Feb 2, 2012

Sappy's CRY Journey - ensuring lasting change for children

As my journey with CRY - Child Rights and You nears to an end, I'm looking back and reminiscing the golden days. It all started with an internship with CRY Kolkata after my freshman year at IIT Kharagpur. I've come a long way since then. From starting our own university chapter of CRY to building a team to see it taste success like never before.

During the summer break after my freshmen year, rather than spending time with family or going for a trip, I wanted to make a better use of my time. I approached CRY Kolkata office with a request for internship. A few days and a half-an-hour long intense interview later, I bagged the internship. I always wanted to contribute towards the society and this was the ideal platform.

I had many ideas. I was a teenager with a dream and a will to change the world and become a hero. However, I started realizing the ground reality only after an induction program. Things were easier said than done. I understood the difference among charity and rights. When we stop the charity, the person we helped becomes helpless again. But when we help them earn what's their right, the impact is forever and on a much, much bigger scale.

Article on The Times of India supplement South Kolkata Plus
on our success towards making Kolkata Metro disabled-friendly
My internship experience was thrilling. I got to work with Sruti disAbility Rights Centre mainly on Access Audit of schools and other public places of Kolkata. Visiting schools for surveys made me realize how little people care about physically challenged people. While they constitute of more than 2% of the population, barely any school has any physically challenged students, let alone proper accessible infrastructure. Most of the school authorities are not even aware or bothered by the problems faced by this section of the society. However, the real success of the internship was through making Kolkata Metro North-South extension region disabled-friendly. After a lot of initial hiccups and requests to P.R.O. of Kolkata Metro falling to deaf ears, finally through an RTI and media campaign, we finally caught the authority's attention. Finally our voices were heard and we were invited to an official inspection by the Senior P.R.O. Not only they took our recommendations in making the extension region accessible, they followed them and we ensured a big step towards Universal Access.

MDM success story
on The Times of India
Then, in my junior year, I came to know another individual, Ramanuj Lal, is planning to start a university chapter of CRY at IIT Kharagpur. Along with a few other motivated friends and acquaintances such as Monish Salhotra, Saswat Kumar Sahu, Nikky Pathak & Himen Doley among others, we set up a core team to develop the chapter. Soon, we realized starting a chapter from scratch is no easy task. After months of planning and preparations, our baby was born. In the beginning of 2010, we kicked off with our flagship event - a photography contest, that was later rechristened as Focus Right. We recruited a group of highly enthusiastic volunteers from across the student community - from undergrads to b-school students to law students. Thus, the journey began that grew at a rate faster than any of us would have imagined.

After a reconnaissance survey of the neighboring villages, we took up different projects such as ensuring Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme in schools, campaigning about Right to Education and other opportunities through education, and making IIT campus disabled-friendly. Success arrived at our doorstep faster than we would have bargained for. Within six months, through a strong campaign and effort, we successfully catalyzed the implementation of Mid-Day Meal, appointment of two teachers, and improving the drinking facility at a primary school named Mirpur Primary Adivasi School. That feeling was truly epic. There are some things that can't be described in mere words and this was certainly one of those. The team that spent hours cycling to the villages and municipal authorities repeatedly to make it happen was jubilant to say the least.

Access Audit covered by campus
newspaper, The Scholars' Avenue
Since then, CRY IIT Kharagpur has never looked back. Due to our impressive work record, when we approached the Dean (Undergraduate Studies) of IIT Kharagpur requesting him to make the campus disabled-friendly, we were right away inducted into the Committee for Physically Challenged Students and were later invited to conduct an Access Audit of IIT Kharagpur. Working with the young minds of IIT Kharagpur made me realize how much passion they put into the cause. Moreover, my prior knowledge and experience came useful in this exercise, as we completed the Access Audit of the entire academic complex and nearby halls of residence in a very short span of time. Following the submission of our report along with our recommendations, a ramp was built in the Main Academic Building of our institute. Even as I write this blog post, after a fruitful meeting with the Committee for Physically Challenged, steps are being taken to finalize the plan to make our campus disabled-friendly and accessible for all. I hope, one day, we can proudly say, yes, we made IIT Kharagpur barrier-free!

Meanwhile, our Right to Education campaigns in villages helped a lot of people know about their rights and how to demand those. The second edition of our annual photography event, Focus Right 2.0, went international and attracted over a hundred entries. Its third edition, Focus Right 3.0, with the theme 'We are the Future', is expected to be an even bigger hit. Recently, we also conducted a social case study event called 'India Calling' at Spring Fest, the social and cultural festival of IIT Kharagpur, with huge success. Participants from all over the country came with various interesting proposals for solving our problem statement.

Change does not happen overnight. At least not in most of the cases. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance to remain committed and positive to see the long-term results. Over the last two years, I've seen our baby CRY IIT Kharagpur grow into one of the largest college chapters of CRY, or any NGO for that matter. I'm proud to say presently almost every student is aware of our work and I feel proud when people say that CRY is really doing some great work in campus. We always tried to maintain a very flat organizational structure where everyone would contribute on the same level. It was pleasure seeing final year students working with juniors three years younger on the same survey or same project hand-in-hand. I've seen some of the timid juniors to go on to become great leaders because they believed in the cause.

The CRY journey defined me who I am today. The internship laid the foundation of my belief, as Paulo Coelho said in The Alchemist, "And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." It got only stronger as the determination of CRY IIT Kharagpur volunteers led to the achievement of feats others couldn't even imagine. The journey taught me dealing with situations - from handling disappointments to directing energy of the team to fruitful direction. Last but not the least, the CRY family brought me some of my closest friends, who made the journey ever so wonderful and memorable. Today, I take pride in seeing the socially responsible leaders of tomorrow, juniors bursting with enthusiasm, taking great initiatives and taking this baby to newer heights.

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