The origin of Panah Foundation is embedded in my childhood journey. Contrary to my name Naresh, which means “King”, my childhood was anything but king size. I was born in 1994 to a family that had migrated from Nepal to Ahmedabad, leaving me in Nepal with my aunt.
At the age of six, I also shifted to Ahmedabad to be with my parents. My trip to India was a series of firsts for me – first bus ride (lasted for four days to reach Ahmedabad), first visit to a city, first time eating food outside the home. My mother worked as a maid earning Rs 1,200 each month, and my father was a daily wager with a salary of Rs 4,000. My dad was an alcoholic and would beat up my mother after getting drunk.
In the given scenario, money was the most important thing, and values were secondary.
My parents enrolled me in a government school. One day, I needed some money for a school project. I knew I could not ask my parents. So I decided to do something myself without informing my parents. I started rag-picking that day, and so began my journey of earning money at the age of six. Two weeks later, my parents found out, and my father gave me a good beating as he thought it was not an appropriate work for me. But whenever I needed money, I would do rag-picking without informing my parents.
After my 10th grade, I joined pre-university in commerce while working as a part-time waiter. This was where I started my hospitality career. I quickly learnt to manage and to serve tables efficiently. My boss, Raju Bhai Patel, appreciated my work. Many times I would end up fighting with my father as he would drink and beat my mother. There are many instances when I left home and spent many nights at the railway station after fighting with my father. After one such fight, I stayed for ten days in the hotel where I was working. My boss was supportive and gave me time to study and appear for the exams.
After 12th, I joined the bachelor programme. I continued working in hotels in the evenings. I changed hotels as and when I got a higher salary and, with experience, I got senior positions in the restaurants where I worked. My job gave me opportunities to meet new people and learn from them. After my hotel shifts, I started volunteering with an NGO, Ajeevika, which helps migrant labourers through opening bank accounts, training programs, and awareness campaigns.
While going through all the experiences, I felt it was important for me to learn English to progress in life. While I was working in a hotel, I happened to talk to some Teach For India volunteers who were conversing in English and expressed my desire to work with them. A few days later I got a call from them asking me to appear for an interview. I joined as an admin assistant in Teach for India. This was a life-transforming experience. I met incredible people at work who changed the way I viewed and perceived life. There I picked English as much as possible. I worked there for 11 months. Those few months of working in a great environment with Teach for India, I realised that I am lucky to have reached what I am now. And all this has been possible because of education and the right exposure I got during my life journey.
This ignited the desire for me to share what I have received and wanted to create opportunities for others like me. So I borrowed money and opened a centre for teaching migrants’ children. I discovered that labourers are unaware of government schemes, rules and regulations, etc. Additionally, because of their troubles, they were unable to send their kids to school regularly.
From that day my mission was “Every labourer should become a smart labourer”.
Thus, Panah was born out of my desire to empower the workers and provide equal opportunities to children of labourers. We trained them at the workplace, ensured government schemes at our Labor Resource and Support Center and Education support to their kids as well.
Why? While I was working as an industrial worker, I earned Rs 2,380 in 18 days. However, what troubled me was the fact that we labourers worked so hard but had no fixed salary, no perks of PF or ESI, and no job security.
Panah is trying to be a one-window centre for migrant labour to provide solutions for all their problems.
How? Through the Labour Resource and Support Centre, Panah Foundation is offering skill and knowledge development training to labourers. Also, we are planning to have “Self-Help” groups for the workers who are not living in the local communities. Team leaders appointed will constantly be available to manage labour altogether and help them through any problems.
Impact: With over 600 registered members and 23 team leaders in different areas, Panah has been able to link migrant workers to job opportunities, health services, and various other services that help them become smart labourers. They have formed four self-help groups, and hundreds of kids have been mentored and enrolled by Panah members. They define “smart” as someone who is “skilful, can mitigate risk, is aware, resourceful, and can provide timely support.”
The owner of Silver Point Restaurant, where I once worked, Mr Dhaval Patel, helped me financially. Dhaval bhai always said that “सच्चे मन से मेहनत करो सफलता जरुर मिलेगी’’.
I believe that “Help is a one-time investment and lifetime income.’’