As quoted by W.H Auden – “We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know”, Myra ended her TED talk with this beautiful quote.
We all are born with a purpose in our lives; little do we know that the best way to find that is by helping others. Imagine the world with people having nothing to do for each other—you wake up for yourself, you earn, spend, eat for yourself with no one to care for or to give back to. Will we call that a world worth living??
This story is about Myra. It all started when Myra was merely 11 and saw kids of her age and less with ripped clothes, bare footed, shivering in the cold begging for food or sell flutes, garbage bags and balloons. She was too naive to understand “underprivileged or less fortunate” back then. That sight though, was something she couldn’t stand. With that pain in her heart Myra questioned her parents’ everyday about the less fortunate.
She herself belonged to a humble, well to-do family and had aspirations and dreams of becoming a leader one day. But each time Myra saw poverty and pain around she would get deeply shattered. She would always recall one incident when she was 14 and was walking on the footpath with ice-cream and a huge red balloon. Since childhood Myra was very fond of balloons and would always insist on getting one every time she saw a street balloon vendor. The grin on vendors face and his little kid would make Myra happier. That day Myra bought a red balloon exchanged her favourite “smile thank-you” and started walking away. She wasn’t much far when she saw the balloon vendor and his son being bullied and beaten up by a local store-keeper for selling balloons in-front of his shop. Myra was broken and felt helpless. Her heart was pondering with anger and pain and she ran back home in utter despair.
That incident would always nudge deep in her heart making her buy balloons and help the less fortunate as much as she can. With years passing by Myra would do her part in making their lives easier by donating clothes and blankets for the homeless, distributing food to the hungry and orphans on each of her birthday, distribute old notebooks or stationary to open-schools and buy at-least one balloon each time she ran into a street vendor. Oh sure there were days when Myra would buy a bunch out of happiness and even give an extra penny.
Her affection towards balloons apart, she was also always against kids begging when they should be in school. Every time she would walk on the road and find children working, she would ask them whether they went to school. With every NO she would lecture the kid about how important it is that he learnt and read and wrote. That always gave her the nostalgic “helpless” feeling.
Myra grew up to reach the working phase in a corporate. She was relentlessly hardworking and dedicated at her work. And rightfully, within just a few years she was offered a position to lead a team while she was only 24. It was certainly a step closer to what she was working for. She was the happiest that day, and felt like treating herself with an ice cream.So she ran out of her office to her favourite store when her attention was driven to a man selling balloons. And to add to her celebration, she bought a bunch of balloons and paid an extra penny! But appallingly the incident that she held tight in her heart reoccurred.
A parking place guy shunned the balloon vendor and his kid with a stick, beating them until they were gone away from the street. Myra was torn apart again. The happiness of being promoted took a back seat and helplessness shook her.
The next day at her office, Myra joined Corporate Social Responsibility
(CSR) team. Within a few months Myra was successful in suggesting programmes against Child Welfare, Home for homeless and Primary Education for children from weaker sections of society. But the roads Myra walked through after office were the same, the kids, the poverty and her helplessness always conflicted in her mind. A few months passed, she saw her inclination towards leading the CSR projects more than the other responsibilities at work. That is when Myra Sehgal decided to do something about it. She was too tamped to go back home with that feeling this time.
She quit her corporate job to start her NGO. Compassion is a value if we do not nurture can be our greatest weakness and if we do we can be the change makers. Myra proved to be the latter. She started running pillar to post to get “The Balloon Basket” registered.
She began with a community-based campaign to raise money for preliminary education for these kids. Her campaign was successful in collecting clothes, notebooks and some amount to begin with. Later few of her friends joined her and started hosting fund raising events for charity and education of underprivileged. And the Balloon Basket kept getting bigger.
The first child Balloon Basket helped was Mohan, a 13 year old boy earning for a family of 4 after his father’s death. They helped him register in an open school and weekly tutorials so that he can pursue his education while earning for the family. Mohan was successful in learning and securing decent numbers in school. Mohan’s story was a motivation for many other kids Myra helped.
Muskaan, who would sell colouring books outside malls, spoke English as fluent as a professional sales-person. She was just 10 but was very clear in selling them and not begging. Though not in the best clothes or footwear, Muskaan at that tender age, understood dignity of work and would never take anything other the price of the books she was selling. Certainly someone Myra was pleased of. Under the Balloon Basket, Muskaan is now getting her primary education and also interacts with Myra to learn new words everyday in the evening.
Several other kids like Akansha a sex-workers daughter; Ravi, son of a hawker; Sanjay and Shruti, kids of a maid and vegetable vendor; Ameen, an 8 year old who would sell tissue papers in local train and many others are a part of Myra’s Balloon Basket.
Today The Balloon Basket is home for more than 200 less fortunate kids who learn, grow, and dream of becoming something great one day.
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