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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Asha- an interview with Padmanava Sen

Millennials are often cited as the Peter Pan generation who prefer to delay their rite into adulthood, shun responsibility, and feel entitled to privileges they had while growing up- without having to work for it. But  I also know people about my age who commit their energy to several causes like: urban agriculture, sustainability, education etc.

One such person is Padmanava Sen, a batch mate of SG. I met him in California through common friends. This is an interview with him about volunteering in general and his association with an international non-profit called Asha.

1. Tell us something about Asha.
Asha, which means "hope", is dedicated to the support of basic education of underprivileged children in India. Asha for Education is an international non-profit organization and has around 50 chapters in US, nine in India and 5 elsewhere. Asha's primary focus is on education because we at Asha believe that education is the most effective means to solve the problems of poverty, population explosion, and to bring about long-term socioeconomic change. Since its inception in 1991, “Asha for Education” has supported more than 800 educational projects in India disbursing more than $26 Million USD. In 2013 alone, around 170 projects are supported with 13+ crores INR. Asha runs completely on volunteers and around 1000 volunteers across the World make it happen.

2. How did you get associated with it?
I joined Asha Atlanta Chapter in June 2006 after seeing a flyer in university notice board (Georgia Tech). After the first meeting, I was more or less sure I am not leaving Asha anytime soon. The reason that it is 100% volunteer driven, decentralized and non-hierarchical, made the decision very easy. I have moved out from Atlanta in 2010, I am still involved with almost all Atlanta projects (around 6 currently) till date. In 2009, I started my life in Central Projects Team with Cyclone Aila relief and currently coordinate across projects for RTE and other related issues being in India. In last 5 years, I have served 2 years in the board of directors as the Director of projects which gave a lot of exposure given the ~200 project portfolio of Asha.

Asha has not only helped me to stay connected to my country during my stay in USA it has helped me to realize the important things one can do in their spare time in the spirit of volunteerism.

3. What advice do you have for those who want to get involved?
Do not believe that everything will fall in place unless we get directly involved in the implementation of laws, in the education system, in women empowerment, to provide basic necessities to every human being on earth and in the process of giving equal opportunity to every child irrespective of gender, caste, birthplace and birth family.

Do not underestimate your own potential and overestimate the current systems in place to take care of everyone. Stop thinking about doing something and act; find 2-3 hours a week to volunteer for a good cause, a cause that you think is important. While you get involved, put the shoes of the underprivileged and think what is important to them. The definition of requirement should come from their side not from your viewpoint. Get the culture of giving and volunteering in your systems and teach the next generation to the same. Unless we help the unlucky ones, every success is tainted and every moment of happiness is incomplete.

Suggested further reading: His blog post Why volunteer

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