Vibha – volunteering for hope

By Rohini Mohan
There is an image from back home that is really hard to get rid of. A little girl, scraggly, matted hair, bloated but empty belly, tear stained dirty face, knocking doggedly on my car window, begging for a few paisa to buy her next meal. I sit in air conditioned comfort, my thoughts miles away, while my driver shoos her off with a few harsh words. For me, she exists in a parallel universe, this little creature. I see her, but not really- having chosen subliminally to blot out the acute discomfort caused by her presence.
Years later when I am well settled in the land of plenty, pursuing the American dream, I see the image again. I feel a flicker of shame, even guilt, for being the survivor in this cruel world of the haves and the have nots. And I decide to do something about it – to donate my money – and better still, my time. A quick online search of non- profits in the Bay Area brings me to Vibha. A couple of emails later I am a volunteer.

Founded in 1991, Vibha’s primary focus is the under-privileged child in India. Based on the premise that children aged 2-14 are the most vulnerable and easily influenced, most funding is channeled towards projects affecting this age group.
Through various activities like walks and runs, melas, concerts and passive donations, Vibha has managed to consistently raise approximately $500K of funds per year. Project proposals are invited from various parts of both urban and rural India which are then evaluated and funds disbursed to the selected projects. Vibha also likes to support fledgling projects that would not otherwise receive major funding from larger organizations.

To maintain low overheads, Vibha has a very lean operation, entirely run by volunteers in the US, with the exception of 1 local employee and 3 India employees. The India employees have degrees in social work. They visit and audit projects at the pre-funding stage and also help in monitoring projects that are already funded. While 90% of the funding is India- centric, 10% is directed at worthy causes in local US communities. So far, Vibha has funded 160 projects in India and 10 in the US. Vibha is active in over 20 US cities and has close to 400 volunteers.

Mukesh Mirchandani is one such very dedicated volunteer and action center coordinator in the Bay Area. Mukesh came to the US in 1999 to complete his Masters in Electrical Engineering and soon after, started working at CISCO. Like many of us, while growing up in India, he saw first-hand the effects of illiteracy, and is numbed by the sheer magnitude of the issue. He is disturbed by poverty and is cognizant of the fact that education and awareness creation among children are the panacea for most of India’s ills. Vibha’s objectives mesh in very clearly with his personal ideals. He has been with Vibha now for about 6 years and has his finger in every pie, be it fund raising, project evaluation, website development or marketing.

Mukesh’s pet project is a mobile school providing NFE or non-formal education to the children of construction workers in Pune. He was responsible for evaluating this project and getting the first year funded, and is now in the process of obtaining approval for the second round of funding. He has a little memento of his onsite project visit – a drawing by one of the children, which he proudly carries in his wallet.  On an average, Mukesh spends a couple of hours after work everyday on Vibha related activities. His wife who is currently working and pursuing her MBA is also a volunteer. His goal for Vibha is to achieve the million dollar mark of funds raised in the next couple of years.
Interestingly, volunteers join the cause for varying reasons – while wanting to make India a better place is the underlying theme, volunteering also provides a chance to build presentation skills and team and project management skills in conjunction with other bright young people. Most volunteers are Indians in their 20s and early 30s though at event time one does see other demographics.

I am involved in the project evaluation part of the volunteering process.  While I sit in weekly meetings and watch these smart, zealous, passionate young people intelligently discuss India’s issues on a micro level, identifying themselves completely with the projects they are evaluating, I am inspired. Profoundly. And my image of the little girl is colored with a little hope.

Here’s where you come in;

Volunteer at http://volunteer.vibha.org/signups/new/
Donate at http://vibha.org/htg; http://vibha.org/cfc
Bookmark your calendar for Bay Area Specific events;
Awareness month: March 2007 go to http://bayarea.vibha.org/awareness
Vibha 5k/10k Run/Walk: July 8th 2007 go to http://bayarea.vibha.org/walk
To learn more about the organization, go to http://vibha.org
To find out more about projects currently supported, go to http://vibha.org/projects

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