Goodwill Hunting

Delhi's collective disposition can well be called We Don't Care. But in this lazy, lethargic summer, when you were led to believe that all that the Gen Y would bother to do is learn chocolate-making or belly dancing, or go for some indulgent retail therapy, you are proven wrong. Shubha Bhattacharya, an 18-year-old studying at Lady Shri Ram College, spent her two-and-a-half-month vacation doing something different talking up the Yamuna. She is a volunteer at Swechha, an NGO working on environment issues. "I work from 9 am to 6 pm on projects like Operation Raincoat in which we're trying to create awareness about how cheap, toxic raincoats are polluting the Yamuna," she says.

If you think Bhattacharya is an exception, walk into the Tehelka Foundation where about 30 school and college students will spend a month telling stories and teaching skills to the children of the Salaam Balak Trust shelters across the city and working on awareness campaigns on the RTI Act and eco issues.

Mridula Bajaj of Mobile Creches, which works with underprivileged children, says contrary to their reputation for being selfish, Gen-Next is about idealism and enthusiasm. "Student volunteers do not get paid. The most they can look forward to is a certificate. Yet, every summer, we get children ranging from 10 to 21 years who want to use their time and effort to improve the quality of life of underprivileged children," she says.

Many youngsters, thanks to their dexterity in computers, are a blessing for NGOs. Their work profile ranges from IT support and data entry to writing project reports and designing communication manuals to working directly with underprivileged children, overseeing green drives or lending a hand at paper-recycling units. "You don't need to be a rocket scientist to give back to society," says Vimalendu Jha of Swechha, where students work in paper-recycling units, among other eco-friendly activities.

Anamika Dutt, a final-year English honours student from IP College, worked with the non-profit organisation Udayan towards the end of last year and plans to be back in July. "I was actively involved in fundraising. We would visit potential donors and explain the projects to them. I worked at the Udayan centre near my home in Mayur Vihar. On the one hand, I was playing with children, and on the other, I was arranging for the funds that would keep them comfortable," she says. To potential student volunteers, here are her words of advice: "Find a place closer home. If you have to spend hours commuting, you won't have time or energy for your cause."

Pawan Sharma of the Khoj Foundation, which conducts sessions with children at the traffic lights, says while some students prefer to spend two-three hours on weekdays, others turn up only on Saturdays. "On weekdays, we gather children from RK Puram, IIT Flyover and Ber Sarai and conduct non-formal education sessions at nearby parks. On Saturdays, we bring the children to the Institute of Social Service, Prabhat Tara, and teach them skills," he says. Shubha Bhattacharya from Swechha says her 9-to-6 work "allows enough time for friends in the evenings".

The six hours he spends at Mobile Creches are the best in the day, says Dayanath Yadav, 21, a final-year honours student at Dayal Singh College. "I was moved by the less fortunate children, so I work with Mobile Creches for one month. I've been with them for around 10 days and have learnt one thing it is anything but easy to handle children. There's a way to talk to them and, more importantly, a way to listen." Priyata Brajbasi, an 18-year-old from Symbiosis, Pune, is working with Swechha for a month-and-a-half. She joined with a practical purpose to improve her CV but says, "The real reward is that great feeling at the end of the day."

Mobile Creches: 23347635
Swechha: 26671758
Tehelka Foundation: 9818531736
Udayan: 32603837
Khoj Foundation: 9810406998

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