A T-Shirt and a Pledge
Miss the previous update? Read it here.
In my updates about this year's work at the Gandhi Leprosy Seva Sangh in India, I've been talking repeatedly about how inspired youth leadership is the way you start solving poverty issues, sustainably on the grassroots level.
When I discussed the concept in front of audiences during my past month traveling in the US, I always explain that it "doesn't sound like much," until you read about how members of a criminal gang gave up their criminal ways through a project I helped launch last year in Nairobi, Kenya, partially by forming a leadership group dedicated to the service of their community.
The newly named Me 2 We volunteer youth leadership group at the leprosy community, in a way, has been the testing ground for my understanding of this idea.
When I arrived in January, I found that the group — which formed organically after I left the community in 2011 after a year's worth of work there — had members and a purpose but no name, no set routine—basically a lack of cohesiveness and organization.
I figured if I could help jell the group together and foster some group dynamics and habits (such as meeting and conducting programs regularly), that this would lend itself to the group's sustainability and potential impact in the community.
This behind the scenes work culminated recently in a program where each of the 30+ members took a somewhat serious pledge and received a custom t-shirt branded with some messages that support the group's values and vision, for use during service activities.
The name of the group, "Me 2 We" (not chosen by me), is about placing focus on community vs. personal interests. That's pretty remarkable considering everybody is living in a leprosy community located in a slum area and deals with real financial challenges. Some members of the group even have parents who beg.
The circular symbol stands for the virtuous cycle of change that comes through the adoption of positive habits and values.
The back of the shirt has an outline of Mahatma Gandhi and the reminder, "Be the change." It's an important concept, especially when living in poverty, because you are often waiting for change to come from the outside when there are always steps you can take on your own that could have miraculous results.
And lastly, use of the term "volunteer." Nobody is being paid anything. Nobody is under any obligation to participate. Every member of the group is a part of it because they want to help out.
A Little Seriousness
Since we were interested in the group having a certain level of cohesiveness and professionalism, each member was required to take the above pledge, which we called the sat adat (seven habits).
Each of the habits was selected based on the issues most prevalent in the community. The work of the group then is not just limited to practical matters, it involves a process of personal transformation, which is ultimately the main point.
Here's everybody taking the pledge, reading out loud each of the seven habits. Notice, I am not out in front—the leader of the group, Vijay, is. True to my intention for the year, I have been providing mostly invisible, behind the scenes support, which I'm finding, is better for sustainability and more effective, overall.
Also worth nothing is that less than $200 has been spent (mostly on the shirts) helping develop the group. Meaningful change doesn't need to cost a lot of money!
I'm still not certain how all of this is going to play out. It could work, or the group could fall apart after some time. I'm glad I have four months left with everybody, as there is now a solid foundation in place and we can start discussions about specific, regular activities the Me 2 We group can lead on their own.
Continue to next update about this year's work at the leprosy community.