11/01/2016 8:20 AM IST | Updated 29/08/2016 9:42 PM IST

Home Is Where The Heart Is: 5 NRIs Who Led Change In India

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or the 'Non Resident Indian Day' is celebrated on 9 Jan every year to acknowledge the contribution of Indians living abroad in the development of India. To mark this event, here are the stories of some inspirational Indians, who worked to make a change in India despite being separated by distance and time zones.

children giving support to the Indian flag....
Sunitha Pilli via Getty Images
children giving support to the Indian flag....

Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or the 'Non Resident Indian Day' is celebrated on 9 Jan every year to acknowledge the contribution of Indians living abroad in the development of India. To mark this event, here are the stories of some inspirational Indians, who worked to make a change in India despite being separated by distance and time zones.

Blocking the sex trafficking cycle: Ray Umashankar


Victims of sex trafficking and their children often have limited alternatives. Stigmatised by the rest of society, rehabilitation efforts usually focus on skills that will not bring them enough to be self-sufficient. Seeking to remedy this and break this cycle, former assistant dean of the University of Arizona, Ray Umashankar, along with his wife and daughter, started the Achieving Sustainable Social Equality through Technology (ASSET) India Foundation. Through ASSET India, he put in place programmes that would teach children English, computer literacy and soft skills. In 2008, he won the prestigious Purpose Prize for the success of his efforts. Aged over 70, he is passionate about helping these women make something of their lives.

Helping relief efforts in Chennai: Shashank Ravi


Shashank Ravi is a social media celebrity though he is a serious full-time research scientist too. He has 54,893 followers on Facebook thanks to his humorous posts, his massive collection of memes and his droll commentary on pop-culture. A native of Chennai, Shashank Ravi was very worried about his family when he heard about the floods in the city. Taking time off from work, he decided to make use of his extensive reach on Facebook and started posting useful resources. He played a pivotal role in sending information to a large audience in well-organised tables which guided relief work. He also spotted credible crowd-funding campaigns that snowballed once he posted them on Facebook.

"The network was down, and the people with families in Chennai were all worried about the people back home. But this experience has reinforced my faith in the power of people. In a crisis, when you're far away and have the Internet, a lot of useful ideas come to you. In the end, honesty and sincerity is what will work."

Bringing real heroes closer: RJ Jaya


When Jaya Peesapaty moved to Hong Kong in 2003, she felt the need to reconnect with her roots. She reached out to the Telugu community in Hong Kong and through them the larger Telugu diaspora. She runs the Jai Hind show on Telugu One radio which revolves around the lives of the unsung heroes of the Indian Army. She brings war veterans on air, talking about what it was like to be on the front-line. There are programmes in which bomb blast survivors speak about splinters left in their bodies, living after losing a limb and fighting paralysis. The show brings to life what it means to be in the Army, survive battles and skirmishes and live to tell the tale. She also campaigns for martyrs' families, raising money to fund educations, etc.

With Jai Hind, I want to bring the lives of Army men and civilians closer. It takes a lot of courage to decide to leave your life and family and go to the frontier. And they do this to protect the civilians. The family of a martyr feel pain at how less the rest of the society care acknowledge this. With my show, I would like to lessen that pain and connect people to these real-life heroes."

Online communities for real good: Kashif


UK-based Reddit moderator Kashif and his wife decided to ditch inertia and contribute to a good cause every month. When a member of the community posted about Sanjay Jha who needed a cycle to ease his livelihood, he took up the cause and set up a crowd-funding campaign. The cycle was bought and became a great story for the usually unsparing Reddit community. This was followed by another campaign set up when a member described visiting a boxing club in rural Bihar that produced women and men boxing champions with meagre resources. This time, they are raising money for a proper boxing ring for this club. Kashif aims to bring together more people in the community and champion more worthy causes.

"With online communities, when a good campaign gets shared, support and discussion from 'peers' motivates people to come forward. I think it also adds a bit of personal touch and credibility when someone from your circles starts or shares something good - people feel that the campaign is theirs. They all come together, take up personal responsibility."

Helping food growers of the nation: Suresh Ediga


Last year alone, New York-based engineer Suresh Ediga raised Rs 35 lakh for farmers in Vidarbha and Telangana through crowd-funding. Engaging updates and spreading awareness is what made his campaigns successful, he says. But, he adds, the campaigns are just his way to reach a larger goal, which is raising awareness. People are simply too socially distant from the farmer. This is unfortunate because he feels that the vulnerability of the farmer is one of the core social malaises in India. The farmer who cannot make a decent livelihood cannot educate his children or provide social security or opportunities for his family. Empowering farmers will help their families and the society at large. His plans for the future include making the farmer media literate so that he can get a fair price for his produce. He also wants to work towards developing farmer cooperatives to protect the interests of the farmer.

"People want to help and give their time, money and efforts. They just don't know how. Through the campaign, I connect my friends and their friends to people on the ground. After that, they take up their own cause and begin their own projects. I am privileged to have opportunities, but it is of no use if I cannot create opportunities for others."

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