Venkatji and his organization called Swabhimaan have been working in a vast slum area near Koramangala, in Bangalore, for many years, among the poor of different communities.
By Shaban Ali
It was 28th September, when we decided to meet Mr. Venkat Iyer, a social worker in his 60s who has devoted himself to serving people in need. It was a blessed moment to meet him. Joyfully he shook my hand, and I felt very happy! Venkatji has a soft heart, is very simple and meets everyone with a smile on his face.
Venkatji and his organization called Swabhimaan have been working in a vast slum area near Koramangala, in Bangalore, for many years, among the poor of different communities. We passed the two clinics that his team runs in the slums, which levy only a nominal charge. Venkatji took us to a couple of places where good, nutritious food was being distributed by members of his team, free of cost, to a large number of poor people. This happens perhaps almost every day of the year!
One food distribution point was at a small room near a mosque. A man named Sulaiman offloaded the good from a mini-truck, with Venkat Sir helping him. Three large steel containers filled with food were offloaded, and then bread, rice, pulses and chutney were distributed to the people. Moments later, many women trooped there for what for many of them may have been their major meal of the day. Ahead, we found the mini-truck loaded with food again, this time near a temple. It was amazing how dedicatedly Venkatji and his team were serving economically poor people without any distinction of creed and caste. The time I spent with Venkatji and some of his colleagues made me reflect on how the poor struggle to survive their whole lives.
I asked Venkatji where he managed to procure such abundant food every day. From three software companies, he said. There are many employees in these companies and not all of them eat there and so a sizeable proportion of the food goes waste. So, they have arranged for unused food to be given to Venkatji’s team to be distributed among the needy. Venkatji’s team also gives loans to needy people (these are mostly women) to set up small businesses money that helps to meet their daily requirements. They also distribute rations, to some 100 families.
On the way back we passed by one of the two clinics that Venkatji’s organization runs. Inside, a young woman was tutoring a couple of students, making good use of the clinic space. This woman teaches in a local school, and in the evening she helps students by tutoring them here. This is such a nice idea if qualified and educated young people can share their knowledge with others like that. We also visited M. Ganesh, a member of Venkatji’s team who is physically-challenged and who runs a good business of making paper bags. There, we also met a person named David, who is suffering from slight cerebral palsy, working there. He seemed to have a hilarious heart and a smile on his face.
A most valuable thing I learnt from Venkatji was that we should serve all people, beyond all distinctions of community, creed, caste and class. As fellow creatures of God, we are all the same; no community and no family is greater than another. Mosques, churches and temples are not built to create disputes. They are built to unite people and draw them closer to God. In matters of belief and ritual practice we may have some differences, but we belong to the One Lord. We should all seek the Lord’s pleasure, even while seeking to do His will.
To meet and spend time with people like Venkatji was a great blessing. We should appreciate people like him and join hands with them.
(For more information about Venkatji, Swabhimaan and their work, see https://swabhimaanweb.wordpress.com/