Swabhimaan (meaning self respect), an NGO was founded by Venkatraman Iyer and his wife Vijaya Iyer in 2001 as a means of supporting poor single mothers. Their activities gradually expanded to include a range of services, including education, healthcare, microfinance, and food distribution. Venkatraman has been working for the past 20 years to uplift the lives of poor residing in the slums of Rajendranagara, LR Nagar, and Neelsandra neighbourhoods which together form the largest slum of Bangalore.
Venkat gets a lot of his energy from witnessing people overcome unbelievable odds to make successful lives for themselves and their families. Venkat spends most of his time in the community coordinating the various programs or raising funds to support the programs.
"It has reached a point, where I believe that this is my extended family. Their pains and miseries are mine. I now cannot think of living away from the community ", says Venkatraman.
From health and education to employment and food, he supports almost every need of the slum dwellers. He has become one among them – he knows their families, their needs and is a spokesperson for them. If you take a walk in this slum, some person or the other on every street will have a story to tell about how Venkatraman helped him or her.
Swabhimaan helps parents meet the challenge of providing quality education to their children by extending financial aid to the best students. To best utilize the limited resources, Swabhimaan conducts diagnostic tests in English, science, math and civics just before the start of each school year. Close to 1000 students turn up for these, of which the top 100-150 students are supported in the form of tuition reimbursement. Swabhimaan also employs and trains some full-time teachers at some of the private schools inside the slum.
Swabhimaan over the years has provided a livelihood to several women and disabled in the community. “When a women earns, a family benefits. The children get better food and go to schools”, says Venkat. Swabhimaan runs a microfinance initiative to support small business in the community and also runs a cloth bag making unit and a paper bags making unit inside the community. All the profits earned by these units are shared between the women and disabled working in these units.
For the past 5 year or so, Venkatraman has also been collecting leftover food after lunch from corporate companies and distributing it the same day in these slums. "With just 2 corporates on board, we are able to feed 500 people each day.”, says Venkat.
However, when Covid-19 hit India and lockdown was implemented, the community fell into a severe crisis as most of the people in the these slums are daily wage laborers. The corporate companies, from where Venkat used to get the food for distribution in the slums, were closed. Venkat approached all his contacts to raise funds to be able to serve the community in these difficult times. For two months, till the end of May, Venkatraman and his NGO Swabhimaan were distributing 10,000 free meals every single day in the slums. However, now Venkatraman has exhausted all his funds and he is only able to provide groceries to 100-200 families every day. The government has provided free rice to the poor. Hence Swabhimaan has started making sambar for 500 people because the poor in the slum do not even have the money to buy vegetables to make sambar.
"Most of the daily wagers in the community haven’t earned anything in the last 3 months. Without help, the daily wagers cannot go back to leading normal lives as before. I need your support to provide the first installment fees for 500 children in the slums whose parents cannot pay the money to continue their education. I will ensure that none of the children in my community is deprived of education due to the financial crisis faced by their daily wager parents. Your contributions will be used to provide groceries to 2500 families for the months of June and July. No one in the community goes to bed hungry in these difficult times."