LILLE, France — Founded by three friends who believe underprivileged children in India deserve a quality education, today Bhumi is one of India’s largest volunteering organizations, with more than 30,000 volunteers engaging annually. The founders acknowledge that with the right education, a person can not only achieve self-sufficiency but also develop into a responsible member of society who is willing to “pay it forward” by helping others. Bhumi’s objective is to “drive social change by establishing an atmosphere where young adults and children learn, lead and grow” and its vision is to “assist in the construction of a more influential, equal and socially conscious society,” its website highlights.
Empowering India’s Impoverished Youth
According to the World Bank’s latest estimates from 2011, despite significant progress over the years in eliminating poverty, 22% of Indians or about 270 million people lived below the national poverty line. Furthermore, according to Children Incorporated, “30% of the world’s extremely poor children live in India.”
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Anusha Vishwanath, executive assistant of Bhumi, said, ” In the last 15 years, Bhumi has transformed [its]conviction into a volunteering opportunity for India’s youth, launching a snowball effect of nurturing talent on the path to an educated, poverty-free India.”
Vishwanath says, “We work with the government, companies that partner with us to achieve their Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] goals and with other NGOs where synergies in our work exist.” The majority of Bhumi’s funding comes from businesses that partner with Bhumi to achieve their CSR objectives. Bhumi invests in making sure that its programs are impactful, meaningful and aligned with the financing objectives of the partners in order to ensure that the CSR partnerships last for a long time.
The founding members of Bhumi, at its very beginning, approached a children’s home in Chennai to launch a teaching program. This allowed the founders to put their vision into practice. So began Bhumi’s path, which engraved education and service as its two main pillars. Today, the majority of Bhumi’s projects are conducted by volunteer engagement and the organization serves as a platform for change.
Bhumi’s Core Areas of Work
- Transformational Education. More than 25,000 underprivileged children in India receive extensive educational support from Bhumi. By offering life-skills assistance, grants for further education and STEAM education and language instruction, Bhumi bridges the gaps in formal education and opportunities. Bhumi’s education initiatives are mostly conducted in “shelter homes, community centers in urban slums and in schools that serve low-income neighborhoods.”
- Transforming Citizenry through Civil Projects. Bhumi offers a platform for volunteers to engage in causes that further progress toward reaching the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. There are occasional and ongoing volunteer opportunities in the areas of “animal welfare, road safety, disability, the environment [and]health,” among others.
Successful Bhumi Initiatives
- Think Green Program. To foster a sense of duty toward protecting the local environment through community-led projects, like beach cleanups and tree planting.
- Eco-Champs Program. To educate kids about environmental challenges and provide them with the tools they need to live more sustainably through a hands-on, immersive learning experience.
- Awareness of the Right to Education. To more effectively use the Right to Education Act-mandated free seats in private schools.
Bhumi has added a number of programs over the past 15 years in response to the demands of the stakeholders it engages with.
For example, in order to grant the “simple wishes” of underprivileged children in India, in December 2008, Bhumi established the popular Joy to the World program, which links these children with staff members of various multinational corporations.
In March 2009, Bhumi launched Siragugal, currently known as Nakshatra, a talent show for sports, art and culture that involves 915 kids from 37 orphanages. Now a yearly event, Bhumi conducted Nakshatra virtually this year.
In 2013, Bhumi received national recognition as a Leader in Volunteer Engagement from iVolunteer. In 2019, the honorable former Indian president Shri Pranab Mukherjee acknowledged Bhumi’s efforts to promote volunteer engagement in order to empower the most marginalized and disadvantaged children. In 2020, more than 10,000 underprivileged children living in shelters in India received groceries from Bhumi.
Challenges Faced by Bhumi
Vishwanath notes, “Online learning was a tremendous challenge for students from disadvantaged homes and in rural locations during the tough pandemic times. Children did not have access to cellphones for online learning, or the household only had one smartphone, which the father brought to work.”
The demand for gadgets to continue students’ education while schools remained closed considerably outweighed the supply of this equipment and the money available to buy these resources. Bhumi employees and volunteers have made significant efforts to procure and distribute equipment that will help students learn online, in order to resolve this obstacle.
Teachers, volunteers, fellows and students also received training from the Bhumi staff to adapt to the online learning style. Bhumi has also established a Socio-Emotional Learning program to support the emotional health of all stakeholders, particularly during the pandemic.
Over the next decade, Bhumi aims to provide 5,000 underprivileged children in India with a holistic education and the skills to develop sustainable livelihoods. Furthermore, at least 20% of Bhumi’s volunteers will receive training to become “change leaders for society.”
Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Bhumi co-founder, Dr. Prahalathan Karunakaran, says, “This quote has helped me continually find meaning for the work we do at Bhumi. We are not small anymore, neither is our responsibility. More than ever the world needs volunteers who can change themselves and change the world.”
Bhumi encourages readers to consider the value of volunteering in light of the hashtag #EveryIndianVolunteering. Every individual can contribute to a just and enlightened society as engaged citizens. For this reason, “collaboration” forms part of Bhumi’s basic values. No matter which country a person is from, one can contribute in several ways to further Bhumi’s mission. Bhumi strongly believes that the world can accomplish more for a better society when businesses and individuals work together for a common goal or to further the greater good.
– Karisma Maran