Meraki, a Bengaluru-based not-for-profit, is bringing together creative, artistic and passionate individuals who want to use their skills to bring about social development.
Sailaja Dayanand always wanted to start an NGO since the time she was in college. Born and brought up in Hyderabad, she volunteered with two NGOs there and helped with website development and social media marketing. After moving to Bengaluru in 2012, her intent and will to start an NGO only grew stronger.
Speaking of how her dream came alive, Sailaja says, “Two years ago, I created a group of volunteers at work and organised activities that led me to meet others in the social sector. After years of talking about it and planning, I was finally able to begin activities last year.”
Sailaja founded Meraki NGO BLR in February 2017 with the purpose of bringing a talented group of individuals together to help build a better tomorrow for children, who otherwise do not get an opportunity to showcase or pursue their talents, or hone their skills.
“Meraki is a Greek word that means 'to do something with soul, creativity, or love; when you leave a piece of yourself in your work'. I chose this as the name as this is something I’ve been following throughout life so far. I wanted to create a not-for-profit platform that brought together creative, artistic, and passionate individuals who want to use their skills to bring about social development,” says Sailaja.
The self-funded organisation is using the medium of arts, music, sports and education to help disadvantaged kids find their niche. Through several projects that cater to different sections and age groups in the society, Meraki is also working towards helping people explore their talents by giving them a platform to express themselves while teaching and inspiring kids and people simultaneously.
With a clear aim to provide all-round development to kids, Meraki teaches rescued children who go to government schools. The organisation mainly engages with children who are under the care of Need Base India, a non-profit organisation that works towards addressing the basic and fundamental rights of childcare, protection, health and education for children living on streets, runaway children, orphans, and children living under challenging situations.
“Our volunteers teach English, arts, crafts, singing, dance, acting and football to these kids. We’ve seen them gain confidence and come forward to showcase their talents on the stage in front of a large audience,” says Sailaja.
In addition to weekend English classes and ArtShala (arts and crafts class) held twice every month, Meraki conducts book and toy drives, a football club and birthday celebrations for kids once every month. The organisation also has ongoing audiobook recording and book editing for visually impaired college students. “We conduct storybook recordings for visually impaired kids, along with acting classes once a week for the other kids. We also have conversations on menstrual awareness, as well as conduct sessions on hygiene, manners, moral value, and career-counseling for older teenage kids every month,” says Sailaja.
After completing a year this February, Meraki celebrated by throwing a huge superhero themed party called 'Ohana', meaning family for the kids who have now turned into family. “Our volunteers taught kids dance and singing every weekend for two months. On the day of the event, the kids from all the centres came up on the stage to perform and showcase their talents and what they had learnt. Several kids performed solo on the stage,” shares Sailaja.
“The event had volunteers dressed in superhero costumes and kids were also given superhero capes, eye masks and cuffs. The art and craft work learnt by the kids throughout the year were displayed at the event at an ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ stall,” she adds.
Meraki has grown with the help of social media, word of mouth and a few cafes where it puts up posters regularly; but the organisation’s driving force has been its volunteers.
Most volunteers find their way to Meraki through these forms of publicity, says Sailaja. However, she expresses that the main challenge was and still is finding volunteers who commit to causes. “Our volunteers have been our heroes. We’ve seen that it’s easier to teach kids when volunteers are regular, the children feel comfortable with them and the volunteers also know the understanding level of each kid.”
The NGO is presently focused on building a strong volunteer base that will help lead to unprecedented growth and better futures for underprivileged children. “The response has been quite good so far. With each event, we’re meeting new and serious volunteers who are really making an impact on the kids we teach. We also have a few volunteers who’ve been religiously working with us since a few months and this has helped make a tremendous impact on the kids,” shares the elated founder.
The organisation engages with close to 130 kids across five locations in Bengaluru and has 125 volunteers who, going forward, will be organising several soft-skills and career counseling sessions for older kids that’ll help them get jobs.
“We will soon begin conducting sessions on mental health awareness, life skills and disability awareness as well. We also plan to take the kids for picnics, organise movie-screenings, conduct art workshops in collaboration with artists and paint the schools,” says Sailaja.
In terms of expansion for the future, Meraki seeks to have one centre in each area of Bengaluru and is currently looking for volunteers to help spread the goodness.