Sunday, October 20, 2013

Inspiring Friend Spotlight: Ashok Rathod – OSCAR Foundation

It may be an exaggeration to call Ashok my friend since we have only met twice but he feels like a friend already. I’m sure I’m not the only person to say this since Ashok has the presence of someone you want to be friends with. He is genuine, humble, sweet and full of love for humanity.  I first heard of Ashok through a friend of mine in Mumbai. He sent me an email about how while he was at a typical Mumbai house party he was drawn towards someone who seemed different about the rest. He wasn’t loud, gossipy or trying to be accepted by others, he was just silently enjoying the party.  My friend spoke with him and once he found out about his background, he immediately sent an email to me saying that I must meet Ashok. A few months later I was driving home from work when I get a call from another friend of mine Neil Patel. Neil was attending an NGO conference and told me that he met someone at the conference who I must meet.  He even went as far as handing Ashok the phone so at least we could set up a time to speak later.

After 2 people I’m close with raved about Ashok Rathod I knew that I must meet this individual. This meeting finally happened at the AFDP-AFC Dream Asia Conference which took place a few weeks ago in Dwarka. Both Ashok and I attended the conference, me as part of the organizing team and him as a special guest invited by the AFC. My first impression of Ashok was 100% aligned with my 2 friends. Ashok was/is an inspiration to all. I’m copying his story straight from the website in order to do it justice:

Ashok Rathod grew up seeing a lot of his school mates dropping out of school from class 4th; to get addicted to drugs and then being married off at an early age in the hopes of leaving bad habits. Explaining this process Ashok says, “We used to study in a municipal where passing the first to fourth standard was so easy; there was no pressure at all so nobody would ever concentrate on studies. In the fifth standard suddenly English was and all of us got scared and everybody was expected to score the marks for passing the examination. At that time, the access to easy cash by selling fish was more attractive. My friends and their family were also very happy and proud with the cash inflow, and that their children were earning at such a young age. As a result, due to this easy cash most of them got addicted to drugs. So then, to help them be more responsible and committed; parents would get them married young.” To see his friends fall prey to drugs and gambling pained Ashok, then a 21 year old boy. Oscar – Organisation for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility was born in 2006, with the thought of undoing this cycle of dropouts- easy cash – gambling- early marriage.

At one point of time Ashok also thought of discontinuing his education, to take up a job. But his father, a fisherman constant persuasion and motivation encouraged Ashok to continue his education till class twelve. During the course Ashok Rathod of his education Ashok started volunteering for a NGO – Doorstep School (DSS), which conducted different activities for low socio-economic background children. Through DSS Ashok got introduced to Magic Bus which works on child development through sports; where he played rugby for five years. After his studies, he joined Magic Bus as staff in June 2006 and began working as a youth mentor where he taught football and other sports for the development of community youths.

I was fortunate enough to visit Ashok’s program in Mumbai this past Saturday. When I walked up to the area where OSCAR takes place at the Oval Maidan in Churchgate, I saw 75 boys and girls eager to put on their boots and play. However, my favorite part was watching the young mentors exhibit their leadership skills as they cared for the participants as they were their own children. The entire experience was amazing and reminded me of the power and transformational qualities of action through love.

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