Some food for thought

Some food for thought

Food is an important factor in the upliftment of the underprivileged. R Siva Kumar writes about a group of individuals who are dedicated to the cause and are changing the lives of many

Can dedicated networking make up for lack of time? Yes, and the The Soroptimists’ International in Bangalore shows you how. Twelve bulky rice bags were transported from Primus School to Parikrama Foundation, a school for the underprivileged.

About 60 sweaty but smiling children in the assembly looked on with shining eyes. They felt proud that each had contributed a small fistful of rice, lentils or vegetables that built up almost a hill of provisions to reach other children in a school.

Soroptomist International is a global volunteer movement working together to transform the lives of women and girls. Initially, a club of 80 women set up in Oakland back in 1921, Soroptomist now helps women in different situations, from domestic violence to those willing to get an education.

Their network of around 80,000 members in 130 countries and territories works at a local, national and international level to educate, empower and enable opportunities for women and girls.

The Soroptimists’ International (SI) Organisation regularly counsels schools to collect nutritive grains, lentils and vegetables, and ensures that they reach underprivileged groups, according to Mamta Ghosh, Programme Action Coordinator for the organisation. So, what exactly is the Soroptimist International? 

Rema Ramchandran, consultant and a former bank manager, spelt out the details. It is an organisation of about 22 professional women from Bangalore who are in the act of building bridges and bringing groups together.

Every woman belongs to a different profession, but collectively contributes to its growth and labour of love. Currently, there are three doctors, three counselors, heads of software companies and a publishing company, a bank manager, two homemakers, two school teachers and two media professionals, among others.

Ratnabali Dutta, secretary of SI, added that the Bangalore Club is the local branch of a worldwide organisation. She reveals some hard facts that sound a bit overwhelming, but impressive: SI is a huge global family.

There are one lakh members in 3,000 clubs spread across 125 countries. Being one of the 13 clubs in India, the organisation has consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). SI sends representatives to many meetings of UN agencies and organisations. 

Benevolent thoughts

That sounded like an impressive global sisterhood, but did it mean that most of the funds were from abroad? No, emphasised Jamuna Ravi, head of a software startup. SI is not just a filter for foreign funds, but a group that does its own field work, research and generates most of its funds, even though it gets some funds from abroad for projects that are not too easy to tackle here. 

For instance, the construction of 32 toilets at Rachaina Doddi was funded from abroad, and was routed through the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), but the majority of the projects are self-driven. 

Ideas are thus based on SI’s own, homegrown, creative brainstorming and drive. For instance, Sujatha Balakrishnan, a teacher, and Laura Nayak, a doctor, have been instilling communicative skills and gender sensitisation to government school children for at least five years. They feel that the effort to help children to think creatively and come up with out-of-the-box solutions don’t really need funds, but only dedication and passion.

The Bangalore branch started in 2003. Dr Nalini Subbaiah, the founder-president, explains that they were clueless about what they wanted to do in the beginning. The first effort to generate funds was a small newspaper drive which got them less than what it cost to lug it to the shops.

Yet today, the list of completed projects is fairly long, including hundreds of children that she has vaccinated and healed and food products as well as funds that she has helped collect and distribute to deserving sections. 

Dr Margaret Ponnaiah, another member, has baked cakes and made innumerable batches of jams and sauces that have helped generate funds for underprivileged sections.

Anita Belagodu, a counselor and poet, explains that though she cannot devote all her time to socially relevant projects, working intensively and with dedication for whatever time is available helps to support the group in a major way. 

If you wish to be a part of the group, all you need to bring with you is a sense of dedication, some of your time, and some professional skills to help as many people as possible. You can contact SI at 9243002034 or send an e-mail to sibangalore10@gmail.com.

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