What can one person, sitting in their own home, do for society at large? This was the question that Smita used to keep asking herself.
Eight years ago, Smita Chelamchela, her husband Anil, and their children moved back to India for good, leaving behind their lucrative IT jobs in the US. “Many people wondered why we returned in the first place and how we would adjust. But both my husband and I knew that India is where we felt at home. Here is where we wanted to return and make a difference.” After returning, the family settled in Mumbai. Since the children were small, she decided to stay at home to take care of them. While she spent most of the time taking care of the household, she also had pockets on time where she would wonder what she could do to help her community and her country. “I thought to myself, I have education, resources, money, friends, as well as time. I am sitting at home, while there are people out there who can’t even afford two meals a day.”
From the time she was a young girl, Smita always had an inclination towards social work. As a child, she would gather the street children in her community and teach them. Many years later, that inclination was still there and Smita decided to take up her passion with gusto. “The word NGO had this negative connotation to it. Over the years, people had lost trust in the institution because there was no transparency and a lot of NGOs were badly managed.” Keeping in mind this context but wanted to do something for the needy, Smita started a small WhatsApp group called Joy Of Serving Humanity (JOSH). It was a group for children and likeminded school mothers who wanted to contribute to a good cause. As a group they would identify a cause that they felt passionate about and arrange for materials, money or volunteers to reach there. When Smita moved to Pune a few years later, she took the initiative with her and enlisted some school moms there as well. Soon, word of mouth grew and more people outside the known circle, both in India and abroad, began to join.
As the group grew, there was a need to take their cause wider. Smita and Anil Chelamchela, along with group member Satyam Saxena discussed the idea of creating a website where they could reach contributors across India and match them with organisations that were working in various fields, right from education to disaster relief. Much in the same way that they had raised funds for causes in the past, the group sent a request to their members to contribute to the JOSH Fund for what is now the JOSHConnect website. “At that time there was no in-kind donation non-profit website in India. The idea was to create a website which would give the same experience as an e-commerce website but for good causes,” she explains. The website, www.joshconnect.org, was finally registered In September 2018. Since then it is being run by the trustees purely on a volunteering basis, with no employees. During the incubation period, most of the operating expenses were taken care of by the founders themselves so that most of the donors' hard earned money goes to beneficiaries directly in kind. On-ground projects are supported through volunteers from the Josh group on Whatsapp. “Our mission it to reach more people around the country. When people donate through our website, they get the satisfaction that the money is going to the right people. We share the invoices with the donors. They can also track their donation status online like any other ecommerce site,” says Smita.
During the pandemic, close to 12 lakhs worth of groceries were distributed through the JOSHConnect site. The website also extended support during the floods in Assam, Bihar, and West Bengal earlier this year. The JOSHConnect has also worked extensively in parts of rural Maharashtra and villages near Mumbai and Pune. Last year, they supplied waterwheels in drought affected areas. They also distributed Neelkamal roll-drums, so that women do not have to carry the water on their heads. For farmers, they gave safety kits when using pesticides. They partnered with NGO Shivprabha Charitable Trust for the same. Similarly, in Satdharwadi Village in Latur, Maharashtra, they distributed solar lamps to 400 families, in association with ShopDilSe. Members from the group drove down to personally hand over these lamps. Grocery, toys and education related projects continue on a daily basis on the website.
Smita seems to have found the answer to her question on how to contribute to the larger society and she encourages others to do the same. “Follow your dreams. If by using your core skills you can get personal success and help your community at the same time, then nothing like it. We all need to march together, to help our country,” she says.
Giving Circle is championing people, like Smita Chelamchela, who have taken a step towards helping her fellow citizens. Join the cause and let us spread the word so we can all feel the JOSH!