An organization that has greatly impressed me is Youth Ventures. What is amazing about this organization is that they pick up ordinary youth, largely from underprivileged communities, and transform them into highly committed leaders. And this is achieved, not by randomly flinging bits of pious advice at them, but rather, through a well designed year long process of training and mentoring. The youngsters who participate in this programme are enabled to launch their own Venture – a project that creates real social change. Youth Ventures believes that this changemaking experience is transformational, it leads to a fundamental shift in self-belief; the youngster who saw himself as just another ordinary person is now convinced that he can be a changemaker, a leader in society.
Take Ashok for example, who lives in one of Mumbai’s largest slums, Babasaheb Ambedkar Nagar Colony. He realized that many of his childhood friends had dropped out of school and taken to drugs and alcohol. Ashok was determined to ensure that younger boys would not be trapped in this same situation. Hence, he launched a Venture called Oscar, a football club for boys who had dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out. Oscar provides these boys the opportunity to train, play, and compete with other local teams. However, to be a member of the club, each boy must attend Oscar’s informal classes twice a week, which help develop maths, Hindi, English, leadership, and life skills. Through this Venture, Ashok has got many dropouts to re-enrol in school and complete their education.
Then there is Priyanka, who was fed up with the garbage strewn all around her neighbourhood. She launched her Venture, Pradushan Mukti, to combat this menace. Her efforts to raise awareness on waste management have targeted every segment of the community. She educated school children, got them excited to become ambassadors of the environment, and used their artwork for poster campaigns. She mobilized these kids to take to the streets and march for awareness. Priyanka also motivated older community members to champion this cause. The Bombay Municipal Corporation took notice of her project and asked Priyanka to submit a proposal on how to create a clean community. Thanks to her efforts, the BMC has covered all open drains, increased the number of garbage collection points, and allocated funds to fight pollution in the community.
And not just city youth, even young people in the villages are enthusiastically participating in Youth Ventures. Ukesh launched Hamaro Adhikar to motivate people participate in the village Gram Sabha. He started by making the villagers aware of the importance of the Gram Sabha, highlighting its value and the need to be a part of it by conducting a play on Gram Sabha. In just a year, he and his team, through the Gram Sabha were able to provide electricity to a nearby village, help tribal farmers, get employment for people in the village and even get a school built in the village. Thanks to his work, the villagers have become aware of their rights and are now confident of approaching the administration on various issues. Looking back at the past year, Ukesh recalls his most memorable moment: ‘I had gone to the District Collector for the issue of forest land; I was leading twenty-five people. All of them were praising me and I felt proud to lead them’.
As the International Youth Year takes off and as we press ahead with our Youth Ministry, creating youth leaders, changemakers in society, should rank high on our agenda.