A festival of a different kind

"How was the week-end?" I was faced with the routine start-of-the-week question. "Pretty good! My wife and I went to MG road on Sunday", I replied. "Cool, I hope you had fun shopping", the colleague responded. Surprisingly, it was true; but few would have guessed that we shopped at Namma Jathre – an exhibition cum fair organised by groups (mostly) working on community development, held in Cubbon Park’s Bal Bhavan on 30 December.

For those unfamiliar with the local language (like me), Namma Jathre translates to English as "Our Festival". Namma Jathre was started under the theme of ‘Festival of Freedom’ in 2006 with the idea of bringing in the common citizen, and introducing them to human rights and development issues in a ‘fun’ way.

The promoters’ catch line for Namma Jathre is "Pesticide free, Plastic free, Logo free also Agenda free, Conference free, Seminar free, Speech free, but with Free entrance Free participation Free software Free films…and lots and lots of fun and sharing." The activities centre around song, dance, cartoons, exhibitions, food, community products and fair trade.

Karaga at Namma Jatre

School students performing the Karaga at Namma Jatre (pic: Meera K)

I came to know about this festival through a couple of friends connected with the NGO sector. Why was I, a software engineer, interested in NGO activities? The simplest explanation is that I relate to NGOs because their motive is to help reverse injustice and inequity. So, I was not going to miss this opportunity to catch a bird’s eye view of NGO-undertaken activities and to offer a bit of support if something comes up. My wife was even more enthusiastic.

This year, the 20-plus participants included NGOs like Visthar, Stree Jagrithi Samithi, Association for India Development (AID), HRLN, Sichrem, HIV+ Network, Sangama, Samarthanam, Kilikili, The Hunger Project, and Open Space. This was a bit disappointing, given that over 30 organisations were expected. But you couldn’t find fault with the quality of the experience.

One of the interesting ventures we came across was Openspace. They work on a refreshingly attractive punch-line: All good things in the world are free. The "good thing" they provided free at NJ was books! No, it’s not what you think; you can’t name any book of your choice and expect to own it free of cost! The way it works is that you borrow a book from their collection for no cost, read it once and then, pass it on to someone. That someone is expected to repeat the same process.

Namma Angadi

An activist from Namma Angadi (Our Shop), arranging products (cloths, earrings, key chains, baskets, mobile covers and so on) made by rural artisans and ex-child workers (pic: Pulkit Parikh)

They were some organisations working on women’s empowerment. For e.g., Stree Jagruti Samiti (SJS), headed by Geeta, works on making women self reliant and on eradicating child labour, as well. Some of the groups empower women through SHG (Self Help Groups). There were products made by their women SHG members for sale at the Jathre.

Assisting disabled people was the focus of some of the organisations including Samarthanam Trust and Kilikili. Candles, stationeries (built from hand-made paper), etc. made by some of the visually impaired people of Samarthanam were available for purchase. Kilikili folks create public play spaces which can be used even by disabled children. A successful implementation of this is done at Coles Park, a public park in East Bangalore.

Kilikili at Namma Jatre

Children trying out their hands at molding clay at the Kilikili stall, at Namma Jatre (pic: Meera K)

Namma Angadi, working hand-in-hand with CWC (Concerned for Working Children), markets products made by rural artisans and ex-child workers. We also visited a stall by Arunodaya, an NGO working with HIV+AIDS-affected people. Like others, this NGO too was selling items (made by its members), in order to sustain itself.

The local chapter of AID (Association for India’s Development) had put up a stall for science experiments; they demonstrated simple science concepts using everyday objects.

One of the popular organisations at the Jathre was iQuest, which provides trainings for adventure sports. Though it was not directly connected to the theme of social welfare or human rights, children got a rare chance to try out some cool adventure sports kits. The iQuest guys also offer some of these trainings free of cost for (some) schools.

Although most, if not all, of the above organizations accept and get donations, the money obtained through charity is sometimes inadequate and/or unpredictable. The same can be said about funds raised through charity events – music concerts, plays and the like. This is what prompts many NGOs to look for additional ways of generating sustained, recurring income. Selling products made by the community you work for is an excellent way of accomplishing this, provided that you market well.

Wondering what we bought at the Jathre? A kurta, candles, file folder, and more. I am not proud to reveal that some of these were bought from borrowed money. Not that I am a compulsive shopper. I went to the extent of borrowing simply because I strongly believe in assisting NGOs, whichever way I can.

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