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Shobhana Kumar On Feeding The Unfed, Finding Shelter For The Homeless and Building Small Differences

Shobhana Kumar On Feeding The Unfed, Finding Shelter For The Homeless and Building Small Differences

Their stories are unsung. Their aching stomachs unfed. Their voices are muted by the societal truth which surpasses them as nonexistent. How much it pains to be left uncovered by the broken pathway when no ones cares, is something many of us watch, but never observe. 

In her attempt to rise for a change making cause, Small Differences found it’s first footing. From fighting for the rights of the LGBT to providing shelter to aged homeless citizens, from having a 50 week feeding program to supporting the artwork of underprivileged children, Shobhana Kumar is taking long leaps by raising the nascent dreams of the unheard. 

 

Highlights of This Episode

  • Realizing writing about such causes alone was not enough. 
  • The story of 65 year old Raju who took 35 years find himself under a sheltered roof. 
  • Creating a long term, viable solution for our abandoned elders.

Quotes and Takeaways

  • For writers: dream, read, dream, read, dream, read, dig deep into your heart, write, read, rewrite. 
  • In a social enterprise, we measure growth by the way faith multiplies to make small miracles happen.

What inspired you to establish your social enterprise SMALL DIFFERENCES ? Was it an urge to have a social institute or was it an effect of any fact of your life?

Both, actually.  Growing up in the hills, one thought that often crossed the mind was how miserable it was to be poor in a cold place. When we were all swaddled in woolen clothes and gloves, the poor had to make do with barely anything. My father was a deeply sensitive gentleman and often regaled us with stories of how his father spent a good portion of his time and money, helping the poor. He told us that Thatha would make sure a pension reached the house help, Thimmi, long after she stopped working for them. All this must have stored itself somewhere in my brain.

Later, disparity and marginalisation found its way into almost every verse I wrote, until I realised it wasn’t enough to write about it alone. So Small differences happened on March 22, 2012, with just a laptop and a Facebook page. I didn’t want to do anything earth shattering: just do what we could, to help someone along the way.

Rajeev Kamineni and C.G. Kumar, my husband and I formed the trust and we are now around 20 of us together, in this dream.

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What are the areas in which SMALL DIFFERENCES work in to make a change?

We run a feeding programme for the homeless, abandoned elderly. These are typically people who have been disowned by their families and find themselves on the streets. We do this every Saturday. We have around 50-60 people who are on our feeding list and we travel to the spots where they usually stay.

The food for our abandoned elders is prepared by transgenders and we have been working with some of them for over a year now. We helped set up a kitchen and food kiosk for them and they started taking on catering orders.

So the feeding programme works two ways: the money we raise for the food goes to the transgenders and helps them lead their lives with dignity. We have just raised some money to buy a laptop for one of our TG friends who is an an ayurvedic therapist.

Right now we are trying to put together the necessary resources to run a daily feeding programe for one ward at the local hospital, where people are abandoned. That will be a big step forward for us.

We are also working on creating an arts and reading programme for marginalised children, but this is still in the pipeline.

What has been the most fulfilling experience you have had with SMALL DIFFERENCES?

65 year old Raju left his home in Kerala when he was in his twenties. He had gone through abuse of all kinds from his brothers and made his way to Coimbatore. He has been living on the streets since, unable to engage in physical work, because of a broken hip that refused to heal. He didn’t turn into a beggar but eked out a living by making friends and running the odd errand or two.

On October 3rd, we managed to find him a beautiful home, run by a group of youngsters. When he got out of the car, Raju couldn’t stop smiling. His eyes teared up. And for us, just thinking that it took him 35 years to just sleep with a roof over his head made our day.

Again, we haven’t changed the world, but for Raju, his world has changed for the better.

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You have had a work of feeding the underprivilege and working for the emergence of transgenders. Can you share your experience?

Time and again, we realise the inherent goodness in humanity. The number of people who have put their faith in what we do has been our biggest blessing. And that is what keeps us going.

In April this year we helped Tasneem, our TG friend conduct a conference for TGs in Kerala. That was a huge learning experience: the fact that we all take physical identity for granted and that so  many are fighting inner battles we know nothing of.

More importantly, Small differences has reaffirmed my belief that no achievement in the world is the product of individual effort. SD is nothing without Bala, Shivaguru, Siddharth, Sudhan, Kani, Harshini, Sowbarnika, Lavanya, Rema, Shruti, Satya, Satyanarayanan, Pradyumna, Janani, Radhika, Mirudula, Sanjani, Niranjan, Samyukta, Sarun, Kaavya, Madhvi, Laya and Shreyas.

What is the larger mission of SMALL DIFFERENCES?

We are working to create a long term, viable solution for our abandoned elders.

Small differences is a philosophy we want to replicate and we will be soon setting up a chapter in Boston. The idea is that each community can pick the top 3 social issues plaguing it and work with a common mission towards overcoming them. In that sense, the idea is replicable but at the same time will carry its own identity within its community.

The second is to inspire a volunteer movement where people come out and spend 2 hours a week in community service. We know just how far those two hours can go.

You have also scripted and compiled many books.  Can you advice our readers on how they can improvise on their skills of writing?

That’s a tough one. I write poetry and have two collections published by Writers Workshop, Calcutta. Apart from that, I have written biographies, coffee table books and corporate biographies. I love haiku and the haibun—Japanese formed poetry. You can see I keep coming back to verse—I can’t imagine not being able to write it.

As for advice, I’d say nothing different from what most writers do: dream, read, dream, read, dream, read, dig deep into your heart, write, read, rewrite…it’s a never ending journey in discipline and humility.

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In a for profit business, the growth is measured by the increase of revenue. How do you measure the growth in the non-profit arena?

By smiles. By the number of people who believe in the same dream as you do. And in the way faith multiplies to make small miracles happen.

What is your message to social entrepreneurs?

God knows how much he needs you. And you don’t even have to keep your eyes open to social problems. They hit you even when you are asleep. So let’s just go out there and do what we have to do.

 

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