Bhoomi Foundation – For A Cleaner Tomorrow
“These walls look different no?” my friend spoke looking at the long wall on our left as we passed the Kukatpalli road, onto the Hitech city flyover. Indeed they were. But what he said was only half the thing. The walls weren’t just looking different, they were looking beautiful. So beautiful, that we observed many motorists and walkers stop and appreciate their beauty. The walls, you can see even today, just as you pass Sujana Forum Mall in the city, have been cleaned and repainted to look starkly beautiful. It took us a while to understand that a welfare organisation was behind this supposed facelift of the pathways and walls. A little-known organisation (at least in the city) called Bhoomi Foundation.
But we must confess something here. Yes, we were intrigued by the work of Bhoomi Foundation, but it never clicked in our mind to bring out their story. As time passed, our thoughts drifted away to different things. However, as fate would have it, in our conversations with Subash Chandra, the societally aware CEO of Mr Productions, we were again reminded of the work of Bhoomi foundation. Thus, it became our calling to cover this foundation through our conversations with Teju Choudary, the founding member of the foundation.
How do you define Bhoomi foundation? What is the ideology behind it and what are the things that are majorly done? And the organisation has moved from Ongole to Hyderabad recently. Any particular reasons for doing so?
To start with, Bhoomi is not just an NGO but it is a movement. Bhoomi has proved, that it is a myth that a country’s development is only possible by the government. We believe that even a common man can create a ripple effect, which can bring a lot of change in the country. We believe in making people educated, asking or seeking them to give back something to their own country. Ironically, this era is not doing this anymore. Now, it’s time that we come up with a new motto – “Be the change to bring the change”.
Yes, Bhoomi was also a dream till it is started. Many people have this ambition to change our nation, but they aren’t stepping forward-thinking of the obstacles and challenges. I believe in a simple thing – “If the plan doesn’t work, change the plan, Not the GOAL”. So the people whoever are dreaming of doing something for the country, I’d say – “Stop dreaming and Start Doing”. Because in today’s world only one thing will work that is “Kam Chaalu Mooh Bandh”. No one is ready to listen to our lectures, so let the change start with us. This is how Bhoomi came into existence.
The only issue, we would like to address is that we want to change the people’s view towards the country and make them more responsible. India is always the best. And we need to believe in it at every point of time. Bhoomi majorly concentrates on making our country the best place to live in. So, now our main step is towards Swatch Bharat. We started off with our own city Ongole. Now, it has been announced as a Poster free city and has Ranked 4th in zonal awards at Swatch Survekshan 2017. Maybe the name of the state varies, but for us, we are on the same motherland INDIA and our goal is to make India, the best place to live.
Where does the story of Bhoomi Foundation start? We are curious as to how many people started this, and what are the reasons behind it. In effect, personally, where do you connect with the foundation, and in what capacity?
I am a normal middle-class girl with lots of passion towards the nation. We are born in such a great nation and I always wanted to serve my nation in one or the other way. My father always used to discuss national issues with me since my childhood. I guess that injected in me a deeper level of patriotism. As I am an artist, I used to project the national issues to many political leaders through my paintings, but it impacted only a few people out there. If you want to see a change in your country, you cannot go directly to change your country. First, you will have to change yourself, then your city, then your state and then the motivation can spread throughout the country.
The following incident happened when I was in my B.tech final year. One of the major problems in India is garbage. Even the politicians close their nose when they approach a garbage dump. At that point, I was inspired by watching “The Ugly Indian” which created a lot of social impact in Bangalore. I decided to start one such campaign in my city, Ongole. My father without any other thought said YES !! Then I asked a few other friends of mine, out of whom, some joined the Campaign eventually.
Finally, Bhoomi Foundation was inaugurated on 15th October (Abdul Kalam’s Bday), 2015 with an initial strength of 10 volunteers. Rasagna, Gowri, Divya, Mounika, Venkata Sai, Sai Krishna, Syam Babu, Lohendra, PVR Chowdary (my father), Srinu. I can mention these people as the Heart of Bhoomi foundation. As you asked how it affected me personally, I can only give one sentence about this, now I can divide my life into two parts Before Bhoomi and After Bhoomi. I guess this summarizes everything. And keeping the impact we are creating aside, we have now become a good family. We share not only the happiness but also our sorrows. I am blessed to have the Bhoomi Family.
Bhoomi Foundation is a voluntary not for profit collective. Now for it to run properly, you might have to need people and resources. How do you go about procuring the two? Especially in a busy city like Hyderabad, how do you convince people and invite them to join your cause of maintaining the city?
In a country like India, where we are in a developing stage, everyone is ready to contribute to the country. Everyone wants to give something back to the society. But, many are not finding a correct path through which they can serve the nation. Bhoomi has become a platform for them. Facebook has become a good place to connect to such aspiring people. I feel very lucky to get connected with people with similar minds to serve the country.
But yes in a city like Hyderabad it is little difficult to get volunteers, not because there aren’t enough volunteers in Hyderabad, but because we cannot easily reach more people in a greater city like Hyderabad. So we are planning to visit schools, colleges and a few IT companies, where people get to know about this and can join us at weekends. We are sure that everyone these days are very passionate about contributing back to our motherland. And coming to the resources, till now my father and me, are contributing to this. Also, A few people from abroad have contributed towards some projects. We do not ask volunteers for monetary contributions since they are spending their most valuable time, which is more than enough.
While in Ongole, Bhoomi Foundation had taken up redecoration and classification of RTC Busstands. We are curious as to why you picked up that. And in that context, which places across the city do you think needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible?
As part of our campaign, we have also cleaned many schools, Government buildings, Bus stops, Parks, Orphanages, Old-age homes and others. However, the main reasons why we chose to clean bus stops as a priority are –
1. Bus stops are one of the most-used places in any city. So if they are not clean the chances of spreading diseases are higher and,
2. We say “The First Impression is the Best Impression”. When someone enters the city, in the most cases, they arrive at the Bus Stations, Railway stations or Airports. So if we are able to create a good atmosphere there, we can automatically create a good impression on our city too.
Few places across the city, we think, needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible are- all the Government offices and the Slums. The reasons being,
1. Government offices because to spread the message of Swatchh Bharat if the government itself is not following the motto how can we expect common people to do so?
2. Slums because the necessity of having clean surroundings is on high priority. People are suffering from different diseases due to lack of cleanliness.
We see that many NGOs want to bring a change in the world we live in, but there is a constant fight with the local authorities, regarding the rules and regulations, or sometimes public inconvenience. Have you faced any such resistance with the local authorities, and how do you ensure that your activities go on smoothly?
Bhoomi Foundation believes in a saying “We don’t grow when things are easy. We grow when we face challenges”. In our journey of one and a half-year, we’ve faced many challenges though we’ve overcome them. These are some of the challenges,
A. Initiating Bhoomi itself was a challenge because, being a girl, I was supposed to get married right after my studies. In this context, when I go out of the house and do all this, how can someone be willing to marry me? That is the primary concern for my family. If you can define the problem completely, you almost have a solution. I defined my work and explained my vision to my family clearly. In the beginning, it was a bit tough to convince them. But now they are very supportive of me. And eventually, of course, they’d give some really great ideas for Bhoomi.
B. The next challenge we faced was the lack of volunteers in the beginning. Bhoomi was started with a strength of 10 volunteers. People used to look at us like clowns earlier. But now they understand the impact of our work and they have started encouraging and joining us. So this is how we overcame the second challenge.
C. Posters used to reappear and the garbage used to get dumped back after a few months at some places. Even then, we would lift up our spirits saying that only 10% of the spot has been spoiled, and the remaining 90% is cleaner than ever before. One cannot expect 100% change at a time, it comes gradually. We are very happy about that 90% of progress at a place which no one cared about before.
D. We had arranged nearly 80 big flower pots, which we had brought in from Hyderabad, to beautify the Guntur road in Ongole on November 1st. But we felt extremely bad to find that some drunken guys had broken nearly 20 of those pots on the night of Dec 31st. Only we know the efforts we had put in to bring those pots and plants to add beauty to the city. We felt bad because, if they were posters, we could have stuck them back or if it was the garbage dumped again, we would have cleaned it up again. But we cannot give back life to the dead plants, right? Anyhow, later on, we did plant some other plants in that place.
E. A proper action wasn’t taken on the complaints. The government officials use to receive our complaints and use to resolve them earlier. But later on, they stopped taking action on the culprits so it became little difficult to overcome the above two challenges. Still, we won’t stop till they are taking considerable action. We have complained to the local Municipal Commissioner, DSP and we have written many emails to the concerned Ministers and Chief Minister as well, but none of the complaints are taken action upon. But we will never stop till we achieve our goal.
What are the recognition criteria which you may have received from different entities because of your work? Could you share with us three incidents where people came up to you and told you that you did a wonderful job? And how do the people support help you in doing your things?
I strongly believe in the Quote “Be the first or Be the Best” which inspires me a lot. We were the first organisation to have worked for a ‘Clean Ongole’, so our next aim is being the best in that. In our journey of making Ongole a cleaner and greener city, our first achievement comes from the fact that our city has been announced as the Poster-Free city by the Government of Andhra Pradesh.
We are able to see remarkable changes in our city, which was left unnoticed for many decades. As I have mentioned, the 90% success rate is also a great achievement for us, but still, we are working out for the perfection of 100%. Ongole is set as an example of cleanliness campaigning for other cities in Krishna Pushkaralu. Under Swatchaa Andhra category by our Hon’ble Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, we received an award. First people asked why we did it, now they are asking how we did it. Nearly five social service organisations were formed in and around Ongole, taking the inspiration from Bhoomi Foundation.
We were recognised by the Government of Andhra Pradesh within 3 months of establishment. Also, we were rewarded with the Best Social Service certificate on Republic Day at the district level. We are fortunate to have received good appreciation from CP Gurnani (CEO, Tech Mahindra).
Keeping the Clean Ongole campaign aside our aim is also to make citizens make more responsible towards the country.
Additionally, we have conducted a free medical camp collaborated with Narayana Hospitals, Nellore, where nearly 600 patients got free medical benefits. Also, we collect old clothes and books from schools and distribute them to the needy. We celebrate festivals in old age homes to give a certain homage to them, and to reveal the values from the old generation to youth. So, we have taken up many other motivational programs. It is always a great feeling when we see the smiles on our beneficiaries and when they bless us. People have always supported us, I guess this is what keeps us energised. Even though some criticise our work, we take that too in a positive way.
Finally, in the activities which Bhoomi Foundation takes up, where do you find the organisation say five years down the line? What are the activities that you want to take up in the future and how do you wish to bring a change to the city of Hyderabad. Also, how do people contribute to your organisations in terms of participation and voluntary work?
We have always dreamed about the growth of India, and not just Bhoomi Foundation. Frankly speaking, after five years India should not be in need of any organisations like this. In future, after we have achieved a clean India, we would like to take up a beggar-free India campaign and a proper old age home system in India. Many brilliant minds of India are lost in begging on streets and child labour. So we would like to concentrate on that. We also wanted to motivate school children about patriotism, which can contribute indirectly to the country’s development. We want the active participation of volunteers which can help India in a great way. Even the freedom struggle wouldn’t be achieved without the active participation of youth and the common public.