7 Ordinary Indians Doing Extraordinary Things

26/01/2015 5:18 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
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In 1960, a landless labourer decided to cut through a mountain so that the people from his village could reach a doctor faster. It took him 22 years, but he did it with a hammer, chisel, and crowbar.

What Dashrath Manjhi did in northern India's Bihar state is being replicated in albeit small, but effective ways across the country. Crowd-funding website Milaap.org has started a campaign recognising and encouraging seven such people, calling them "DO-IT-YOURSELF Indians" this Republic Day.

  • Surya Prakash Rai
    "If you want change, just do something, rather than having discussions over it and waiting for the right time to start," was Rai's motto behind starting PRAYOG, a library in Bihar. A young professional, Rai said that he first had the idea behind PRAYOG in February 2013, while working with an engineer from MIT in USA for tuberculosis patients in Bihar. "The approach of empowering grassroots workers motivated me," he told HuffPost India. "I always wanted to give back to the society and considered education as the key to create positive impact." 'Prayog', which means experiment, was started in May 2013 when he interacted with six high school students, asking them about their aspirations. "Apart from the traditional choices amongst youth in the villages such as joining the armed forces, the response of two students, Alok and Akash, was quite different," said Rai. While Alok wanted to become a model, Akash was interested in studying Physics and becoming a professor. "How many students of a high school actually want to join academics by choice and how many rural children dare to even dream of becoming a model?" thought Rai, and started the library in Bihar, catering to around 400 students. The aim of the library is to change the way students and their parents think of education, and Rai wants to help eliminate the caste system and encourage students of different backgrounds to come together in the same room to read, study, and interact with each other. “Most of the villagers were illiterate; they did not consider their children’s education a priority. There was a serious lack of interest from parents and students; we needed to change that,” he said. "Today, students from different communities stay together in the same room during exposure visits, hug each other, and share their food." Through PRAYOG, Rai arranges cultural and educational classes for the students. He has also collaborated with Prajnopaya Foundation in a MIT-backed programme ‘Global Literacy Project’, which is a self-learning module using tablets. The roll out will start by February this year, he said.
  • Vikas Plakkot
    Less than half of India's schools have a playground. So Vikas Plakkot came up with a unique idea. He founded the non-profit 'Just For Kicks' (JFK) in Pune in 2011, where the motto is simple -- Everyone Plays. JFK uses football as a medium to "develop life skills for students in low-income schools in India" and caters to 1,200 children now in Pune, Mumbai, and Hyderabad. So how does it work? "We identify low income public/private schools to work with," said Plakkot, where they then encourage parents and teachers to make sports part of the learning culture in school. JFK creates football teams within these schools, coach them, create two-month leagues, and then work with partner clubs to provide the talented players with further opportunities for development.
  • Suresh Adiga
    Maharashtra has the highest number of farmers committing suicide each year, with over 3,000 such deaths in 2013 alone. Vidarbha is one of the worst hit in the region. Suresh Adiga, a US-based engineer, has been raising funds to help the victims of these families. Adiga has managed to find donors in both India and abroad, and has been instrumental in providing rehabilitation support to the farmers’ families in Vidarbha. He has also taken up issues with the administration, judiciary, legislature, human rights bodies, and international forums.
  • Richa Singh
    Studies have shown that Indians are among the worst sufferers of depression, with nearly 36 percent of the population having a major depressive episode, according to an earlier WHO study. While someone commits suicide in India every four minutes, younger Indians are among the worst hit. That's why Richa Singh, an IIT Guwahati alumnus, started www.yourdost.com, an emotional support system for people to anonymously discuss our problems with qualified and experienced individuals. According to Singh, over 300 people have signed up for the portal since it started in mid-December last year. Problems among those who have sought help range from stress due to bad performance in competitive exams -- CAT, IAS, etc. -- said Singh, and that relationship issues, anxiety during exam preparation, and the feeling of rejection due to working in a field they don't enjoy have also caused people to reach out to this support network.
  • Sushobhan Mukherjee
    When boxer Sarita Devi returning her bronze medal during the Asian Games last year, most Indians watched in horror. Controversy erupted over the episode, but Sushobhan Mukherjee, a Singapore-based marketer, decided to make his outrage constructive. "Some of us on twitter were moved enough by her story and that incident to ask if we could show her support in reality, not just through clicktivism," he told HuffPost India. "Within minutes, we saw momentum building up to raising funds that could support her, in the event of a ban. Sangita Sridhar (@sangitasri), the other driver of this campaign, suggested crowdfunding as the quickest way to raise funds." Mukherjee started a campaign on October 2 last year to raise funds for Devi, using the hashtag #StandWithSarita and #SaritaDeviFund on Twitter and cross-promotions on Facebook. "Within a few hours, we had breached the psychological barrier of Rs1.5 lakh, aided only by personal social media," he said. They raised almost Rs 1.7 lakh from 113 supporters spread across the world, said Mukherjee, to help Devi.
  • Swapnil Chaturvedi
    He calls himself "Chief Toilet Cleaner." Swapnil Chaturvedi started 'Samagra' in 2011. Running with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Samagra brings clean toilets to "the underprivileged." These community toilets are built in collaborations with the municipality, FMCGs, and local businesses. Though primarily working in Pune, Samagra has also started a project in Ahmedabad. Currently, 5,100 urban poor benefit from Samagra's toilets, said Chaturvedi to HuffPost India, and the Ahmedabad project will benefit 1,000 more people daily.
  • Ria Sharma
    Ria Sharma was in the final semester of her arts degree in Leeds, UK, when she saw the Oscar-winning documentary film ‘Saving Face’, which documents the experience of acid attack survivors in Pakistan. “I knew I would forget about it the next day, but I didn’t want to forget about it,” she said. So she started ‘Make Love Not Scars’. This project, which started off as just a website for acid attack survivors to showcase their talents and stories through weekly vlogs (video blogs), quickly turned into a support network. While the core idea of the website has remained the same, it has now evolved into a wider set of activities as well as a support group around the website. This support group built out of a network of volunteers, interprets and tells the story of the survivors using music, documentaries, films, paintings, etc, which are then displayed on the website. Sharma told HuffPost India that 10 survivors have been served by her project so far, and she has raised about Rs1 crore to help them.

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