Final week, I discovered myself in a South Kolkata neighborhood that appeared solely invested in its Sunday afternoon siesta. The slender lanes led to a small subject, managed by the native membership. Aside from a couple of younger boys lazily strolling round on the moist grass, there was nobody else. Even the rickshaw pullers seemed torpid; one in every of them had propped himself up on his rickshaw seat in a clumsy place, and was quick asleep.
In accordance with Google Maps, I had reached the workplace of Accountable Charity, an NGO based by Hemley Gonzalez. I discovered him inside one of many rooms, bustling round to ensure every part was set for Slum Jam- a month-to-month musical occasion organized by the NGO the place underprivileged youngsters (who’ve been educated for over a yr) and native artists carry out. Hemley invited me as much as the terrace which had been decked up for this night. Youngsters from the slums of Park Circus, Kolkata, sat beaming in entrance of their keyboards , discussing excitedly who would carry out first.
Quickly, we have been all requested to sit. The youngsters carried out their items one after the opposite and gained over everybody’s hearts. It was heartwarming to see them play renditions of Yiruma and Beethoven with such ease and with the brightest grins on their faces. It made me understand how one thing as elementary as music can also be a luxurious that many don’t have. I used to be glad that these youngsters did.
Picture supply: Sanjukta Bose
Picture supply: Sanjukta Bose
All through the night, I might see Hemley continually on the transfer. He was both busy attending to individuals or engaged on his telephone or fixing some disaster that had sprung up. When the youngsters carried out, nevertheless, I noticed him standing and taking their footage. Identical to a proud mother or father would. After wrapping up Slum Jam, we went downstairs to his workplace the place we lastly had some peace and quiet to speak.
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What was your life like earlier than you based Accountable Charity?
I used to be an actual property dealer for a few years. I’ll look younger however I’m not. (Laughs) I labored in Miami Seashore, United States. It was a really difficult and rewarding profession. But then the market collapsed in 2007-2008 and there was an enormous monetary disaster in the USA and my enterprise together with many others suffered as a result of nothing was promoting, so all the things got here to a standstill. Up till that point I had by no means actually had trip time, I used to be a slave to my firm. Regardless that I beloved my work, I simply didn’t have time to go away and for the primary time ever I used to be truly capable of take a break, and so, determined to return to India. So, life was fairly good, very snug, very pampered in america. I labored very exhausting for my cash, and for what I did, it was handed to me. But it was a totally totally different life from what it’s now.
What made you keep again in India and never return again to your previous life?
So, once I got here to India in 2008, I used to be right here on a backpacking journey and I made a decision to do some volunteer work. I stored operating into actually corrupt organizations and I used to be actually disenchanted. Then I began working within the slums on my own. Ultimately, that led me to create Accountable Charity as a result of you’ll be able to’t simply work for one month and even one yr and never become involved with the layer of issues and the options that it’s a must to implement. In order that’s the way it began. I had buddies who have been in school on the time, they usually have been coming with me to the slums to assist me translate, and ultimately they turned full-time volunteers and staffers and we began this system from that point on.
How do you assume your personal lived experiences have formed your perceptions of social points and issues that plague this society?
I used to be primarily conscious of points and issues earlier than, however it’s not like you are able to do loads of social work whereas having a full time profession. So, my experiences weren’t there on the time, however once I began doing this full time, I understood the totally different issues that humanity faces. Now, this has grow to be my job and my main focus the place I spend hours on a regular basis engaged on fixing the issues or tending to the problems. And there’s an enormous distinction once we do this on a weekend after work, or once you’re volunteering at your native charity, versus doing it day by day the place you breathe and stay with the issues. It modifications you and your whole perspective concerning the human situation.
What sort of volunteer work did you do when you have been initially backpacking in India?
I truly volunteered with just one group. I spent two months working with the Missionaries of Charity and it was a horrible expertise. I uncovered plenty of medical negligence, monetary fraud and I went public with what I noticed. Since Mom Teresa has this saintly place in Indian tradition, it was very troublesome to get the message out to the individuals. I’m not the one one who observed this stuff inside their group, books have been written about this. I’m pals with an individual who’s additionally very outspoken concerning the issues with that group. As a volunteer who was there for 2 months working on a regular basis for a number of hours; I used to be making an attempt to convey ahead options and always being shut down, and denied of bringing in change. It was very infuriating and irritating. A variety of these sufferers didn’t have a voice for themselves. This expertise was, in a means, a catalyst for me to do one thing totally different and higher as an alternative of simply criticizing it. Criticism is necessary to result in consciousness, however you additionally need to do one thing truly tangible and so, right here we’re.
What are a number of the obstacles that nonprofit organizations in India face?
That’s a two half reply. First, there are points with the construction, as in the right way to conduct enterprise as an NGO. I’m utilizing the phrase enterprise as a result of it must be handled like one. The one distinction right here is that the equal to a revenue is individuals’s progress. One of many issues is being unable to spend cash on assets and methods that aid you with the work as a result of most of the people thinks you shouldn’t be spending that type of cash within the infrastructure for a charity. Individuals anticipate you to do quite a bit with little or no cash. There’s all the time this fixed battle between the supporters and the general public. We have to educate people who when you’re going to run a charity that’s going to be environment friendly and profitable, you could spend money on the individuals that you simply’re hiring, in addition to within the methods and gear. I can’t come to work on a regular basis for ten hours with out the right instruments and provides the outcomes that folks anticipate, it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
A second drawback is with the precise individuals that you simply work with, and for this you want time, endurance and repetition. It’s taken us Four-5 years of working with a few of the youngsters to get them to the place they’re now. We tried to make them acquainted with English, however that didn’t occur in a single day. That was us going to the slums 5-6 days every week for Three-Four hours, hammering the message at their mother and father and them, getting them again to the middle, and preventing in the event that they missed even in the future from this system. That is what goes on behind the scenes and other people don’t understand that. They only need to see the ribbon slicing ceremonies and the photographs with the youngsters smiling. But to get to that stage you want to take action rather more on a regular basis and that’s the difficult half that we face. It requires getting individuals to keep it up and ultimately getting them to see that there’s a advantage of sticking with this system. That lives are literally altering, and it’s not some white man that desires to repair all of your issues. I can’t repair your issues, I can solely offer you instruments that will help you repair your issues yourselves, and that’s primarily what we do.
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What sort of alternatives does Accountable Charity present to the socially acutely aware youth who need to make a distinction however don’t precisely know find out how to channelize that power?
That’s a very good query as a result of we’re in all probability the one charity in India that particularly states within the coverage that we don’t need to work with overseas volunteers. The rationale for that’s that loads of overseas volunteers don’t come right here for a brief go to, they don’t know the language they usually might not have the actual expertise. They find yourself being extra of a legal responsibility than they’re of assist. And my concept, although I’m a foreigner and I based the NGO, is to socially combine our youngsters and the households that we work with into the communities round them. And the best way to try this, we discovered, was to virtually solely work with native volunteers. A few of my associates have been in school once I based the NGO; they stored telling one another about it and we received loads of school college students working. We’ve created a system the place youngsters aren’t solely working with individuals from their very own communities which might be in a greater social state of affairs, however they’re bridging the gaps. The volunteer program requires everybody to go to the houses of the youngsters within the slums and meet their households as soon as a month. We report the mother and father on how the youngsters are doing in our packages and the mother and father additionally inform us in the event that they’re dealing with any points within the slums. That continuity and frequency creates a relationship. We additionally give our older youngsters smartphones and lots of them are on social media. Once we’re working on the centre, it’s primarily knowledgeable relationship however now that they see our lives outdoors the centre on social media, additionally they see that we’re like regular individuals. We’re not simply right here to do the work however we even have enjoyable, we have now events and relationships and this entire world and now so do they. We see them taking selfies and posting on social media and that degree of integration is the best factor we may give them. We do a number of work with totally different faculties, like garments and toys drives. Only recently, we went to South Metropolis Worldwide and the academics and the principals requested us if we might get a number of the older youngsters of their faculty enrolled in our volunteering program and I feel it’s an exquisite concept. If anyone within the metropolis needs to volunteer they will come right here. We do an orientation on the primary Sunday of all the things month at 1pm. In case you’re late, you’ll have to anticipate the subsequent month. We’re very strict on that. We respect individuals’s time and we would like individuals to respect our time as nicely, and that’s truly the primary check to see in case you are a accountable particular person. When you can comply with directions, when you can present up on time. It’s a minimal of 4 months dedication. And there’s two days every week that we require for working in numerous packages however primarily it consists of tutoring the youngsters who’re in personal faculties.
How is Calcutta as a metropolis, when it comes to work ethics?
It’s a love-hate relationship. I really feel very a lot at residence and welcome right here, nevertheless it’s additionally a really troublesome metropolis to conduct enterprise in and get issues completed. Everyone jokes concerning the laziness of the town, that’s humorous till you need to work right here and produce outcomes. There’s an plain attribute of laziness that you simply don’t see in different cities. Now that we now have branches in Pune and Mumbai, I examine them and I understand how life is totally different, individuals’s ambitions are totally different, even the best way they present as much as conferences is totally different. That’s why I say it’s a love hate relationship as a result of as a lot as I adore it, additionally it is very troublesome to get work achieved right here. That hasn’t stopped me although, we’re nonetheless right here.
What do you assume is the scope of social activism in India proper now?
I feel as a result of we’re a creating nation, India is torn between getting forward and caring. Thus, what you see is the fragmentation of these two emotions. Lots of people listed here are armchair activists, they go on social media they usually fake to care about social points however they by no means go to a protest or donate cash or volunteer. They’re simply dumping all these frustrations on-line they usually’re complicated it with consciousness. Somebody arguing for hours a day with individuals and never tangibly doing something or altering anybody’s thoughts shouldn’t be activism. That’s your concept of activism however that’s not making us any higher. So, the scope of activism in India ranges from those that are on the entrance strains preventing and people who find themselves getting in the best way of labor. There’s plenty of frustration, and people who find themselves discovering their voice and complicated their anger with activism.
What units RC aside from different NGOs on the market?
We’re not your grandmother’s charity. We’re small, versatile and there’s no age hierarchy. For instance, my director is 23 years previous and he manages people who find themselves older than him. Younger women and men have very accountable positions within the charity as a result of they’re certified to take action based mostly on their progress with us over time. Most of them began as volunteers after which they turned staffers. We have now radical packages when it comes to schooling. If one thing doesn’t work out, we acknowledge it and attempt to repair it. We’re very digitally lively and rely closely on social media. We’re principally a start-up with a US mentality however nonprofit. I don’t assume anybody else is doing what we’re doing. For instance, Slum Jam, our music program, is radical. These youngsters didn’t play any devices a yr again, and proper now they’re taking the stage with confidence and enjoying in entrance of individuals. Something like this has come from loads of work, innovation and a want to vary the system. We consider in making an attempt various things slightly than following the previous methods of charity.
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What’s the biggest lesson working for Accountable Charity has taught you?
I feel the best lesson I’ve learnt is that the one distinction between somebody who’s poor and who’s not is the shortage of alternatives and instruments. I feel we’re very similar to one another, we have now extra similarities than we have now variations as a human household. And that has been so clear to me now during the last eight years working right here. I had an concept earlier than however now I’m sure that that is who’re as individuals. We simply need to take away all these silly variations and arguments about background or caste or pores and skin colour. The best lesson that RC has given me is religion in humanity.
NLT needs Hemley Gonzalez and Accountable Charity all the most effective of their efforts to offer the youngsters that society has failed, an opportunity at a cheerful life, a life that they deserve. We salute him.
Featured picture supply: Hemley Gonzalez /Fb
#NLTTalks With Hemley Gonzalez:
In dialog with Hemley Gonzalez, the founding father of the NGO Accountable Charity.
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