We got the chance to interact with a Sankalp Volunteer. This article is essentially our conversation with him. Though it is rather long, we recommend you get through it some time. You will not regret it…
How was the Sankalp Blood Donation Organization born?
One night we jumped out of the engineering college hostel to have a cup of coffee at around 11.30 at night, and we ended up at the emergency section of the hospital. Apparently, that is the only place where you get coffee at night in this area. A person from Kolar had come there. This person was begging people for blood. He was saying “raktha kodi raktha kodi“. We asked for a translation. People told us that he had been hunting for blood donors since 8. The patient was brought in at 8.
Nearly 4 hours?
Yeah. We went into the blood bank and tried to figure out. They said “We do have blood but we cannot give him because he cannot arrange for replacement”. Three of us were there. We called a senior from the hostel and the four of us donated. After finishing the donation, we visited him and found out that he was no more. The question was that if there is blood in the blood bank and if so many people donate blood, then when a person requires blood why doesn’t he get it?
So that night itself we started Sankalp. Next morning we put up a poster on the wall saying that those who want to donate blood in emergencies can register with us. We told the blood bank the next time you have to say “No” to someone asking for blood, please send the person to us. That is how it started.
What else does Sankalp do?
Most people think that Sankalp is only about blood donation. On the top level, it is not. It is about people contributing to build up a better society. And they are doing it by themselves. Not telling anyone else “do it”.
On the evening after the Tsunami, we got to know about it, we were told that there is a Tsunami in Nagapattinam. Now first question came… Will there be a blood requirement there? Some people thought that it was too hypothetical to sit here and imagine. By 3 a.m. the same night, one volunteer left to Nagapattinam. When that volunteer reached Nagapattinam, the next evening at 5.30, he found out that there was just 1 person managing 3500 dead bodies. That was the Chief of Red Cross South Zone. With 6000 rupees we carried out a relief operation, where 3 volunteers were involved, 2 days were spent, and we came back with 1500 rupees unspent. It revealed one thing: It was not about money. It was about the first 48 hours when people really required help. We thought we will set up a small wing, and Disaster Mitigation Management team of Sankalp was born.
The Disaster Mitigation Management wing is all about what we do in the first few hours after the disaster. What do we do, if there is a disaster in some part of the country? When earthquake struck Kashmir, we thought we won’t be able to do much. Eventually, we landed up 3 km away from the LOC with few blankets. When we reached there, we realized that everyone else had decided that they couldn’t do anything.
Similarly, when there were TN floods, when we reached there we realized that the packets of Parle-G biscuits we had taken there mattered. Two hours after the recent Hyderabad blasts, our volunteers had contacted every single blood bank which was associated with the hospitals in which the patients were admitted and told them that in case they found a shortage, they should let us know. There was a class 12 student from Hyderabad, an active volunteer, who was calling her friends in Hyderabad, and making sure that if there is a requirement, blood will be available.
The third wing is Project Tiranga. It started when a volunteer found a plastic national flag thrown on the street. There was a question… “Do I leave my national flag, lying on the road like that?” So again, in line with what we do here, it was not about people throwing it, it was about we lifting it. We started picking up flags, and collected some 1800 flags.
You mean there were 1800 flags lying thrown around the city?
Yes. They were picked from drains, dustbins, everywhere. When we approached the management, i.e. the administration of the district and asked them, what do we do about this? They said there is a code of conduct for cloth flags, there is a method to destroy the cloth flags, you can destroy the paper flags, but we do not know what to do with the plastic flags. We have washed them, dried them and kept them in books. They are still there. That’s about the birth of Project Tiranga. Project Tiranga is about celebrating patriotism, celebrating national heroes and bringing about a self-change.
You also started Disha some time back?
Disha started on 13th September, 2006.
The problem was that none of the blood banks wanted to share the information they have. We thought why not construct some common platform where information from all blood banks goes and anyone who wants blood can ping this and get the information they want. Initially the concept was IVRS. Then we came on to SMS based network. Finally we found CTC. Now, CTC is the organization that runs the operation Sanjeevani (the free ambulance care). They had a dedicated call center manned 24 hours. We spoke to them and said “Will it be a good idea if we can add a blood helpline”? So eventually it took two years to convince the blood banks and convince the mechanism to start contributing. Even today we are struggling to get stats from blood banks. None of them want to reveal the information they have. But whoever is revealing, now that comes to the central helpline 1062. Any person can call toll free 1062 and find out where blood is available.
You mentioned that you had a lot of problems getting the blood banks together and so on. How exactly did you manage to overcome that?
The rule that we follow in Sankalp since day one is persistence. I will give you a classic example.
First time we went into this blood bank where we had this first night’s incidence, we said we want you to tell us who requires blood. They said we won’t. They said it’s our business, we give blood to everyone, we don’t send anyone away and so we don’t want to tell you. People tend to look for donors outside the hospital so we started sitting outside the hospital every evening. Slowly we found people who required blood. We took them back to the same blood bank and said “We found him, he requires blood. Please accept.” Then that changed into other things. They said that we will let you know when there is a request, but when we give you a call, you should satisfy it. And we realized that when a minister or a VVIP is admitted or a friend of a director is admitted, we get a call. And we refused. And the relationship got bad. But after another 6 months, there was another case. They realized that in this entire duration, we were still coming for genuine people. All of us inside are good. Slowly people melt, and we get to do the things we want to do.
Apart from that, I think because our emergency wing was doing a good job – as in, everytime the bloodbanks required blood, they could call us and bank upon us – it helped to build credibility. CTC brand name was also one factor which helped in this.
What do you do when you are sitting in office and cannot do much about a blood request?
There is never a condition when we can’t do anything about it. If that condition comes, we will rework whatever we are doing now.
There never has been a situation since 23rd May, 2003 that we have refused a blood request. In a day we get about 10 to 12 blood requests. Out of every 2 people who approach a blood bank in Bangalore, one is sent back. I think that the number of donations that we have taken for emergency requests is somewhere around 450 to 500. Each one of these is an emergency request. Now, every week we have two or three emergency requests.
How many people are there in Sankalp now?
As of now, speaking of active volunteers, we have 15 members.
That is a lot of work for 10-15 people. Are all these people are from MSRIT?
No, no… We have people from Chennai and Hyderabad. Sankalp has an open door policy to people joining in. Anyone can join in. Most people are from MSRIT because we were working actively in MSRIT. For 3 years people know us and there is a credibility factor. Apart from that because we keep publicity on the lowest key.
Why is that?
There are two factors involved. First factor is that, volunteers don’t have time, when they know that they have emergency jobs to be done. The second thing is we are very patient in terms of growth. We will not inflate what we are telling. The site is there, it is running. All the information is there for anyone to find it. But visitors are few. And actually that is expected. You cannot accelerate social change.
How do you organize the funding of the organization?
Zero percent external funding. We don’t accept even a single rupee for any of our activities apart from disaster relief. We are not a charitable organization. We don’t consider ourselves as a charitable society where people can come and give a part of their extra. We manage everything in our organization only because we feel it is our responsibility. If you want to build your house, do you expect people to give you charity? You don’t. That’s why, we don’t.
What about the future plans for Sankalp?
On the top level, if you consider, we plan to prepare some more volunteers. Second thing that we need to do right now is to develop an absolute understanding of the problems that Bangalore is facing in terms of blood donation. Once we identify these problems, and we have sufficient reasoning behind them, we can work on a roadmap to solve it. The third thing which is due is a blood mobile. We are planning to get a vehicle for Bangalore, some sort of a bus, for blood donation, a mobile blood collection unit. Today, if you ask someone to donate blood you take him to a hospital where he sees pain and sorrow. We plan to make blood donation a very happening activity. For that this vehicle is the answer. But, it will cost a small amount of money, i.e. around 50 lacs. Like CTC Disha, we are creating a proposal which answers anything anyone would like to know, and we will give it away to anyone who has the money.
What about volunteers who can devote smaller portions of their time to Sankalp?
Wonderful… That we are always encouraging. We have something called Sankalp friends. We understand and appreciate the fact that most people cannot contribute to Sankalp the way the volunteers are doing, and we do not want any person to miss out on an opportunity which they think is good. Let’s say a person is good a poster designing. Please join in and design that poster. We are welcoming all such things. There are many people in that friends group. When required, those people come together.
In Walk for Life, we decided to walk for 41 km from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and tell people about 1062. In this one effort, there were many friends who joined in to make sure that those few voices which shouted “rakthake aagi 1062” were reinforced.
Coming to Sankalp friends, it’s not just about work. We need a lot of support, emotional support to continue work. When a person joins Sankalp he is alienated from a lot of things. It is at this time that these people matter the most.
A special thanks to Swetha for transcribing this interview for us.
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