Among people who do social work there is sometimes a stigma associated with publicizing the work you are doing. It is seen as boasting or having a lack of humility. But in this day and age, speaking about your cause or marketing it means that it can reach thousands of people not only in your own city or country but around the world. The buzz that it generates may get your organization more support, funds and volunteers than before. This is a story of how one man’s use of social media helped his non-profit organization by leaps and bounds.
Every day for the last six years, Shashikant Shah’s schedule has been the same. It begins with waking up at 5.30 am, then going for his morning walk with his friends, after which he returns home, gets ready for work and heads out at 7.15. On his way, he first stops at the Khichdi Ghar which is located opposite the Wadia Maternity Hospital Gate No.2. He and the other volunteers join hands in prayers and begin preparing breakfast for 700 patients and their families at the Tata Memorial Hospital and other hospitals in the area. Shah is part of the Sri Vardhman Jagruti Yuvak Mandal Parel, a non-profit organisation which has been serving cancer patients and their kin for the last 34 years. Bansi Bhai, Viru Bhai, Hemant Bhai and Shahikant Shah are the pillars of this organisation.
Every day is a different Jain breakfast and is served with fruit which is sponsored by donors. Only the best quality ingredients are used to make the food. Distribution of the meals begins at 7.30 am sharp. Tokens are handed out and the care-takers of the patients and sometimes the patients themselves line up. Within an hour the distribution is done and from here Shahikant Shah heads off to the office to begin his work-day. Shah is the owner of Scholar, a stationary and office supplies company that was established in 1958 and has become a household name in India.
Apart from distributing meals on a daily basis, the organisation also helps with treatment expenses. “There is no paper work needed in order to get the donation for treatment. All we ask for is the patient’s file, their hospital ID and the cost. Depending on the need of the patient, we distribute the funds directly into their account. Every month, 200-250 patients benefit in this manner.” Treatment for cancer is long and arduous and the Mandal tries to make the lives of the patient and their families as comfortable as possible during this time. The organisation also sponsors Rs 25,000 worth of medicines every month at the Tata Memorial Hospital. During the monsoons, they supply raincoats and tarpaulin and in the winter, they distribute blankets. All of this is made possible through cash donations from individuals—something that was a struggle to arrange until recently.
Shah, who is an avid photographer, would daily make videos of the distribution drives. “I enjoy photography so I used to take photos and videos to share it with the donors on Whatsapp,” says Shah. “Soon, I started using more professional software to make the videos with sound and subtitles.” Unfortunately, the videos would reach only a minimal audience and this disappointed Shah. “I used to wonder, how can I make sure that this video inspires people to help out our organisation?” That was when the idea of putting his own photograph, name and number came to him. “I started putting my details at the end of the video so people who were interested could contact me. More importantly, I wanted to show people the authenticity of what we were doing.”
On Jan 20, 2020, one of the videos that Shah made went viral. All of a sudden, Shah was bombarded with messages from people all over the world. “We received 300 calls in one day!” exclaims Shah, who had never seen this kind of interest or traction before. Thanks to the video, the buzz only grew and grew. This went on for a month. “People wanted more information, photographs, videos, bank details about the organisation. They wanted to know where to donate, what to do next. It was a 24 hour job just getting back to all the queries.” The result of this was that the Sri Vardhman Jagruti Yuvak Mandal started to get very big donations. What used to be a donation of anything between Rs 2000 to Rs 50,000 a month overnight became Rs 10 lakhs. “It was an overwhelming reaction we received,” says Shah. “We can now distribute up to 25,000 per patient if the need arises. We no longer have to go door to door to get the funds.”
Since the lockdown due to Covid-19, and the subsequent restrictions on hospitals, the organisation’s efforts have been significantly reduced. While distribution of food is not possible, they continue to help patients with treatment costs.
Shah, of his own accord, also helps a lot of individual cases in KEM, Wadia and Tata Hospitals. He is associated with the Tarun Mitra Mandal which provides daily breakfast to caretakers at the Wadia Children’s Hospital, the Wadia Maternity Hospital and the Nair Hospital. Besides this, he works with Shri Aadi Jin Yuvak Charittable Trust through whom he has given over 5000 ration kits within and outside Mumbai. He describes social work as something that has brought joy to every aspect of his life. “When you keep fragrant flowers in your home, the perfume spreads and gives you a wonderful feeling. Doing social work has similarly made my life bloom. Jaagne ka time jab hota hai tab hota hai (The divine timing for awakening to social causes comes by itself),” he says.
Shah’s wish is to further bolster the online presence of the Sri Vardhman Jagruti Yuvak Mandal so that more people around the world can be reached and recruited for this wonderful cause.
This story illustrates better than anything else, the power of social media. It encourages us to speak more about our causes so that more people can join in through volunteering and fund raising. We, at Giving Circle, encourage you to use our platform to reach like-minded people and organisations so that you can take one step further towards your goals.
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