National Conference for Youth in Social Change: 2018

The National Conference 2018 was organized by the Volunteer Service Organization (VSO) headed by Dr. Anup Naha from Manipal College of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MCoPS) from the 25th August to 26th August 2018. Along with VSO, the contributing partners were Daan Utsav, Bhumi, ION and Syndicate Bank.This mega event was not confined to the students of Manipal, but had students and staff from colleges all over the country. More than 50 colleges turned up and approximately 64 teams registered for poster making competitions and other workshops.

The purpose of this program was to highlight the idea of wellbeing and cultivate a sense of philanthropy in young adults. To quote Dr. T.M.A. Pai, “I consider young boys and girls the real treasure because they are the future of our country”.

The first day began with the inaugural function with the dignitaries – Chief Guest Dr. HS Ballal, Pro Chancellor, MAHE, the Guest of Honor Dr. Vinod Bhat, Vice Chancellor, MAHE and other members of the committee. Following the lighting of the lamp was the invocation by Sindhu Kamath from Welcomegroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA), followed by inaugural speeches by Dr. HS Ballal and Dr.Vinod Bhat, who said, “The role of colleges in our country is to impart three things: first to impart knowledge, second to help the students create new knowledge and last but not the least, to create a social impact. The last one is where we are lacking. Once that changes, anything can change.”

Next came the most awaited session of the evening, the panel discussion with panelists Mr. Vivek Sharma, Prof. Madhu Veeraraghavan and Mrs. Kanika Sinha, all of whom have been significant harbingers of change in their respective fields, with Mr. Venkat Sharma as the moderator. Questions poured in from the students about how they could effectively bring about change and where exactly the starting point was, for which all the three panelists had one simple answer, “NOW. Because you are the change. And it is never too late to start.”

The evening was brought to an end with some graceful and fierce dance performances by two troupes. One troupe called ‘Stage for Change’, had arrived all the way from Kolkata. The girls portrayed the hardships and violence a woman has to endure in her life through a moving act. Another performance by Ananya and team titled ‘Ode to Womanhood’, paid tribute to women. Other cultural performances included a self-composed Tamil song performed by the talented duo, Saurav and Karan. The last performances of the night were an African folk dance called Zulu and the traditional tiger dance of Karnataka called Hulivesha.

The second day of the second edition of the National Conference for Youth in Social Change was one of the grandest celebrations of knowledge and wisdom that TMA Pai Halls celebrated this year. Striking posters and colourful stalls from various social organizations heralded the radiant energy that was to be displayed on the dais.

The day’s events started with a brief introduction of comMutiny and the Gandhi Fellowship programs by Mrs. Kanika Sinha and Mr. Vivek Sharma. They provided some wise guidance regarding the role of the youth in shaping the society around them despite the nation’s apparent political priorities and policies.

The first speaker of the day Mr. Vinayak Lohani spoke about his project ‘Pariwar’ and its role in rehabilitation of the underprivileged and orphaned children of West Bengal. His ardent efforts at providing them a complete family, the one bound to care for them throughout the journey of life, moved many to tears.

The second speaker Mr. Kuldeep Dantewadia who has is acclaimed to be one of youngest change makers by former POTUS Barack Obama captured the audience with his youthful narration. He spoke about his journey that led to the creation of ‘Solve Ninja’, a simple mobile app that creates a portal for the common citizen’s genuine complaints to reach the ears of the concerned. His ideas and level of thinking seemed to have connected with the audience who bombarded him with a lot of questions.

Mr. Prashanth Nair, the third speaker, is known for his non-profit organization Compassionate Keralam. He began his talk with a question for IAS aspirants – what attracts you to the field? He narrated the experiences in his life that profoundly shifted his perspective and eventually led to his coming-of-age as a social activist. With emotion and eloquence, he recounted what he described as ‘the most disturbing day of my life’ – the time he visited 800 inmates of a mental health centre in Kozhikode who were kept cooped up in squalid, filthy rooms, surviving day after day on a menu of wheat gruel that hadn’t been changed since all the way back in 1979. The living conditions were enough to have driven a sane person to his limits. He reinforced the young audience’s belief in the power of volunteering by sharing heartwarming stories of how a psychology student managed to change the trajectories of many patients’  lives for the better, and how young techies were instrumental in mobilizing the resources to cope with the Kerala floods. The audience was convinced that anyone can do good, anyone can be a crusader. He also addressed an important issue in these times of social media publicity campaigns – the joy of giving versus the joy of being photographed giving – and urged the audience to ponder over this distinction. Finally, he commended all the IAS aspirants among the audience, wished them luck and quoted the advice Uncle Ben gave Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

There was a panel discussion regarding ‘Daan Utsav 2018′. The panelists were Mrs. Arati Madhusudan, Dr. Prahlathan K K and Mr. Navneeth Upadhyaya and the moderator was Mr. Venkat Krishnan. Although hailing from completely different walks of life, Daan Utsav united them every year and now they were here to spread the joy of giving and create awareness about this celebration. The panelists explained the concept of Daan Utsav from its conception to its decennial saga. They inspired the audience to take part in their festival of giving from 2nd to 8th October and reap the sociocultural and emotional benefits of giving.

After a break for lunch, the afternoon sessions kicked off with the judges scrutinizing the posters. Their curiosity and the presenters’ confidence made the arena an explosion of multiple ideas. The judges gave the students their insights about the posters and even guided some regarding the means of materializing their projects.

The evening ended with a brief introduction of ‘Teach for India’ and ‘Bhumi’, both National level NGOs that offer various fellowships and internships. This was followed by the valedictory ceremony where Mr. Bhaskar Hande, General Manager of the zonal division of Syndicate Bank and Dr. PLNG Rao, pro Vice Chancellor of MAHE gave away the prizes. They also spoke briefly about the values that they aspired to inculcate in the minds of the youth through this program and justified their support of it.

Post the formal closing ceremony was a small Q&A session by Mr. Prasanth Nair. He answered many pressing questions regarding the mammoth rehabilitation during the recent Kerala floods. His narratives gave goosebumps to the audience. He concluded with the saying – ‘reality is stranger than fiction’, which perfectly encapsulates the drastic turn of events in Kerala.

With this the National Conference 2018 came to an end; a story of 650 delegates from over 53 colleges spread across 15 different states. It was an event that shall be cherished for the detailed perfectionism of the organizers and the vast treasure of knowledge that it bestowed upon the attendees.

-Written by Suhita R, Vinay Reddy and Niharika Dixith

Photographs by Sanjana Shastri, Semanti Chattopadhyay, Saradindu Bhadra and Bhanu Srinivas

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