Many of us have dreams to do something for social good. There are times when we kindle that dream a little stronger than usual, make some plans and forget about it. Decades later, when we take a breather from the constant cycle of eat-sleep-work-repeat, we realize that we never did anything to make the world a better place to live in. But Chinu Jeet Kwatra, an enthusiastic 28-year-old social activist, turned his dreams into reality.
Kwatra who is a resident of Thane, has completed his MBA in finance and marketing. Like most of us, he took up a corporate job and worked there for four years until 2013 when he founded the ‘Aarna Foundation’ with his cousin. Both of them started an NGO by teaching some underprivileged kids who were children of sex workers. They started teaching them basic English and Mathematics. Starting with just two kids Kwatra, who is no longer associated with Aarna Foundation, now feeds a hundred underprivileged kids everyday. He has founded another NGO named ‘Khushiyan’ and continues his journey of social work through it.
Chinu has a simple dream of making the kids’ lives better. Every Sunday his only dream was to just spread happiness to the kids, by conducting small sessions of dancing and fancy dress, just like it is in schools these days. But who would have supported these kids? How would they even enjoy such small events happening in normal schools? Since they were underprivileged, they did not have those ‘privileges’. This thought became a driving force for him in the future. But it was not all a bed of roses.
In an exclusive interview, with Cocktail Zindagi, Chinu Jeet Kwatra candidly speaks about his past, present, and future:
Cocktail Zindagi: What was your childhood like? Does your drive to do good stem from it?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: I wanted to get into the army or the navy in my childhood days. This was the major factor that I wanted to get into social activism. But I was a pampered child in the family it could not happen. I believed in spreading the love. I have also seen depression in my childhood in 2006, as there was a financial crisis in my family. It was because of mother’s efforts and hard work that I have completed my education. Having seen two major depression phases in my life, I realized that I get happiness only by helping others. I was craving for this satisfaction which I get when I help others. Social service is an addiction for me now.
Cocktail Zindagi: So did you have plans to make a difference since childhood?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: I wanted to serve the nation. Since childhood, I have been reading that ‘India is a developing country’. Today, my age is 28 still I am hearing that. My only motto is that before I die I want to see my country as a developed country.
Cocktail Zindagi: One important thing in your which has made you what you are today?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: It is the trust and the support of the people. Support from my teammates, volunteers and the authorities, without this I won’t be able to do anything. Support from the society and the youngsters is the main because 300 to 400 students are working with me for this without any monetary promise.
Cocktail Zindagi: You said you have seen two phases of depression in your life. One was the financial crisis, what was the other one?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: This is what made me really depressed but was also a turning point in my life. In 2014, a girl I had been dating for five years met with an accident and passed away. I tried taking my life twice over that.
It took me 6-7 months to get out of depression and my mother was my biggest support, my backbone. She brought clarity into my life by showing me a direction to live rather than a direction towards death. She told me I had to live for her. From then on, I decided to dedicate one day a week, to spend time with underprivileged kids.
Cocktail Zindagi: Tell us something about Aarna Foundation. Why did you leave it?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: Aarna Foundation is into education for underprivileged kids. Since they are the main focus we have also developed a school for the kids. The whole fundamental of the foundation is to provide basic education and necessities. I started a project there named ‘Happy Periods’, providing sanitary napkins to underprivileged women.
I left the foundation because my mindset was not matching with the other trustees. I believed that certainly, good work does not require anybody’s permission. I did not inform ‘MCGM’, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, when I started the beach clean-up drive last year. When I am throwing the garbage I don’t require a letter, then why should I take a letter for cleaning up the garbage?
This was becoming a problem due to which I left the ‘Aarna Foundation’. I was feeling that because of the inside grudges we hold against each other, work is getting hampered.
Cocktail Zindagi: You started your own NGO, ‘Khushiyaan’, what is that about?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: We are running projects like ‘Roti Ghar’ which is my own project where people donate and then I use that money to feed the underprivileged kids. This started from 5th December 2017, with one motive of feeding food which is cooked in ‘Roti Ghar’ to the kids. I have my own ‘dhaba’ where the food is cooked and then I daily feed the children at 5:30. This was started by me, and my teammate Akshay Mandare, and another teammate whose name is Swaroop. We thought that we would be able to run this for a month or two at the max, but now in December 2018, we will be completing a year.
Roti Ghar is under ‘Khushiyaan’ now. Another project which is ‘Beach Warriors’ which is going on since a year has the mission to clean the beaches of the city. That is also under ‘Khushiyaan’. There is another organization which I have started called ‘Paathshala’, which does the work of teaching basic etiquette, education and festival celebration in BMC schools and slums.
The last project under the NGO ‘Khushiyaan’ is ‘Naari Shakti’, where our focus is to give empowerment to the women. They stitch the cloth bags and we sell them on behalf of them. The market value of a bag which is Rs 80, I sell it for Rs 20. The whole money earned out of this is gone to the women. There is a second segment in the ‘Naari Shakti’ programme wherein we provide eco-friendly ‘sanitary napkins’ to underprivileged ladies every month. There are around 400 ladies from the areas of Mumbai’s Airoli, Mankhurd, and Borivali. Before ‘Khushiyaan’ started these four programmes were individual but now they are a subpart of ‘Khushiyaan’.
Cocktail Zindagi: Who motivates you?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: My younger brother and my parents have motivated me. My mother helped me gather the courage to quit my job and that is the reason I am a 100% social activist. The motivation came also from the girl who passed away in an accident. It fuelled up things for me. She is the biggest motivator. The appreciation you receive for doing good is also motivating as it makes you wish for more. My teammates and the youngsters who have been there, they’ve trusted me a lot. Seeing them working like this pushes me more. We always work as a team and that can change the world. This is all because of the team.
Cocktail Zindagi: What is your teammate’s motto?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: The most senior person in my NGO is my mother. When we registered ‘Khushiyaan’, it became the first such NGO in India, where out of nine trustees, eight are below the age of 30. They are all youngsters.
I think that this is what society needs, young minds. The teammates’ motto is to work for the society, see your personal benefit later. We have been able to bring about change in a year and can bring about more in another one year.
It is always said that you have to be patient. Good things take time but if I do something wrong it will be out tomorrow. Good things take time to reflect. People require time to digest it first. I was slowly and gradually doing things which I wanted to do. Social media has been a very big help.
Cocktail Zindagi: Of how much help has the social media been to you?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: During the onset of Dadar Beach Cleanup drive I garnered a lot of support from the social media. Most of the volunteers came forward with the help of social media. Until now we have removed around 700-800 tons of garbage and made this place a tourist attraction which was also covered in various publications. Social media has been of such help that if someone is knowing me for one cause it is obvious he/she will be knowing me for the other causes as well. People are seeing what I am doing on a daily basis.
Cocktail Zindagi: Why are you doing all this?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: I want to see India as a developed country first and the second reason is selfish, as I am crazy for children. I want them to enjoy to climate, the environment where they are and their education system as the system is not up to the mark. Kids these days are learning and studying for the sake of it, for the degree or the certificate, but they are not gaining anything out of it. Kids should learn and take themselves beyond this.
Cocktail Zindagi: How do you plan to grow ‘Khushiyaan’?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: There is one motto if you are successful today, then you have strived hard to be more tomorrow and so on. I want to bring new happiness and projects into people’s lives.
Cocktail Zindagi: What is the reason behind the name ‘Roti Ghar’?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: It is an emotion for us. Me being a Punjabi for us ‘roti’ is not a normal ‘chapati’ it is ‘food’, ‘khana’. This is the reason the name is ‘Roti Ghar’ where along with the food you are getting all the pampering. Every Saturday we started teaching and mentoring the underprivileged kids, made them learn where their interest lies.
Cocktail Zindagi: Where do you distribute the food?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: There is a dumping ground in Thane East which has been closed recently. There are 70 to 80 families who work as ragpickers. There are around 100 to 115 kids and during my last birthday I went there and fed them. Slowly we have expanded the areas where we go and feed kids. Weekly there are three ‘Roti Ghars’ – on Fridays, it is in Thane West, on Saturdays it is in Airoli and on Sundays we conduct in Borivali. Thane East is a permanent location where we provide food. From 1st December we will be starting a centralized kitchen where food will go and be distributed from one place only. Then I realized that for feeding them I do not need a huge amount, maximum I need is around 3.5k to feed them on a daily basis. But that is the happiness which drives me. I have my own ‘dhaba’ where I can arrange the food from. I consider myself really lucky that during the start only I received the donation.
Cocktail Zindagi: Were there any challenges you faced in this?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: Yes during the start when we used to feed the kids, people did not support me in this saying that we are making the kids lethargic, what will their parents earn if we keep on doing it. I have one simple logic that when we go out with our relatives they treat us. If our parents are not home and we eat food at our relative’s place, do our parents get lethargic then?
There is one charitable trust which was observing our work for a long time and they have been the regular source of sponsorship for us.
Cocktail Zindagi: What was the food given to those kids?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: Since the kids are malnourished we started with ‘dal and chawal’ which is rice and lentils. It is rich in protein. We have also formed some rules in the ‘Roti Ghar’ programme, wherein the kids have to compulsorily wash their hands to safeguard their health. They have to bring their own plates, we don’t promote plastic at all. The last rule is praying to God and thank him for the meal.
Cocktail Zindagi: What do you do for funding?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: I keep on updating my daily activity on a broadcast group. Media has always been helping us. We don’t ask for money, but with more and more people knowing about us they come and support us.
Cocktail Zindagi: How was the experience of the Mumbai Beach Clean-up Drive?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: We started the clean-up last year and have conducted 60 sessions of cleanups at the beach, me being a die-hard devotee of ‘Lord Ganesha’. I read in the paper that after the festivals, the beaches are more pathetic after the ‘Visarjan’.
Cocktail Zindagi: Why did you choose Dadar to start with?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: Dadar because I reside in Thane and Dadar is the nearest beach from there. We started a one day campaign ‘Save the Ganesha’. It was also made evident that we need volunteers for this. There was a professor of mines from the ‘Wellingkars’ college who saw the post about the clean-up drive being started. Her name is Professor Indu Mehta, she dialled me up saying that this is not a one time or a one Sunday process. Dadar beach is in the worst stage right now. Since then I made it a regular process.
Cocktail Zindagi: How was the process of the clean up after the first time?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: After the first time when we went for the second week we were only 3 people including me. Being disheartened at that time, I was thinking how will I get my volunteers all the way from Thane since I was not in a position to pay them for travelling. Nevertheless, the three of us began cleaning and then comes the surprise! There were college students sitting there and they came to help me. Within 30 minutes from three, we expanded to 25. After this, we all started using our network to get the volunteers.
Until now 700-800 tonnes of garbage has been cleaned in 60 weeks with the help of, 4000 to 5000 Mumbaikars. Celebrities like Diya Mirza and Aditya Thackeray have been very supportive for the clean-up.
Cocktail Zindagi: What was the next place after Dadar Beach?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: We started with Worli village which is next to the Dadar Beach. We started a 24-hour clean up there we are registered, where we have been qualified for the ‘Limca Book of Records’. Then we started with the ‘Juhu Kohliwada’ area. Recently we have started with the ‘Irangal Beach of Malad’. The whole team of ‘Beach Cleaners’ is called ‘Beach Warriors’.
Cocktail Zindagi: Are the people still throwing waste after so many efforts of cleaning the beaches?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: People have been more aware of this. Change has been noticed but they have to be more responsible since a city like Mumbai is progressing every minute. The change is not at the speed of light, but the positive sign is it is at least happening.
Cocktail Zindagi: Have there been instances when you are cleaning and people litter again?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: When we started cleaning it was with passion and aggression. Questions have also been asked to us like, “Are you from the BMC?” “Why does the government even then take taxes from us in the name of Swacch Bharat Abhiyaan?” But then we got to know one thing that if we reply to them it is not going to help us, we started doing ‘gandhigiri’. Where a person is throwing garbage in front of us we will pick it up and throw it in the dustbin.
Cocktail Zindagi: How was the support of BMC?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: BMC has supported us throughout. Yes, the credit should go more to the BMC officials because I am just coming once a week. The BMC people are cleaning the beaches 6 days a week. I met ‘Himangi Worlikar’ who is the deputy mayor of MCGM, and she supported us a lot.
Cocktail Zindagi: During the Ganesh festivals, the ‘Ganesha’ murthis flow back to the beach with the waves, which is not a good sign? What is your opinion on that?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: Everyone needs to learn how to worship God. This is very disheartening to this and it fills me with a lot of rage. This is not the treatment we should be doing with our God and it is also affecting the environment. This is not something where we will have to blame the officials and politicians, what are we doing? I feel that we should be giving some part of us to society. But people are being more inclined towards eco-friendly Ganpati idols. I also feel that he shouldn’t be just respected for 10 days.
Last year we started cleaning during the ‘Visarjan’. We were prepared that the beach is going to get dirty. We even prepared a ‘Post Ganesha Visarjan Campaign’ so that we can clean the beach. We requested people a lot that they should do the ‘Visarjan’ in the nearby ponds. Throw the ‘Pooja Samagrihi’ in the dustbins but nothing changed at all.
Cocktail Zindagi: Down the line 5 years where do you see yourself with ‘Khushiyaan’, ‘Roti Ghar’, ‘Naari Shakti’, ‘Project Paathshala’ and the ‘Beach Clean-Up Drive’?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: After 5 years personally I don’t want to see the beach clean-up drives. There should be no need of the cleanup drives. This is my dream. About ‘Khushiyaan’ I want it to get into the different states of the country and spread ‘Khushiyaan’. I want ‘Khushiyaan’ to get into every underprivileged kid’s heart. Helping them to be happy and be themselves, and they develop themselves to make everyone else happy.
As with the start of a centralized kitchen in ‘Roti Ghar’ where underprivileged women will be making food and we will be distributing it. But I want that after five years there should not even be the requirement of ‘Roti Ghar’ – it is my wish. My plan is to develop something for the people who cannot afford and provide them with the necessities in the next five years.
For ‘Naari Shakti’ women are the most important, because of them we are growing. We need to take care of them. I want them to be the most respected in the country. They are more than men. They know how to run a family.
The last ‘Project Paathshala’ I want to develop schools for underprivileged kids where they not only learn but also develop. Sanitary napkins are also a necessity and the provision for it should be free because there are people in the country who still cannot afford it.
Cocktail Zindagi: What particular message you want to give to the people of the country with all initiatives you’ve started?
Chinu Jeet Kwatra: My message to senior citizens and to the youngsters is, ask your kids to get out of the home and do some kind of social service even if it is little. It develops you as a different person. ‘Insaan Bano’ it is the need of the society.
The more happiness you spreading the more you get it back. We are born as a human so we have to fight back each and every problem we face.