Bakul Foundation is a movement for volunteerism in India starting with the state of Odisha. It is an attempt to inspire people to volunteer by demonstrating the power of volunteerism, and to provide a platform for people to volunteer.
The main provocation for Bakul has been the cynicism in many people that change is not possible, and that they cannot bring about any change with their small individual contributions. They had this cynicism because they could only contribute in small ways and could not see how their small contributions could bring about any change. Hence, the attempt of Bakul is to demonstrate the power of these small contributions, and encourage more and more people to "Be the change they wish to see" as Gandhi put it.
Changing this attitudinal mindset of cynicism and encouraging and inspiring individuals to volunteer then is the fundamental goal of Bakul, and this can happen only through a movement. There are some hurdles, however. The public perception of NGOs was very poor and many thought that NGOs were out to make money. There was also the trap that people thought change can happen only when someone gave lakhs of rupees and they did not try to bring about any small change that was possible with their small contributions.
Hence, since the beginning in 2007, Bakul has been working so far entirely with small individual contributions and the energy, time and ideas of volunteers without any institutional funding, demonstrating the power of volunteerism. It has been harnessing volunteerism of individuals in the fields of Education, Environment and the Arts apart from promotion of Volunteerism in itself.
In Education, Bakul is focusing on the Promotion of Reading. Bakul started with an online campaign to mobilize 1000 people to donate books to set up the Bakul Children's Library in Bhubaneswar. This library set up without any funding or user surcharge, is however, widely regarded by experts as one of the best in the country. The story of the library has been an international case study and has inspired libraries being set up similarly across India. Bakul is now directly setting up libraries in rural areas of Odisha.
After setting up the first library, which has developed into a Resource Centre for children's books, Bakul is now getting into publishing of picture books in the local language. Another initiative is BLISS- Bakul Learning Initiative for School Students, in which about 100 volunteers go to Schools in the slums for 2 hours a week and help children read in English through fun methods.
Bakul has become a key organization in Odisha promoting models of how Learning (Reading in particular) can be Fun, and has given technical expertise on demand to the School and Mass Education Department and the Tribal Education Department of the Govt of Odisha and UNICEF. Bakul is a Member of the Reading Cell constituted by the Govt of Odisha to promote reading in the state.
Bakul started with Environmental Education by organizing Environmental Film Festivals and workshops for children in schools. In 2009, it decided to have a focus on Climate Change and started the My Tree Campaign, continuing so far. The campaign is, as the name suggests, an attempt to create an emotional connect between individuals and trees. It has the ambitious objective of promoting plantation and gifting of trees as a cultural practice, which means it becomes a part of the everyday lives of people and is not just an activity or an event.
The My Tree Campaign has involved actual tree plantation in Bhubaneswar in schools, colleges and along the roadside, but the focus has been on promoting the cultural practice of gifting saplings on birthdays, weddings, child birth etc, virtually any excuse to give a gift. This is being promoted through an innovative campaign, which involves actual gifting of saplings on any such occasions by the volunteers, celebration of fake birthdays etc. to promote practice of gifting saplings, through the public visits of a Fictional Character of Dedi Loku (Tree Man in the Kui language), Tree for Free initiatives to distribute trees through roadshows on Bullock Carts, and of course through more traditional methods like use of Mass Media and Educational Workshops in Schools and Colleges. In partnership with UNDP, UNV and CYSD, Bakul also launched the Green Orissa Campaign.
Bakul has played an important role in Arts Education and Public Art in the state of Odisha with the belief that . It established the First Public Children's Art Wall in Bhubaneswar, which inspired the Govt., which started painting all the public Walls of the City. Bakul also mobilized more than 500 people including eminent artists of the country, local artists, students, tourists, rag pickers etc. to set up a Wall of Contemporary Art, which was a celebration of both Art and Peace, established in the wake of the ethnic/religious violence in Kandhamal 2-3 years back. This was part of the Bakul Art Fest, in which 36 eminent artists of the country participated in an Art Exhibition in an attempt to take the Best of Contemporary Art from metropolitan areas to non-metropolitan areas. It was an attempt at a new Viewership, and had around 1500 first time viewers view and engage with it, in addition to regular viewers.
There has also been an interesting Public Art Project, which involved taking Art out from closed elite spaces to more public places like the roadside Cha shop, to get the audience there to engage with the Art subsequently leading to a dialogue.
Apart from the fact that every activity and programme of Bakul has demonstrated the power of volunteerism, Bakul organizes certain activities primarily to promote volunteerism. It has been leading the Joy of Giving Week in Odisha, and organized a collection drive of Books, Clothes and Toys in partnership with Goonj at over 100 Collection Centres with the support of TV, Radio and Newspapers. Bakul organized the first Volunteer Fair in Odisha in 2008 in partnership with VSO and later in partnership with UNDP, UNV and CYSD. The attempt was to encourage NGOs to provide opportunities for volunteers and to encourage individuals to volunteer, and to provide a platform for the mapping to occur.
Bakul was selected to represent India on Volunteerism in a program organized by the US Dept of State, which included 100 other people from 100 different countries. The Program Participants formed Volinteer, an international Volunteering Organization, which has come together for the first time to create and celebrate the International Day of Service.
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