Journey to the compassionate city

Hello Ashutosh !! I have heard so much about you and compassionate communities in the past few weeks that you are almost a synonym in communities of Jaipur NOW. Tell me something about your life, where you grew up, and what you are doing right now.

Hi Guys, You can call me Ashu. I was born and brought up in Jaipur and I come from a very middle-class background. My exposure to the development sector started in 2007, when I began volunteering in various events happening around me.Then, in 2008,  I started working with this youth-led and youth-centric organization called Pravah in Delhi, which  brought a major change in my life. It taught me a lot and I kept on  practicing whatever I learned in one way or the other. And  now  I can say that all those sporadic experiences that I had back then,   has apparently  brought me where I am today.  Currently, I’m working with the Share A Smile foundation, however, my association with this organisation is much older. SAS was founded in 2010, and we  worked for  2-3 years, however,  it eventually  came to a halt because of financial issues. But then,  in 2020, we picked it up again and have been working on it lately. Also, we now feel that the time was aptly chosen for us to start again.

So, the idea behind our foundation is basically about how to make a city a ‘Compassionate City. And, a  compassionate city to us means  a city whose people are sensitive and empathetic…people who get uncomfortable when they see someone in a difficult or vulnerable situation.   These days it is very common to find people indifferent and ignorant to the sufferings of others… But we believe this darkness of indifference and ignorance can be eliminated with the light of  Compassion and awareness. We want to build that capacity of compassion in people and we do it by developing empathy “as a skill” in them through diverse training modules and experiential journeys.

Q) Do you think that while working on such social projects relating to Compassion and Kindness, we tend to ignore the factor of financial stability which is equally important. So when you were put under such a choice, what was your take on it and how did you make such a tough decision?

I firmly believe that financial stability  is of prime importance, but I have always found myself  in a challenging re lationship with money.  Ironically, my work involves such operations for which I must have a certain amount of money in my hands. You see, when you want to make a big difference, you must also have the resources to make that difference. Initially I was very uncomfortable when it came down to talking about money, but lately I realised that the financial factor is more about the intentions that you have with money. It’s not about wanting the money, it’s about needing the money for a significant purpose. And this realisation has made all the difference today. Now, I am more open and comfortable in talking about finances and reaching out for support in the community.  

Q) When did you know that you wanted to work on the Share Smile foundation?

Personally, I have always been a person of a compassionate disposition and have  always been keen on giving and donating. But, I remember back in 2009-10, I did this internship in Bihar where I was working on  a school project under which we were to teach children from poor households. While I was working on it,  I came across a terribly  deprived community.  They didn’t have food to feed themselves with and lived in such dire conditions that the sight of it shocked me to the core and perhaps turned out to be  a sort of epiphany for me. I realized how privileged yet thankless we are, living in our houses with plenty of food available to us. That experience kind of stayed with me and made me want to do something about this regardless of the other factors. I know that someone has to keep working in order to make a difference. What gets me going despite all the failings is my belief that I can’t be a part of the problem, I want to be a part of the solution.

Q) What was your vision behind starting Share A Smile foundation?

A) I believe that there are people who have privileges and then there are people who do not have privileges. So what I see happening often is that the people who have privileges believe that those privileges are their birthrights, which is as we all know- a very wrong way to see it. So in order to realize that these privileges are mere privileges and not rights one must share their resources. It is ludicrous to believe that there can be equality without sharing resources. No matter how many systems we establish they will eventually fail if there is no sharing. And my vision was essentially about building that value and that perspective which makes people question whether the way they are living is helping the community.

Q) How do you connect to different communities and people?

A) I have worked for a long time with Pravah Delhi, and one of the major skills that I learned from there is the knowledge of creating a transformational journey. This experience taught me how to build an environment where people can see their own selves and get transformed into compassionate citizens. And in my opinion, people just need a slight push towards the right direction in order to start sharing, it’s just a trigger.

Q)What are the innovative modes that you’ve worked with and are working on

A)  We have different programs in order to inspire people to involve themselves in compassionate activities. Back in 2012-13, we used to do this program called Yatra, and then there was one called Gyan. As of now, we have multiple programs running, one of which is called Karuna Ki Kahaani, under which we write untold stories of the people who haven’t shared their Compassionate Actions.  Then, we have this other one called Samvaad which is a stage where we invite  experts, and talk to them about possible compassionate actions that can be initiated around different societal issues. Then, there is another program in place called Sambhavana, wherein we talk with the Youth about all sorts of possibilities and scope of improvements in  our behavioral patterns, to evolve at the Compassionate level. We have thoughtfully designed these programs to engage the youth in diverse ways, and we believe if one undergoes all these programs, he/she is capable of coming out as an empathetic leader and initiating Compassionate actions.

Q)So while reaching out to the community and the youth, what is your approach, do you convert these people into compassionate thinkers or you find responsible citizens and work with them or both?

A) I would say that it is essentially both. We take the youth on transformative Journeys because we know that our vision cannot be achieved without individual transformation. We are trying to build a space where we can show the people what the future of your city would be if corrective actions are not taken.  Perhaps, by doing this we can make people understand the purpose of all the compassionate actions they are indulging themselves in. And when they know the purpose of it all,  they will be able to be compassionate intuitively and would get a natural driving force. natural driving force.

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