Stopping abruptly in the middle of a conversation and walking rapidly toward a freshly painted window grill, Ajay Kumar Koli called to the attention of his colleague a little patch left unpainted. These painted grills will soon be used to fence the garden area at Gops and the latter will be restored. The perfectionist in him, we learnt as the conversation continued, is complemented by a purpose-driven passion to give back to the society that he is part of.
Koli, who is set to complete his PhD at the School of Management Studies this April, has been in the university since 2010. He believes that a university is reflective of the society. On August 31, 2013, Koli’s Free Service (translated from shramdaan) Facebook page went live. Ever since the page has been calling to action everyone in the university – students, non-teaching and teaching faculty alike – to volunteer their time and effort to make the campus a better place.
The first effort undertaken by Ajay Koli toward community service was to collect donations for the relief of Uttarakhand flood victims. Rs. 44,000 was collected and given to the university to be forwarded to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. Free Service was set up after this initiative, and groups of students have consistently undertaken community service within the campus, since then.
Free Service continued to make its presence felt through its “Give Gops a Garden” initiative. 12 tractors-full of fertile top soil was laid over gravel layers present there and grass was planted at Gops foodcourt. Digging and transportation of soil was carried out on contract. For this, and for all its other projects, Free Service has been receiving funds from the university. The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Ramakrishna Ramaswamy, has been encouraging the group’s initiatives right from the beginning. Koli is all praise for him and says that he is motivated by him.
Koli says Free Service has been transparent in its activities, and the bills of all the costs incurred are put up on its Facebook Page.
Painting of speed breakers in the university, too, is an initiative of Free Service. The event ‘Tins to Dustbins’ had invited students to keep the campus clean is also the brainchild of Free Service. Attitudes and behaviors of people in an institute of higher learning give us a clue as to the way a society conducts itself.
“We should learn to care about the place in which we live,” says Ajay Koli. Although Free Service is not yet registered as an NGO, it has been working consistently towards enhancing the quality of life in the university.
Speaking about the hurdles he has been facing in implementing initiatives, Koli says that the Facebook page does receive positive response but actual turnout on ground remains less. The conversion rate from armchair volunteerism to on-ground action is very low. The events are organized on weekends. Koli updates the group’s Facebook page on the preceding Monday and Friday, and posts across pages and groups in the university through the week, thereby raising awareness and inviting volunteers.
Talking further about the challenges faced by Free Service as an idea, Koli says that the university has ample resources and mind-power to solve real problems. However, the community is still restricted to classroom knowledge and a narrow window of interacting with the world is present. Koli points out that by caring for the place in which we live, research and application of knowledge gained can be applied to solving real problems faced. He feels that there is a knowledge – action gap which needs to be addressed through such initiatives.
Expressing his thoughts, Koli says, “I don’t know who will take over Free Service in the university, definitely I will carry Free Service with me after I pass out from the university.” However, he has hope that the gap will be filled sooner or later by someone. As far as he is concerned, Koli says that he will continue to do community service wherever he goes, after registering Free Service as an NGO.
-Harika Vankadara and Saumya Painuli