Mahatma Gandhi once said, "A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history." Difficult to say if that inspired a small group of people to take upon themselves the responsibility of providing succor to these 5000-odd inhabitants under this panchayat.
The Village Social Welfare Group (better known as The Youth Association) isn't into the business of Event Management. More like "Merry Men" of Robin Hood fame, except that their methods don't include "robbing the rich to feed their poor". These souls are seen as rays of hope in an otherwise depressing, dark tunnel. And all 12 twelve villages in surrounding Somanahalli are desperate for "Lead Kindly Light".
Suresh Kumar says, "I couldn't study beyond class six. Not enough money around the house. Now that I can afford it, I'm able to help these school children." When he says he can afford it now, its not to say he's very rich. He does small-time electrical contracts here and there and earns some money. After setting aside for his family needs, he puts in whatever he can into the Association coffers, which in turn goes towards buying books, playthings or whatever, for schools around the village.
Mahendran's father works with the state government milk federation and that by itself suggests a sort of secure occupation. Yet, Mahendran cannot attend college full-time. It's an expensive proposition what with bus fares and other incidental expenditure, which are many. So, Mahendran enrolled himself in a correspondence course and hopes to obtain a Commerce degree. He has free time on hand and willingly devotes that to muster support for the Youth Association.
The Youth Association is a properly registered body and operates from a tidy looking office, a stone's throw away from the school. One can notice in the loft, bundles of notebooks, carom boards, boxes of chalk, dusters, and ready for distribution at schools. They work in close co-operation with school authorities, the Parent-Teacher Association and the Ladies Association. Wants, needs are collected and these "Band of Brothers" guided by "Lion Heart" Murugan plan out strategies.
The Association has 41 members with set ground rules. Membership is fifty rupees on joining and ten rupees monthly as subscription. They must meet once a month. The "Notice" and meeting agenda is pasted on the wall of the office. Members should take the initiative to check out the "Notice Board" frequently. Defaulters are fined. In the absence of Murugan - which is rare and unlikely - a senior member takes the chair.
In reality, it doesn't always work that way. Many members can't pay the dues regularly simply because they don't have the money. At times, some have other pressing engagements and can't attend meetings, nor can they pay the defaulter's fine. "We can't insist," says Murugan. "We understand their predicament. I've gone through this myself." Yet, they are united. They are willing to give a helping hand and they don't crib. "It's the commitment that's important," adds Murugan, who invariably ends up digging into his pockets to keep the show on the road.
The Association is armed with a "School Needs" list. Data is collected from various schools and a system worked out as to how they ought to obtain the items. First, they check out the balance in their account. Nine out of ten times it's at bare minimum. They chalk out a programme and decide to give whatever they can with whatever they have. How about the rest? Well, Murugan is out there somewhere in Bangalore on the prowl. Approaching his fellow drivers at Titan or others, somehow managing to get donation by way of books, chalk, games, water filters.
"Our aim is to collect enough money to provide study benches in all class rooms," he says, looking up at you in askance. The cost? "About 8500 rupees for each classroom?"
Anyone listening out there?