If you travel on the Mumbai railway, now you will see the station walls painted in colourful hues and beautiful large caricatures. And you would not know who did them. But now we know the story of one teacher and thousands of volunteers whom we have to thank.
A teacher of mathematics for high school students in Mumbai, Haresh Shah was quick to statistically realise the potential of India’s demographic dividend. He was not far behind Modi in realising the huge reservoir of talent and skill among Indian youth. With this in mind, he began the Making A Difference (MAD) Foundation.
Shah says, “Our vision is to channelise the energy of the Indian youth towards positive change and nation building. In India approximately 60% of population is young, that means 80 crore people within the age of 15-30 years. Even if some youngsters devote one hour every weekend to social work, that is immense number of man hours towards nation building.”
MAD Foundation began with 15 students, who collected old newspapers in their neighbourhood and used the money they got by selling those to fund the education of orphan children. From 15, now MAD Foundation has more than 25,000 volunteers.
The Foundation has also been responsible for the beautiful paintings on Mumbai’s railway stations from Thane to Churchgate. It took a week for the band of volunteers to paint 36 railway stations. But why did Shah focus on the Mumbai railway and why the idea to paint them?
Shah says, “When you only clean something, the effect goes only so far, and the place becomes dirty again. We thought to put in more effort and beautify the stations. When you turn something negative into positive, it remains so. Under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, we decided to paint the railway station as a sanitation drive. We began with the smallest station, Matunga Western station. It was easy to explore and execute. From there we scaled to the whole of Mumbai. Three to four months went into collaborating with 110 institutions. Each station was assigned to a leader with a band of 50-60 volunteers, and we completed the paintings at all 36 railway stations in one week. Lot of thought went into selecting the theme for the paintings. For instance, Marine Line station has marine creatures on its walls, due to Shivaji park, Dadar was given a sports theme, and Mulund has a theme of organ donation because the first heart transplant was done here.”
Shah asserts that we need to claim ownership of our society. We cannot keep blaming the government for everything. He said it is about generating a mindset of responsibility. “When you clean something, you don’t let others dirty it. Similarly, if you do something for the society, you take responsibility for the change. I also wanted the youngsters to realise that even they could do something with their potential.”
Haresh Shah and the MAD Foundation have begun work on the next project of a Hostel cum Skill Development Centre for the Adivas children of Vikramgad village in Palghar. Here kids have to walk atleast 8 km to reach school. So, the MAD Foundation is building a hostel for them. The idea is not only help them complete education, but also get livelihood. Shah says, “That is why we are also developing a centre for skilling. Whether it is plumbing, electronics or removing tyre punctures, these kids will be able to earn a living, rather than do servile jobs in the big city.”
Every Sunday, 10-15 volunteers come to Vikramgad to spend time with the children, giving them curriculum help or conducting team building activities. The idea is for the children to feel connected, and for the volunteers to get a sense of responsibility.
Haresh Shah is also connecting with the villagers. He says, “To help them, I need to know what they feel and what are their problems. Even if we put a smile on the face or a spark in the eyes of one child, I would consider my effort fulfilled. When you do something for the society, it is the most satisfying conduct.”
Haresh Shah and the MAD Foundation seem to have found a solution for the society. Instead of complaining, we need to start doing something to correct a situation.