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SevaYatra - Experience

Bain & Company at Ummeed Home

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Bain and Company has an ongoing relationship with Ummeed NGO and wanted to enhance their engagement by including Ummeed in Bain’s intensive, impactful employee volunteer day.  SevaYatra helped to design and implement service activities at Ummeed which spanned the course of a month, culminating with 130 Bain employees coming on-site to add the finishing touches and to fellowship with the children.

Transformation truly took place at Ummeed… classrooms which had dirty white wash, scribbling, and old charts on the walls became energetic and educational spaces by the end of the Bain Community Day.  There was a lot of pre-work and effort put in ahead of time on the part of Bain, SevaYatra, Ummeed, and a contractor who was specially hired to help in the preceding days.  Weekend visits to Ummeed were common events to help define what work should be done and to indentify locations and themes for murals.  Care was taken to select age appropriate themes and pictures, matched to specific classrooms.  Murals include such items as the food chain, kites, map of India, the English alphabet, good manners, etc… The outlines were sketched on the walls ahead of time and Bain employees utilized their hidden artistic talents to bring the sketches to life with colorful paints.

In addition, Bain and Company is sponsoring a basketball court for the home, refurbishing the volleyball court, and installing a wrestling arena.  Many hands were needed on the Bain Community day (BCD) to fill the wrestling pit with a fine mix of sand and gravel.  In keep with the theme of recreation, SevaYatra planned an afternoon of high-energy, interactive “field games” with both the Bain employees and the children in the afternoon.  After enjoying a delicious lunch meal, groups of Ummeed children were matched with teams of Bain employees and set to compete against each other in events such as the “sponge relay” and “hula hoop pass”.  These events were a wonderful mix of organization and chaos, giving both the Bain employees and the children a chance to interact in a fun and lively way.

The day ended with a brief awards ceremony for the winning teams, along with the opportunity for everyone to hear a few important remarks about the vision and mission of Ummeed- given by one of it champions, Harsh Mander, a noted social activist and author.  Exhausted and excited, a memorable and impactful day drew to a close!

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UNC and U Penn Alumni Visit to Vatsalya in Jaipur



University of North Carolina & University of Pennsylvania

Alumni Travel Tour by Odyssey Travel

NGO Exposure Visit at Vatsalya’s Udayan Children’s Village



“Today made my day and perhaps my trip to India.  To see such positive and loving environment for children forgotten by others, bringing out the best and teaching skills and acceptance is an inspiration.  Bravo to the founders and teachers!”


“The children seemed happy and were very welcoming. One of them asked me to return and said, “This is your second home.””


“I loved doing something so different on a tourist trip.  It was well worth it.  The only downside was we needed more time!!”


On February 17, 2011, twenty-four alumni from the University of North Carolina and the University of Pennsylvania made visit to a unique home for former street children located on the outskirts of Jaipur.  The university alumni were visiting India as part of a twenty-two day tour organized through the universities and implemented by Odyssey Travel.  SevaYatra organized a special meeting and exposure trip for this group to Vatsalya NGO’s Udayan Children’s Home.


One of the highlights of the visit was the interaction with the founders of Vatsalya, Hitesh and Jaimala Gupta, who also attended the University of North Carolina for their graduate studies.  They spoke about the conditions of street children and their views on how to provide a supportive environment for the children.  What came across loud and clear was that they strive to develop a sense ownership in the children residing at Udayan.  One of the older children showed the group around the campus, explaining the life at Udayan with the love and pride of someone who genuinely cares for the place.


The alumni group spent a relaxing and engaging time in the beautiful rural setting, interacting with children and learning about the work there.  Vatsalya provides a loving environment and recreational activities, ensures schooling and vocational training, and helps the grown child to eventually transition into independent living. 


The exposure visit resulted in a meaningful learning experience about the condition of street children for the twenty-four participants and also created approximately USD $500 in donations of supplies/cash and purchased of handicraft products.



Urban Microfinance Field Trip at Sanmitra Trust in Mumbai



SevaYatra organized a field-trip for a select group of 10 people attending the Srijan conference in Mumbai.  This trip preceded the two day Conference and was attended by a diverse group of individuals from across different sectors.  While Srijan would be a rich classroom of learning where stalwarts of MicroFinance and the champions of the future share their experiences and vision for the next decade, the whole idea of the field-trip was to really expose people to the behind-the-scenes operations of a working urban MFi and to be able to meet and interact with the beneficiaries thereof. 

On the day of the field-trip, 6th October, we reached Sanmitra Trust (the nodal agency to SBI MF), at about noon.  We had a chance to interact in detail with Prabha Desai- founder of Sanmitra Trust, met with a few of her field-staff - usually women from nearby communities, and with some beneficiaries of this micro-credit.  It was a charged environment, with almost every woman there trying to be the first one to share their story of struggle to micro-credit. Ears filled with the warmth of the words like ‘didi suno’ and ‘didi, aapko pata hai’ throughout!  It is this first moment when you realize that these are no different women (in terms of aspiration) than a lot of other entrepreneurial women I’ve met in life!

Soon, around 2pm, our participants started coming in. I thought the arrangements were fairly simple with people expected to sit on the chairs with all these women on the carpet below, when I was surprised when every participant was greeted with a rose by these women.  So we started with basic introductions by SevaYatra and soon asked everyone to introduce themselves, on who they were and why they were here today.  Then Prabha Desai gave an overview of her work at Sanmitra Trust, on how she started many years ago primarily to support these women with basic healthcare and then taught them the importance of saving, until today when they’re being lent microcredit by SBI.  It was interesting to learn that a lot of Banks she approached initially were actually hesitant to open bank-accounts for women who are of have been either sex workers or bar girls!  After Prabha’s insightful introduction, we moved on to introduce all the women seated with us – some field-staff while others beneficiaries of micro-credit.  Thereon, some women got together and enacted a skit they usually use to recruit more women from the community to form Self Help Groups.  It was interesting, particularly given that they enact real life scenarios to women who may be currently going through or may have gone through the situation at some point in their life.   What followed after this was an inquisitive round of questions to Prabha, the field-staff, these other women present there and the staff at Sanmitra Trust who manage these SHGs and the communities. 


At about 4pm, we decided to take the people onto a field-trip to meet with a group of women who have newly formed a SHG, have been saving for the past 3-4 months and awaiting funding from SBI.  We were led by Deepak, a coordinator at Sanmitra.  We walked down, walked across the street and entered the narrow lanes of Malwani village slums to finally reach one of their houses.  There were 6-7 women, mostly mid-aged, with a veil on their head, starring at us with eyes full of questions and hoping to not get photographed!  We entered that small 12X8 room, which was a house to 5 members of a family.  We started with introductions of these women, mostly sex workers and introduced ourselves to them as well – all conversations being in Hindi.  Soon the group leader, Tasneem, started telling us their story, how they came together, formed the SHG, started the bank account, and are now awaiting a loan.  What followed was another round of extremely inquisitive questions from our participants and very candid and honest answers from these women.


What strikes you the most, and this is more my experience than the group at large, is the fact that how tightly-knit these women are within these communities.  The amount of trust they place within the field-staff and Sanmitra Trust.  The kind of belief they have that they will get the micro-credit one day, soon.  And to beat it all, the enterprising spirit to start either a potato-onion stall or a ‘vada-pav’ stall in the neighbourhood and be able to fight poverty due to that.   But what really leaves you thinking and pondering over is the state and the quality of the lives of these women.  With most of them suffering with either STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) or AIDS - thereby being stigmatized by the society as the ‘wrong women’, dealing with domestic violence, suffering from the torture of their husband’s having multiple wives / lovers, having atleast 2-3 children each and at times not being able to afford education for them, the exorbitant rents of these small rooms they live in, and the astronomical interest rates they pay to some money lenders who they’ve borrowed from for either health related issues or festivals! 


When we left that place, there was a pin-drop silence as all of us experienced and went through some never-been-there, never-experienced-that type of similar emotions.  One question that you were left haunting with is, that even if these women were giving micro-credit, what fraction of their problems would it be able to solve?  I’m not taking away from or questioning the commendable work that most MFi’s do in this space, who are surely helping alleviate poverty levels of these communities.  However, it’s a mind-opener to interact with these women and to be able to see them grappling in this viscous circle of life!


Once we got back to the Sanmitra Trust office, we all shared our instant first thoughts on the field-visit.  It was indeed an experience of a life-time for most who went there.  We were then joined by our last speaker, Arunkumar Padmanabhan, who runs his own MFi in Mumbai and currently reaches out to approximately 5000 women through his 5 centres.  Arun spoke of his challenges of being an urban MFi, his journey so far and his aspirations forward.  He was showered with a barrage of questions on a lot of “how’s” and “what’s” of the business.  Our trip ended at 6pm, with the staff at Sanmitra singing us a hearty goodluck and a good-bye song.