There are several moments in a person’s life that some stark truths stare him/her right in the face. What the person decides to do about it determines what he/she will accomplish in life. The fact that Dr. Balu did decide to take some action, dedicated his life to it and made a huge social impact is truly remarkable. It also struck me that one always starts in a small way and then builds on the foundations of his work and extends it to include a larger section of the society. That is how social changes and improvements come about.
SVYM is not-for-profit, non-religious, non-political, voluntary organization. It was started by a group of young medical students led by Dr. R. Balasubramaniam at the Mysore Medical College in 1984, who were starting to feel that the career in medicine they dreamt of pursuing was very different from the practice of medicine around them. They believed they had in them to make a difference and make a positive impact on the lives of the poor & the marginalized. And so, they started the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM). Dr. Balu shared with us how he was deeply influenced by the writings of Swami Vivekananda at the tender age of 17 and the touching incident about the death of hypertensive patient which prompted him to start community service.
The breadth and depth of activities SVYM have been able to cover in these 25 years is astounding and is a testament to their dedication and commitment towards making a difference in the lives of the poor. SVYM undertakes community based Health and Education projects and several Community Development Initiatives, catering to a populace of about 300,000 comprising both tribals and non-tribals. SVYM is working on hundreds of projects in Health, Education, Community Development and trains the rural youth to be self sufficient, self confident and guides them to lead a dignified way of life.
“If you measure success by the number of children who have become doctors, engineers and MBAs, perhaps I can be considered as a failure”, announced the nonchalant speaker. He also gave us instances where young tribal boys aged 5-6 knew precisely how to hunt, to identify leaves of 160 types, even mention that the honey released by a tree is toxic and can make one go mad. It again reminded me that what we need in India is an education system that helps us take “Indian way” of life forward. It must help us revive the art, crafts, cultures and native wisdom that have been present for generations together. It must encourage experimentation, practical experiences rather than the rote system we have become so accustomed to. Like Dr. Balu mentioned, one shouldn’t force the tribals to conform to the standards of civilized society; they live in harmony with the nature and protect the ecosystem. Reckless modernization destroys the environment and their way of life. Deforestation, indiscriminate mining have made them abandon usage of traditional wisdom, natural instincts, but they don’t fit in today’s world anymore. Exactly this reason has made youth in one third of the country to take up weapons and fight against the state. The work carried out by Dr. Balu and his team in rehabilitating the tribals is truly commendable.
Dr Balu speaks on educational innovations of SVYM, at Harvard (Photo: http://blog.svym.net/)
One thing that intrigued me was that Dr. Balu referred to turning to Swami Vivekananda, Shankaracharya for inspiration. He also mentioned that great scholars have mentioned so many great things centuries before the western world came up with the theory. Our Vedas, Upanishads, Gita have propagated the ancient and righteous way of life thousands of years ago. Our mainstream education doesn’t try to propagate this wisdom in any way. This ancient knowledge is available only for those who go in search of it. So it is good that he has continuously incorporated these Indian values in his work.
Attending Dr. Balu’s energetic lecture on 16th Oct was a truly eye opening experience for me. It got me thinking on what I could do to serve my community. I have taken so much from the society, now I should be able to give back in a meaningful way that could make a great impact on the society. I have got a free education from Class VI till Class XII in Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (set up under Ministry of HRD to provide quality education to the rural children). It has given me an all-round development, has made me what I am today. An idealistic middle class upbringing has inculcated just values that have made me take up volunteering activities in my spare time. Listening to and interacting with social entrepreneurs has been an enriching experience so far, it has made my resolve of trying to bring change stronger.
Change will be more universal if we are to successfully amend the existing rules and regulations that hinder our society’s progress. NGOs are actively fighting for citizen’s rights and play a major role in influencing the policy changes. It is heartening to see more and more educated people getting into this sector and working towards positive change in the society.