Science. It was similar to what we understood from the children of our first centre. 

From L>R Raghav, Ayyanar, Prakash, Suren & Swami. I'm missing because I was the photographer :)

I used to be a frequent visitor to the Computer market on Ritchie Street at least once a month during those times, I never realised there was a huge slum beyond the bustling marketplace. 

This is quite common in India, but, have you been surprised similarly? Leave a comment

#StartupStories #Bhumi #StartYourNGO

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Before Bhumi - First centre #2

We returned to the shelter home every weekend to teach. The classes were a lot of fun for both the children and the volunteers. Though I still have just one regret …


We used to assemble at the centre every Sunday at around 9.30 AM. Hari used to be the one who prepared the plan for each class which he shared with all of us. The children were from classes 6-8, so, we then split up to handle the children as per their classes.


Every day we used to do different things in class, English, Maths, Science, GK … One of our classes even involved bringing all the kids out the portico and playing a game. We wrapped every class at noon with a debrief on the front portico.


Every week some new volunteers kept joining our group. While some came for just one class, our numbers continued to swell. It was satisfying and reinforced our motivation to keep doing what we did.


To protect the privacy of the children we weren't allowed to click pictures at the shelter home. That's my only regret from then, not even a single picture :(


Do you have any such regrets from 15 years ago? Leave a comment

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Before Bhumi - First centre

 I still remember our first class as a teaching volunteer 

… it shocked me into continuing what we started.

We were allocated a group of middle school kids at Bala Mandir home, Chennai, we had divided the kids into groups and split ourselves to 'teach' them. The first class was more like an ice breaker, we introduced ourselves, why we were there. We asked them what we could teach and listened to them. The children wanted to learn English, Computers, Maths & Science (More or less in this order)

It was a two-hour session, in my class, two or three children struggled to write their names in English, we helped them do it. One of the children gave up and said she couldn't do it!

We then did a small pop quiz in general knowledge. Who's the PM of India, who's the president of India, National Anthem, father of the nation etc. When one of the children said she didn't know the capital of Tamil Nadu, I felt incredulous and refused to believe her. I then realised there were a few others in our class who didn't know it too.

The class soon got over, we bid goodbye promising to return next week. We had a debrief in the portico in front of the home. I shared my disbelief at what happened with the group. 

I left the place ruminating the kind of education I had received, the gap. I now know that this is considered a feeling of being privileged thanks to my friends at the Acumen Fellowship. Then, I was just feeling thankful, committed and motivated.

Do you remember the first time something shocked you?

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Before Bhumi - The meeting that started it all

The group was always buzzing with new people walking into every meeting. Sometime in early 2006, at one of our meets, we were brainstorming ideas for our group to do. This is how I remember the meeting unfolded.

It was probably the first meeting for Soundarya & Jayalakshmi who were friends and had some prior experience with social work. Soundarya suggested that we could volunteer to teach at an Orphanage. 

To me then it seemed everyone there was passionate and eager to contribute. I didn't have the maturity to understand who would have carried through and who was just giving ideas. 

We debated several ideas; It seemed like the teaching idea was the most appropriate for a committed group of young volunteers to contribute to society. People who knew orphanages suggested places and people volunteered to check. The group zeroed in on an orphanage in T.Nagar, Chennai and Hari volunteered to go seek permission. I remember Soundarya asking by when it would be done ;) and she probably volunteered to go along with him as well.

Some days later I came to know that we had received permission to start teaching at the orphanage. All it took was one meeting, one suggestion and a gentle nudge.

I think it always pays to be action-oriented, do you agree?

Saturday, January 02, 2021

God & I

 Unedited text of the column in the New Indian Express on Jan 2, 2013

1. What is your understanding of God?

The mythological Prahalathan believed God is Omnipresent whether it was a pillar or a fiber, my beliefs are not very different. Hence, I don't believe in Idol worship, if God were indeed so powerful enough to create this universe, god ought to be everywhere.

PS: It's very hard for a true student of science... biological evolution to not believe in that.

2. What are your spiritual beliefs?

I personally do not have any spiritual beliefs. I don't believe that we should not do wrong or do good things to others only because I will get something in 'the end'. I live my life the way I do because it's the right way to do it.

That said, Spiritual beliefs are good for the world, while some fear the law, some fear god to do the right things and they balance out those who fear neither to do the not so right things.

3. What are your spiritual practices?

I visit the temple once a year on my birthday because my Mother expects me to. When I pray I pray for everyone and I don't feel the need to stand in front of an idol.

4. What is your take on miracles?

If you want something strongly enough you are bound to get it or make it happen because there's nothing stronger than human will. If humans haven't made it happen, the 'miracles' can probably be explained by chance.

5. Have you been to any pilgrimage sites? Are you planning to? What are your experiences with them?

During school holidays, I've visited every major temple in Tamil Nadu because the other members of my family, especially my Mother, are extremely religious.

I don't have any intention of visiting any pilgrim sites unless someone I care about makes a reasonable request.

I used to visit old temples around Madurai during college because I found the experience very peaceful and calming.

On the contrary, I avoid going to crowded temples like Tirupathi... Apart from the claustrophobia because of the crowd, I was also afraid of the hairpin bends the last time I visited Tirupathi as a 10-12-year-old 🙂

Friday, January 01, 2021

Happy New Year 2021 - A new hope for a decade of transformation and renewal

Travelling makes the world seem smaller. The #Covid19 pandemic in spite of restricting travel globally and locally has reminded us about humanity in spite of restricting travel.

There are certain islands that may have surmounted #Covid; there will be countries that vaccinate their entire populations even before poorer countries get a single shot. Through second waves & third waves amidst a false sense of security; throughout most of 2021, the virus will continue to remind us that we live in this shared home, planet earth.

Hope the start of a new decade followed by the #PandemicPause will cause self-reflection propelling action among the leaders, elite, and citizens of the world. Like the seemingly invisible virus, we face other seeming invisible challenges like growing inequalities and #ClimateChange. None of us are safe until all of us are

Here's to a #DecadeOfHope, #DecadeofTransformation, #DecadeOfRenewal. I wish you all a #HappyNewYear2021