“I want to get every Indian volunteering”

Says Bhumi co-founder Dr. Prahalathan KK – and what he did during the pandemic pause 

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.

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