Software Engineer Spends 70% Of Her Salary On Making Ongole & Hyderabad Cleaner

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Once upon a time, like all other cities, Ongole in Andhra Pradesh earned the bad reputation mainly for its pollution. The apathy among citizens and indifference of authorities persisted, until 2015, when a young woman decided to take the onus of ‘doing something’ about the issue.

The deplorable state of her beloved hometown deeply unsettled Tejaswi Podapati, a software engineer by profession. Around 4 years ago, she expressed to her parents her wish to start a solo cleaning drive. One of her main agendas was to render Ongole free of posters and flyers, nailed or pasted haphazardly on walls or tree trunks. Walls, stripped of their original coat of paint and covered with patches of torn posters used to be an eyesore for onlookers.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

“Cleaning Streets With A Broom? Find A Suitable Groom Instead.”

“At first, my family was strongly opposed to my idea. My mother was worried about what society will say if her daughter started cleaning streets. She was rather keen on finding me a suitable groom instead. Thankfully, I received my father’s unwavering support and I started the work,” shares Tejaswi.

Fast forward to present, Tejaswi is the founder of Bhoomi Foundation – a non-profit organisation dedicated to cleaning and beautifying the cities of Ongole and Hyderabad, one spot fix weekend at a time. As a social crusader who contributes 70% of her salary towards her selfless endeavours, Tejaswi’s journey has been a series of hurdles, each one harder than the other. Today, Efforts For Good does not present the story of her success, but the story of her struggles; the story of the sweat and tears behind the impact she has made.

Travelling 300 Km Every Weekend For Cleaning Ongole

After Tejaswi secured a job in Hyderabad, she used to travel back 300 km every weekend to Ongole, to carry on with her cleaning drives. “I thought I was doing a good job, performing my duties as a conscious citizen. I hoped everything would be perfect with Bhoomi. But, corruption at every level of governance proved to be a huge hindrance for us,” shares Tejaswi.

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During the registration process for Bhoomi, the paperwork needed at most 5-6 days. But, the registration office took around three months to complete it. “But, I stood my ground. Let it be slow, but I wouldn’t bribe or cave into corruption,” she expresses with integrity.

Bhoomi Volunteers at work in Ongole

Resistance From The Citizens

Not all the resistance came from the government’s side. When citizens would see Tejaswi and her team cleaning up litter in front of a park entrance or paint murals on a wall after removing all posters, they would dub it as ‘useless’.

“For a certain period, it wouldn’t take long for trash to pile up at a place once after we had cleaned it. We held onto our Gandhian principles and carried on cleaning the same spot again and again until the littering stopped,” Tejaswi says with a smile.

When word spread about Bhoomi Foundation’s work, the municipal authorities and local politicians did not take it in a good heart. Citizens were hailing the work of a few youngsters and reflecting on the incompetence of the government. Obviously, this angered the lawmakers.

Battling Wrath Of The Lawmakers

In a bid to counter Bhoomi’s progress, the corporation workers were instructed to whitewash the walls where they had painted murals and frescoes. Once the walls were painted white, posters started appearing again.

Tejaswi and her spirited team of volunteers approached the officials to ask why they are trying to thwart Bhoomi Foundation’s efforts. The answer she got was – “You started a good work. We are only trying to make it better.”

Though Tejaswi was gravely disheartened at the government’s apathy, she continued her work relentlessly.

Dealing With Drunken Menace

Once the fruit of Tejaswi and her team’s efforts started showing in the streets of Ongole, she decided to take the beautification a notch higher. She was inspired by the decor at the popular Shilparamam Park in Hyderabad.

For a few weeks before Diwali, Tejaswi purchased and single-handedly transported huge, embellished flower pots from the capital city to her hometown. Seasonal flowers and ornamental plants were maintained in those pots, which now adorned both sides of the busiest road in Ongole.

“The flower pots offered a visual delight to every passer-by. That was until I received shocking news on the very morning of New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Eve, a group of drunk hooligans had completely destroyed nearly half of the pots, leaving the road in a filthy mess,” recalls Tejaswi. The incident was devastating for her, but she stood her ground, as she had done many times before. Shortly afterwards, she expanded her operations to Hyderabad.

Still Trying Her Best

Tejaswi believes none of her work would have been successful without the backing of her incredibly enthusiastic and socially conscious team of volunteers. “Most of them are young students. collegegoers or freshers at work. They face a lot of resistance from their families to dedicate so much time and effort towards cleaning streets and painting walls. But, I am inspired to see that nothing can subdue their zeal even a little bit,” shares a proud Tejaswi.

“I am still trying to do as much as possible, battling challenges at every step. I wish to work with farmers and rural communities in the future,” she shares. As of now, she wants Hyderabad to regain their former glory of being one of the most attractive tourist destinations in India.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles

It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.

The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.

In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.

“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.

On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.

“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.

After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.

Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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