Lighthouse full of hope

She comes from a family that is known for its philanthropic work. And quite like her father, producer and investor, Ronnie Screwvala, Trishya Screwvala too wants to do her bit for society. But for the young documentary filmmaker, social work doesn’t stop at the individual.

Started with the aim of making social involvement and volunteering a culture, Trishya’s NGO Lighthouse has already pulled more than 100 volunteers to its cause and is now slowly inching towards 250 members. A mentor- mentee programme which bridges youth from urban colleges and corporates with school-children from under privileged backgrounds, what makes Lighthouse unique, says Trishya is it’s two way focus which is intended to enrich both the mentee and the mentor.

About the conception and the journey of coming up with Lighthouse, Trishya, who started out as a documentary filmmaker says, “A few years ago, I would’ve never thought that I we would be doing something in the social work circle. In the past, a number of my documentaries have revolved around social issues surrounding underprivileged children, but I always enjoyed the research and the work behind making a documentary more. And indeed, it was in making a documentary that the idea of Lighthouse actually came to me.”

In a country where the volunteering scene may not be as vibrant as in the West or other developed countries, an NGO that heavily banks on volunteers may seem like a bad idea. But this is precisely what Lighthouse aims to change, says Trishya. “The idea is not just to make volunteering much easier than what it is perceived to be, but making it more cool and fun. When I was doing my research in 2012 for a documentary on the children in Dharavi and Kamathipura in Mumbai, I worked together with a lot of NGOs. And while the NGOs are doing great work in their own spheres, they were not focusing on volunteers. There are so many of us, who are looking for avenues to help in the upliftment of society outside of our individual spheres and are willing to expend time and energy necessary but cannot because of constraints. We wanted to create a platform where the effort required is limited at the start but slowly grows as the relationship between the volunteers and the cause grows. That’s when they start expending more effort of their own volition.”

While mentoring children may at the outset seem as if it necessitates a certain skillset in the volunteers, Trishya says, “What we are trying to do is much more simpler. We don’t want the volunteers to teach the children in the same way they learn in school, but just want them to be exposed to youngsters who have the privilege of a better quality of education. The learning is therefore not conscious. They take whatever they can from the volunteers and vice versa. It can be something as simple as English or soft skills, but generally, it serves to teach them how to tackle urban education and the employment landscape.”

“What we have seen is that most children do not progress beyond say tenth grade because they are afraid of the challenges of employment which their education has not equipped them for and as a result they find it hard to navigate through it. By interacting with members from the organised job sector, they can pick up a lot of skills that are not academic but at the same time, extremely important to survive in the current landscape such as self-esteem, critical thinking, presentation skills and much more.”

Telling us about why she chose to focus on volunteering, Trishya says, “When I was starting out, I too like many out there wanted to volunteer for a cause. However, I was not able to find appealing options that appealed, while at the same time were flexible and tailored to my constraints. We can foster volunteering on a long term only if we make it flexible. Often times, the volunteers invest a lot of time and effort in the initial weeks but soon run out of interest. What we need to understand is that the children don’t always greet you with the same big smile. But with enough time, if we manage to keep the volunteers interested, they will form a bond with the kids and it will become something they love doing.”

Documentaries may be Trishya’s first love, but it seems that with Lighthouse, she has found her calling. “I want to change the landscape in volunteering. And the change is already evident and is slowly but surely resonating with our society, especially our youngsters. While volunteering may not yet be as popular as elsewhere, I firmly believe that if there are platforms, there will be takers.”

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