They innovate to usher in winds of social change

New Delhi, June 17 (IANS) A school dropout, Jenpu Rongmei, 29, was as disillusioned and angry as many youngsters in Dimapur, Nagaland, till one day he lost his younger brother to a drug overdose. It completely shattered him, but the simmering anger drove him to a mission to reform many disenchanted youth like his brother.

"It is difficult to cope up with the loss of a dear one and it took me three years to overcome the grief. That is when I saw there were many youngsters around me who were taking to alcohol and drugs because of fewer opportunities in the city," Rongmei told IANS.

"These youth needed direction and help and I felt the onus was on me to make, at least, an effort to change their lives," Rongmei who founded Youngers' Club in 2010, three years after his brother died, to address the problems youngsters face in the northeastern state.

Twenty-nine-year-old Shariq from Lucknow was very disturbed when he heard and saw how women are harassed while travelling, mostly in auto-rickshaws. He along with his friend Zeeshan founded "Safe Safar" last year and launched an initiative to create awareness among women and some auto-rickshaw drivers on the issue.

"We didn't know from where to start and how to start. So we did a small survey on our own and found that 98 percent of the women face problems while commuting," said Shariq, who held workshops with women and auto-rickshaw drivers and told them to raise their voices against the molesters.

Like Rongmei and Shariq, there is a growing tribe of young men and women who are trying to bring about social transformation in society to make it a better place to live.

Motivating and mentoring these young people are NGOs Youth Collective (CYC) and Pravah, which came together and formed Changing Looms-Learning and Leadership Journey (CL-LLJ). This group supports, encourages and recognises independent social initiatives in the country.

So far, they have identified 17 such initiatives that deal with different issues that ail society.

"More than money and funds, it is important to put their ideas into action. They can get a head start in not only leading social change but also being at the forefront of a movement," said Kanika Sinha, a member of the group.

"We just felicitate these aspirations and provide them better guidance. We are a means and they are the change," Sinha added.

The group, which met in New Delhi last week to share the ideas of these young entrepreneurs with possible donors for financial aid, also provides skill and capacity building, mentoring and networking opportunities to people aged between 18 and 35.

Making a choice between chasing his dreams and giving up the mundane corporate job as a business consultant was an easy task for Gautam Gauri, 31.

"Listening to your heart is more important than making money. I had this pending dream to do something meaningful. I didn't know what was the right thing. Then I associated myself with an (ex-IIM) professor who is into social work. I worked with him for a year and realised my true calling was here," Gauri told IANS.

His Diksha Foundation helps facilitate education and empowers economically and socially underprivileged children in Patna.

Like Gauri, Rongmei is a happy man now and finds solace in his work, which has brought happiness to many lives.

"I am slowly coming to terms with my brother's death. I am a changed man now. All this was possible because of my work," Rongmei, who started another programme in 2012 for HIV-affected children called Care and Hope after he saw how such children face discrimination and helped rehabilitate them.

Journalist-turned social worker Gitanjali Babbar, 26, interacted with sex workers and found that they had no social life other than their lives in the brothels.

After many hiccups, she started Kat Katha in G.B. Road, Delhi's infamous red light district, where the sex workers meet for a few hours and lead a "normal life" as they get a chance to entertain themselves by indulging in activities they enjoy like painting, singing or simply reading books.

"I am not here to earn money. I am happy doing this work. My parents have been very supportive of my work. And I feel that I am bringing some happiness in the lives of these women, who are shunned by society," Babbar told IANS.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

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