Our gem of Volunteers!

We are pleased to share experiences from two young volunteers who fondly reminiscence about their time volunteering for the Born Learning Campaign initiative in the years 2015 and 2016.

Abhi Seetharamiah

Co-founder & Head of Sales- Diamond Waste Management

Dear Reader,
I want to share my wonderful experiences volunteering with the United Way of Bengaluru (UWBe) over the past two years. Having grown up in the United States and working in a large Oil & Gas company, moving to Bangalore to start an organic waste recycling startup was a huge adjustment on many levels. Having worked with the United Way in Houston, I decided to involve myself in a volunteering role with the UWBe. I was pleasantly surprised that the same level of community awareness and social impact that is synonymous with the United Way in the United States is true for the Bengaluru branch.
Abhi volunteering at the Born Learning Campaign stall during the first edition of Makkala Habba, 2016
Aside from acting as a trusted intermediary, ensuring that donations go to those that are most in need in the community, UWBe’s team does incredible work in the areas of early childhood development and environmental restoration. Volunteering at Makkala Habba, an annual event that is part of UWBe’s Born Learning Campaign, was an eye- opening experience that allowed me to interact with Bengaluru’s youth. Coinciding with children’s day, the event saw thousands of youth come to Cubbon Park to play traditional/ethnic games, set up by UWBe, designed to educate youth on Indian culture and heritage.
Abhi volunteering during the second edition of Makkala Habba, 2017
Another highlight of my experience was helping in the ‘Wake the Lake Campaign’ for the Kaudenahalli Lake. Before joining UWBe, I had no idea that the rapid urbanization of Bangalore had such a devastating effect on these water bodies. In less than 100 years, Bengaluru’s 900+ lakes have been reduced to 200, many of which are polluted and inhabitable by birds, fish and small animals. Kaudenahalli Lake stands as an example of a once polluted lake that is now a thriving ecosystem, thanks to the United Way Bengaluru. Not only does the restored lake enhance the surrounding community by providing a beautiful and scenic public walkway, the restoration efforts have provided many species birds, fish, and other animals a sanctuary from urbanized Bengaluru.
United Way Bengaluru earns my highest recommendation as an organization worth supporting as a volunteer, CSR partner, or donor. You can trust that 100% of your time and money will be going towards making a tangible and positive impact on the community we all live in. If you have any questions regarding my experiences, please email me at abhiinusa@gmail.com.

 Nandini Subramaniam

Student- Indus International

When I moved to India in 2008, I transformed into an outraged little 8-year-old; I could not fathom why we ever had to leave everything I had known to be home, known to be mine. I was angry with my parents and at the time could not understand the obscure reasons they gave. They said, “it is to make you adaptable and stronger, empathetic and resilient”. It made no sense and I dramatically blamed them for robbing me of my friends, my elementary school, the life I knew so well.
Nandini demonstrating a yoga pose to BLC children
My first few years in India are now a blur, but I don’t remember them to be too happy. For a while, I had completely forgotten what it was like to smile. That is, until last year, during my 10th-grade summer. During this time, I had a 5-month summer break. To put things in perspective, I had around 150 days, or 9000 hours, or 540000 minutes of not being in school. Needless to say, this got me thinking a lot about education. And more specifically, education in India. I did my research, and what I found wasn’t too surprising. While over the decades the general well-being in India has improved drastically, there is still a great deal of marginalization. This is having a very evident effect on families, but I’d like to draw your attention to the children that are placed to one side. Per a UNICEF survey from 2013, India contains 50% percent of the world’s wasted children and 40% of the world’s stunted children. Few of these children live past the age of 5 years because of the lack of access to childcare facilities. After learning of this, I couldn’t help but think how selfish I had been as a child and I finally understood what my parents meant when they said India would change me.
Nandini with BLC children
Now, in and around Bangalore, there are small pockets of village areas where one can find small daycares for children upto the age of 6. These “anganwadis” as they are called, not only aim to provide basic education to children from marginalized families, but also provide meals to them and training in motherhood for inexperienced women. However, these Anganwadis are severely underfunded and often lack not only the finances but the human influence to function. This is where I come in- in a small way, nevertheless in a way.
In the beginning of the summer, I was recruited as an intern for The United Way Bengaluru. I spent my first two months in an office editing documents and proposal and creating them too. Eventually, this internship panned out into me going to anganwadis 3 times a week for the next 2 months and working with the teachers and children in these villages.
My experience there had a confounding effect on me. Every morning, on the way to the anganwadi, I would go through a class plan in my head and I would go over the notes I made, the plan I created. For as far back as I can remember, this was one of the first times I made a plan I actually stuck to. To this day, as I dwell on those experiences, I am able to find motivation in my enthusiasm.
BLC children engrossed in a coloring activity during the writer’s visit
When I was at the anganwadi, I would teach the kids how to make paper planes, to color between the lines, to play catch and in the process I taught myself to have gratitude. The more time I spent with them, the more I realized how easy I had it; and the more I devoted myself to caring for them. By the end of the first month volunteering there, I had already learnt the names of all the children and I even worked on fine tuning my Kannada just to converse better with the kids and the staff.
I felt miserable when, a months later, I had to stop volunteering there and return to my school life. The repetition and the simplicity of those 4 months there were so meditative, it was so incredible being there and realizing what it was like to not have. To not have a stable roof over your head, to not have a classroom with chairs, to not have so much.
Carefree BLC children who had a profound influence on Nandini, reinforcing values like acceptance and gratitude
Yet, in all my time there I couldn’t realize what it was like to not be happy. The kids there never seemed upset by their lot in life, they seemed so carefree and while their mothers weren’t as carefree, they never seemed despondent or resigned. They oozed power as they picked up and dealt beautifully with what they had, and tried constantly to make things better. This taught me heaps and mounds about acceptance, about contentedness and most importantly gratitude. Working there last summer completely changed my outlook on everyday matters, be it putting extra hours to finish work or not being picky about what to eat. I’ve become so much more aware of my actions as well as the implications of them, and I’ve learnt how to be happy because of the small things, and I owe this all to my volunteering work at both the office of United Way Bengaluru and the anganwadi.