His ability to see what’s around him, without fiction or filters, makes him beyond inspirational. His struggle to survive has helped him to reflect what matters and what doesn’t and now through his work, this 41-year old activist is breaking stereotypes and forging a new path for others to follow. He believes from the core of his heart that “to do something for the society, you don’t need to be a part of any NGOs, you are an NGO yourself.”
In a free-flowing conversation, the founder of Drishti Foundation Trust, Dinesh Kumar Gautam shares his first-hand experience of living in poverty and what drove him to leave behind his journalistic career, and work for the upliftment of the underprivileged, adopt Sabarmati river and make barren lands green.
Few memories are instilled in our hearts forever. Living in poverty with his family since childhood and struggling to survive every day was one such memory that never faded away from Dinesh. Born in Gubhana Village of Jhajjar district of Haryana, due to financial conditions he was forced to move to Najafgarh area in Delhi.
Juggling between reporting and running a school
After finishing his diploma in journalism from National Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi, Dinesh got a job in a Hindi newspaper, opting for rural journalism, his job demanded traveling to the Alwar and Mewat regions of Rajasthan. It was then in 1998 when he decided to start a free middle school in the state and giving children the education they deserved.
People in that area referred to him as ‘Delhiwalla’ so he named the school- New Delhi Education Society so that villagers can easily associate it with him. 187 children got enrolled in that school but even though there was help from the volunteers and Dinesh was putting his own salary to arrange the necessary to run a school, it didn’t survive in the long run and he had to shut it down in 2003.
A few years later, Dinesh left his job as a journalist and shifted with his family to Ahmedabad in 2011, and joined corporate sector to cope up with family responsibilities but the enthusiasm and passion to work for the needy didn’t fade away.
While his wife stands with him and supports him for the work he does for the society, his son and daughter also volunteer to bring a positive shift in the society.
Bridging the education gap
Through Drishti Foundation Trust, an NGO working for the empowerment of women and children since 2012, Dinesh is providing the kids with vocational training after 10th and 12th so that they can come out of poverty and live a normal life.
“Haryana has a huge gender gap and by naming the foundation after my daughter, I wanted to show that there is no difference between a girl and a boy,” says Dinesh.
Currently, the NGO is working in the Khandsa area in Gurgaon and is standing strong without any government help.
“We do not focus on primary education, but we do focus on corporate training programs so that they are updated when they are looking for a job, they can easily get one. Teaming up with Larson and Turbo residential program has been life changing for these children and many of them get absorbed in the company when the training is completed. Further, we have taken about 60 students to Snapdeal headquarters just to give them a glimpse of the corporate life and their working methods,” he recounts.
Adopting the Sabarmati river
Dinesh strongly feels that as humans, we are not doing justice to what nature is offering to us and therefore in 2017, he adopted Sabarmati river in Ahmedabad and initiated a cleanliness drive in October 2018. More than 1000 volunteers have extended their support now and over 6 tons of garbage has been removed from the river.
“Every day, I work from 10 am to 5 pm with the volunteers to make the environment safe and sensitize people regarding waste disposal. Even my 10-year-old daughter joins me in this work,” he says.
“We focus on the upstream area of Sabarmati river (an area between twin cities- Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad) and have adopted that 5 km patch. The waste that flows doesn’t make it to the riverfront and gets stuck in between.We removed Six tons of garbage from the river in Four months.”
Apart from the authorities of the local municipal corporation, district authorities of Gujarat are also helping him to run his initiative smoothly. “While collecting the garbage, we segregate the dry and wet waste so that it can be easily collected by the local municipal corporation.”
This year during Diwali, Dinesh also organized bike rallies, workshops to sensitize people on environmental issues.
Dentistry is not expensive, neglect is. “I have always believed that prevention is better than care. Why spend money on expensive medicines, when you can become aware of the diseases and protect yourself in the first place?” asks Dinesh.
He has teamed up with Haryana Government and has established dental and health care units for poor people. “Excess fluoride content in water affects the dental growth in children and bones. Also, food habits are partially responsible for this. The condition of teeth get worse with age and therefore we have camps which provide free dental check-ups and treatments to the poor.”
Further, based on immediate requirements, we also initiate programs and try to help poor people. Mobishala was one such campaign that aimed to teach needy people about the use of technology during demonetization. “We went to industries, communicated with the labors and gave them phones along with sim cards so that they can access bank accounts online.”
In Hyderabad, they planted 17000 trees in a barren field near Maulana Azad National Urdu University and Hayderabad Central University and in 5 years they have planted Two lakh trees across India. He says, “We don’t abandon the plants after planting them, if the plant dies, we replace them as well.”
Currently, he is working across 7 states – Delhi NCR, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Sikkim, Telangana and Kerala for the upliftment of women and children from the disadvantaged background of the society and is also making the earth safer and greener by planting trees.
Till date, Dinesh has worked with more than 15,000 children and wishes to work with more to secure their future and give them a dignified life. “Many are fortunate to have memories of being loved or taken care of, but there are some who need our help to move forward and live a better life,” he says.
To the youths of our country, Dinesh has a very important message to share. He says, “We have time for our family and friends, why not society? We should at least devote 1 hour every day and do something good for the society as a part of our social responsibility if we expect to see change.”