Mumbai, 29 Feb 2016
India’s 287 million illiterate adults, the largest population globally and 37% of the world’s total, is something Unmesh Sharma thinks about and acts on regularly – little by little.
“I live in Mumbai and it has very strong contrasts. I drive from my home for 20 minutes and pass multiple slums. I could easily just drive through and think nothing of it but I have to do something,” says Sharma, who is based in Macquarie’s Mumbai office.
His concern has led him to volunteer and fundraise for the Umang Foundation, a Mumbai-based charity that provides educational opportunities for school-aged children across 35 different projects. Its small team of staff and its much larger army of volunteers support a minimum of 15,000 students annually.
One of Umang’s major projects involves delivering tens of thousands of stationery items up to three times a year to thousands of students throughout India.
Sharma explains Umang’s approach to the stationery drives: “Parents in poorer communities often can’t afford stationery which is why so many drop out of school. The idea is that if the students get stationery there is a higher probability that they will study and continue on at school.”
“Umang buys stationery in bulk and thousands of volunteers distribute it to multiple schools in one day. The organisation does this a few times a year and around 10,000 students benefit each time there is a delivery. It’s an amazing process which has a practical and positive impact.”
The efficient logistical effort that goes into the stationery drives has seen Umang break world records in providing the highest number of stationery kits in a single day from a single venue.
Sharma’s support of the non-profit started in 2015 when he became a stationery drive volunteer. His support has since grown to include fundraising and volunteering in other ways, including participating in Umang’s day trips with local Mumbai children.
“Most students in our poorer communities don’t get to see railway stations and airports and many of the things some of us take for granted. Umang takes hundreds of students on day trips with volunteers and these experiences are life changing for the children.”
Most recently Sharma competed in the Mumbai Marathon, raising $US11,500 for Umang with Macquarie Group Foundation matching.
“Umang is big enough to be credible but small enough to have an impact. The size of the organisation enables me to get involved on the front line which drew me to supporting them,” says Sharma.
He also sees the immense value in supporting children in their education and in raising their hopes and aspirations.
“The children being supported by Umang are very poor and have a lack of opportunity, not talent, so by facilitating their interest, outlook and educational opportunity it increases their chances of improving their future,” says Sharma.
“Umang has been absolutely delighted by the fundraising I have done but the children show you the value of the stationery and day trips to them. They smile so much.”
Image caption: School students receive school supplies as part of a Umang stationery drive.