By Melissa Nazareth
Bengaluru, Nov 22: 14-year old Mari works in a garage. He gave up school to help his single mother after his father left them eight years ago. Mari's uncle abandoned his mother's sister and their daughter, Gayatri too. Gayatri is a very bright student and loves to study. Smiley Faction, an organisation sponsoring the education of underprivileged children, has decided to sponsor Gayatri's education. Mari, on the other hand, has fallen in love with automobiles and wishes to continue to get better at his work. Hopefully, his dream will come true.
This is just one of the many real-life stories from 'Rest Of My Family', a social work through art project founded by Bengaluru-based Piyush Goswami and Akshatha Shetty. Engineers by qualification, they decided that the corporate life was not what they wanted. So, the duo quit their jobs and gave up everything they owned for a cause they believed in – re-discovering the relationship with and understanding the forgotten responsibilities toward the larger family that we all are a part of – the rest of our human family.
Akshatha Shetty (6th from left) is all smiles with the 'rest of her family
Piyush Goswami shares a candid moment with the 'rest of his family'
Mari and Gayatri
The future of our country - a shot taken at one of the schools that the duo visited as part of their project
There has never been a smiling face that hasn't looked beautiful - one of the people the duo met during their travels
Piyush is a documentary photographer and filmmaker and Akshatha, a writer. For the past two to three years, they have been travelling extensively throughout rural India understanding, experiencing and documenting social issues and human interest stories. "The people we met treated us like family despite all the hardships they were facing," says Akshatha, "We were so overwhelmed by their kindness." "The people we were writing about were not mere names, faces and statistics but more, they were family," adds Piyush.
Over time, the duo forged strong connections with numerous individuals and families but realised that while sharing their stories with the world was fulfilling, it made no substantial difference to the lives of these people. "We wanted to create a more practical model which goes beyond documenting a story and actually supports these communities," says Piyush. So, as part of the first leg of Rest Of My Family, in addition to 'driving' across the country and documenting stories, non-stop, for a year, they ran a crowd funding campaign, to help them sustain the first leg of the project, '#driveforchange'. They managed to cross the target and have now entered 'InDemand Mode' which means Indiegogo will allow them to continue accepting contributions.
When asked about their main observations from their travels, Akshatha tells me that most of the social issues stem from abject poverty. "These people don't have the means to enable themselves with education, awareness and infrastructure," she says, adding that the government has been trying their level best to provide much through fair policies and concrete projects. Another observation is that everybody everywhere is the same and wants the same things – to be loved and accepted. "For example, people in Uttar Pradesh might feel Nagaland is unsafe and its people, unpleasant. People in Nagaland might feel Uttar Pradesh is dangerous and its people, rude. But through our travels we have understood that we are all one."
Talking about the challenges of the project, Piyush says, "Lack of resources, both financial and otherwise, has been the biggest challenge. Many a time, we have had to cut our exploration of a situation, short due to insufficient funds. Safety is another concern while venturing into unknown lands and communities. That said, our personal journey has taught us to trust our fellow human beings and we have been very fortunate to meet nice people."
Both Piyush and Akshatha agree that raising funds to sustain the project as well as help these people is another major challenge. When asked how they manage to present themselves as credible and not yet another run-of-the-mill social initiative, Akshatha says, "Communicating our credibility is something that will happen over time. That said, there are quite a few organisations and individuals who have already understood the sincerity and honesty of the project's efforts, and extended their support."
We continue our discussion on credibility when Akshatha explains how most social projects begin with the goal to eradicate a certain problem but over time, suffer from a shift in vision. They realise that a complete eradication of the social problem they set out to tackle may threaten their own survival. Thus the objective shifts from tackling the problem to self-sustenance. "We are a story-driven project and have no interest in perpetuating the social issue that we have set out to address," she says. "In fact in our model of working, the sooner a situation is addressed the better for us as we can move on to different regions, communities and stories." The duo assure me that all said and done, they don't intend to discredit the hard work of any individual and social group; nor do they doubt their positive impact on people's lives.
"Travelling has taught us to trust strangers, to place our faith in humanity," says Piyush who unanimously with Akshatha believes that to be able operate to out of love and acceptance rather than fear and skepticism is a priceless feeling. Through Rest Of My Family, they hope to resolve the differences between people from different regions and defragment our highly fragmented society in their own little way.
You can follow Piyush and Akshatha's journey on restofmyfamily.wordpress.com and should you wish to be a part of the giving process, log on to igg.me/at/restofmyfamily/x/5395024
Rest Of My Family is also present on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RestOfMyFamily/), Twitter (https://twitter.com/RestOfMyFamily) and Instagram (http://websta.me/n/restofmyfamily).