Started social service at the age of 16; is becoming a support for the helpless

You might have seen a video of a girl holding a cardboard with ‘cycle pe light lagwaalo’ written on it on social media ; not only this, you might have seen her distributing water bottles in the scorching heat and umbrellas in the rain. You might have also wondered who is this girl and why does she keep helping people.

In the Gaon Podcast, meet 24-year-old Khushi Pandey, who lives in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, who started social service at the age of 16.

We read somewhere that you install lights on people’s bicycles, tell us about it?

No NGO was working on cyclists. No NGO is talking about road safety today. People are working on hunger, hospitals, animals but why not road safety? When we get to the root of the problem, these accidents will not happen. So we had it in our mind that we should all do something that reduces accidents. When there was a lot of fog in winter, we started our initiative Project Ujala. At that time, a lot of accidents were happening.

If you are going in your car and you have switched on the lights, but you cannot see who is going in front of you and the cyclists faced the most difficulty. So we started installing tail lights and reflectors in the front. So this is how we started Project Ujala. Project Ujala had two phases, one was the campaign to get lights installed on bicycles and the second was the reflective sticker drive in which we put reflective stickers on trucks and autos; so that there is no collision or accident.

What was your family’s reaction to the fact that you started social service at the age of 16?

My family has been with me at every step. I started working since class 12th. Because since then I had a desire that I do not have to ask money from my parents for my expenses.

How was your experience with the NGO?

I got an opportunity to work in an NGO. Then I came to know the truth about NGOs and how much wrong work is happening. How these people are filling their own pockets in the name of NGOs. So I learned the work and I also understood the reality there. Then I felt that the money and help should reach those for whom the NGOs are taking money. Then I left that NGO because many things were going wrong there.

Then I joined another NGO; but while doing internship they give you exposure to little things but when the job started I realized that the same thing happens here too. But it was not like that I left that place immediately, I worked there for six months and learnt a lot and after that I started my own NGO.

But the biggest problem that I faced was of funds, but it was not that I had no funds at all. I had some savings. When I told my family about it and asked them to support me, my family members said that you work and we are with you. But by the grace of God, my initiative went viral immediately; after that people also started joining and I started getting support.

What was your first initiative?

Our first initiative was Sapno ki Pathshala; in which we started teaching children living on the margins. Even today there are no classes there, children sit under trees and study. Even today 208 children are studying in our school. We have brought these children from there. You must have seen that when you stop your car in traffic, some children come to clean the glass of the car, these are the same children.

The biggest problem is convincing the parents of these children to make their children leave their work and send them to study. I don’t know what two or three people said to me like what do you have to do with us, you don’t like that our house is able to earn its livelihood. You are jealous of us. We started with 16 children and today so many children are with us.

You have also started a sewing center for women who have suffered from acid attacks. How did you get the idea?

We have been running Jeevika Sathi for a long time. Our concept was that we were trying to bring about a change in the life of every woman. But there were some problems in this model. We transformed 30 women whose records we have, who have started their own business; but there was a problem of finding a trainer.

A trainer had to personally give two hours to each woman; which was a huge challenge for us. Then we thought that we will start a centre now; because it is very difficult to teach by going door to door. Then we recently opened a centre in Sheroes Cafe. Where women who have suffered from acid attacks can learn work and start their own business and if these people learn their work well, then in a month we will be in the market with our products.

What is your opinion about trolling on social media?

You must have seen my Instagram, you will definitely find a comment that look she is showing off, everything is for show, she is doing good and posting it on social media or she is doing all this for followers. So my belief about all this is that when I started this work at the age of 16, there was no Instagram reel. All these things did not matter to me then and neither do they matter today. My only motive is that there should be a positive change in the society. Rest you can keep commenting, it does not matter to me, if someone wants to waste his energy, then keep doing it, it does not matter to me because if you will keep saying, I will keep working.

Meet Manicka

I created The Social Work Success Path blog and podcast, during the pandemic of 2021 to provide online education and mentorship for Social Workers. I felt very isolated and disconnected being only in the second year of running my private practice. I strongly considered going back to work when everything shut down. The resources and tools that I share helped me to maintain my practice through the pandemic and plan a successful transition as a Social Work content creator, doing work that I love and connecting with Social Workers all around the world. I did this in the span of 1 year, but using the resources, trainings and tools that I have pulled together, and all my all lessons learned, you can make your career transition much sooner than I did!

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