(featured in Masala Lite in December 2012, Thailand)
[For ORIGINAL click the link below]
Led by young Indian professionals, Hope I Am is inspiring peers to reach out and lend a hand to the underprivileged in Bangkok. BY REENA KARIM
Arriving on a Saturday during lunch hour at Sataban Saeng Sawang Foundation for children with disabilities, the staff and volunteers of Hope I Am started serving KFC chicken, requested especially by the children, alongside their regular lunches. The open canteen area has a makeshift kitchen, where older children cook their own meals, assisted by the volunteers and caregivers of the day care centre. After lunch, everyone moved to an air-conditioned room upstairs, where the team had already set up tables for a cookie decoration session. This simple activity turned into a fun-filled one with excited kids adding dollops of chocolate on their individual cookies, and some reaching out for others’. And the day ended with squeals of laughter after a few rounds of musical chairs on the terrace.
Thanks to Hope I Am, volunteering doesn’t have to end after high school for those who are actually serious about it, nor does it have to be about earning academic points. In fact, a pair of young professionals founded this small two year–old
non-profit organisation, and more and more young Indians are taking part in its growth, all the while brightening the lives of Bangkok’s underprivileged children.
It all began one Saturday afternoon with a group of friends, playing games and basketball with the children and talking to their mothers at Good Shepherd Sisters, a shelter for battered women and their children. The day was such a pleasure and a success that Rishi, Prameet, and their friends decided to make it a regular activity. Hope I Am was born not long after, in December 2010. In only two years, it has evolved into an organisation that now comprises dedicated core members and a calendar full of events.
Friends and co-founders of Hope I Am Rishi Sivasiamphai and Prameet Sirisachdecha have been actively volunteering for a long time. Rishi, especially, got more into this pastime while studying in New York, where volunteering opportunities abound. Once back in Bangkok, and working as a director at the Rembrandt Hotel, as well as in textile manufacturing, Rishi realised that the lack of forum for such opportunities and the language barrier made it difficult for people like him to be volunteering as actively as they would like. This hurdle inspired him and Prameet, also a textile trader at his family business, to come up with a list of places they could volunteer.
“The inspiration behind Hope I Am is to make the world a better place by starting with ourselves,” says Prameet.
From a two-person operation, Hope I Am has grown to include three other core members, Devi Bajaj, Monisha Gurbani, and Vikram Arunagiri, each bringing in his/her own unique skills and resources to the organisation, from baking to teaching to event planning, respectively. Monisha says that the variety of backgrounds among the core members helps keep Hope I Am events interesting. While most informal volunteer groups often choose to do one activity per visit, Hope I Am always offers a range, designed specifically for the people they are helping out.
Although there is much to be done around Bangkok, the team currently focuses on working with children in day care centres and orphanages but have long-term plans to expand towards teaching orphans and children with disabilities, conducting leadership seminars, and holding yoga and meditation classes.
Hope I Am’s work is not limited to visitations and spending a fun-filled day with kids. They have also organised fundraising events and Christmas donation drives, and even had awareness booths at the Atif Aslam concert and a Shagun/ Pavni fashion show soon after. Their causes range from victims of Somalia’s famine to schools and families affected by the floods to peace campaigns before Thailand’s general election.
SPREADING THE HOPE
While their events usually run smoothly enough, there remain challenges. “The biggest issue that we face is convincing people to come and help,” says Vikram. “We are five individuals who think we can take on the world, but we need help.”
Keeping their YouTube channel and Facebook page active with updates of their events, postings of inspirational videos and photos, and information on current affairs, has helped Hope I Am attract volunteers and make their presence felt in the Indian community. Managing Director at Power Corporation, Vikrom Khorana says he began volunteering regularly with Hope I Am after a few friends started posting photos and updates on Facebook. To make it easier for existing and potential volunteers, Hope I Am is aiming to build a yearly calendar of events so that people have weeks to prepare for the upcoming activities.
Although the organisation is still struggling with the number of participants, they have gained a few regulars. Tara Chanapai, an assistant manager at KPMG Thailand by day, says that volunteering has reinforced her belief that all people are equal, and all lives valuable, regardless of the disabilities or disadvantages people face. Another regular, kindergarten teacher Neha Sachdev, says that it has kept her grounded and helped her see the bigger picture. And Prameet is hopeful that more people will join in. “There is a lot of strength in numbers. One can do good things, but together we can do great things.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Hope I Am is visiting the Good Shepherd Sisters Home on December 22nd, and is seeking volunteers. There are a host of activities and fundraisers in the works for early 2013. For updates on upcoming events, details, and how you can help, visit http://www.facebook.com/hopeiambkk