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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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

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

Goonj Is Working With 1000’s Of Volunteers & Partner NGOs To Provide Covid-19 Relief In 18 States

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With the extension of the lockdown the crisis of migrant labourers and daily wagers has just grown bigger due to uncertainty and fear of future. In the migrant colonies, slums and for people in the villages hunger and desperation is building up day by day. This is high time we step up our efforts to support our people who are in dire need of food and hygiene essentials to survive the pandemic, Covid-19.

After the India-wide lockdown, a lot of jobless migrant workers are stuck in cities with hardly any resources while many started retreating back to their villages. With the loss of livelihoods, a large number of them are now struggling to support their families.

Goonj activated its pan India teams and a pan India network of partner organizations and volunteers in urban and rural India. This network, built over the last two decades, helps them learn from the ground, reach material quickly and review and adapt strategy periodically. Intensifying this network has helped Goonj reach and start work across 17produced states/UT in the last three weeks.
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2,00,000 meals served
Emergency funds sent to 350 families

Goonj’s focus: 

Majority of the Covid-19 relief work by non profits right now is in the metros and cities but Goonj is the only non profit that is also simultaneously focusing on the people in the villages and the ones stuck on highways or somewhere.

Goonj is targeting daily wagers, migrants and other vulnerable groups, who even traditionally are left out like the disabled, sex workers, LGBTQ community.

“COVID-19 is a crisis, yes…But, it’s also an opportunity for us to build the society anew. Not ‘for’ the people…but, ‘with’ the people. And in the process, we will build ourselves too.” – Anshu Gupta, Founder-Director, Goonj.

Direct Monetary and Material Transfer

Wherever Goonj got the permission to open their centres for packing and disbursement of relief material kits, they are creating a kit consisting of 20-30 kgs material including dry rations, masks, sanitary pads and other hygiene material and reaching them to people, as per needs and as per regulations with all safety precautions. This kit will help a family survive for 30 days.

Information till 10th April 2020:

  • Distributed 15,100 ration kits reaching thousands of people
  • Reached 17,700 families
  • Supporting 12 community kitchen across India with 16,600kgs of ration
  • 77,800 food packets provided to migrant laborers and daily wagers walking on the roads across the country.
  • Provided direct financial support to 32 organisations
  • Made 42,800 cloth face masks
  • 24,900 cloth sanitary napkins produced
  • Produced 1500 litres of organic sanitiser

In Goonj’s processing centers its trained team of women are making cloth face masks and cloth sanitary pads (MY-Pads), keeping all the precautions and with the permission and cooperation of the local authorities.

In this lock-down phase if you are facing any difficulty getting sanitary pads or you are running out of stock, here’s a detailed but very simple process of making Cloth Pads at home created by Goonj. “This is how we make Goonj MY Pads.” This is how our mothers and grandmothers turned their spare cloth into pads.

This disaster, unlike any other, is unprecedented in its scale and impact and that’s why we all must do our bit with Goonj to continue its relief work for millions of people in this still unfolding long-tailed disaster.

The need is huge.. We are there.. Need You too !!

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