This College Student Is Taking Thousands of Beggars off the Streets and into Dignified Lives

Swati Bondia has created a powerful story of social entrepreneurship. At the age of 18, she started a handicrafts business that helped over 1000 people from the streets start leading dignified lives.

Five years ago, at a busy traffic signal where Bangaloreans waited impatiently for the light to turn green, a little girl went begging frantically from one vehicle to another, racing against the time the red signal gave her. As serendipity would have it, she stretched her hand towards Swati Bondia, an 18-year-old college girl. Swati refused to give her money. In a reaction that was totally unexpected, the child started crying. As heads turned and eyes rolled, Swati was left flustered. She quickly got down from the auto, took the girl aside and tried to pacify her.

She bought her food and clothes but the girl insisted, “Didi, I don’t want all this, I want a ten rupee note. If I don’t get money, my mother will beat me up.”

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Swati gasped. She was now terribly angry with the child’s mother and couldn’t control her desire to confront her and question her cruelty. Swati asked the girl to take her to her mother. Her mind was crowded with questions that she would ask of her.

But she was in for her second shock of the day. Where she expected to see an exploitative mother, she saw the face of a helpless migrant woman who lived on the streets with her children and an alcoholic husband. The family had travelled all the way from Rajasthan looking for work. But no one was ready to trust them and give them jobs. Begging, then, became the family’s only option.

Call it teenage impulsiveness if you will, but Swati was overcome by a strong feeling to help. She promised the family she would find work for them.

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For the next couple of days, Swati went around looking for jobs for the migrant family. This hunt made her realise what such families go through in finding their footing.

Companies and households simply refused to give jobs to migrants, unwilling to take the risk of trusting total strangers whose identities they couldn’t trace.

Disappointed, Swati decided to go back to the family and apologise that she had failed to find them work. However, when she walked into their shelter, she saw a different scene altogether. The alcoholic husband had shaved and tidied himself. The children had not gone to beg. The mother was beaming with hope that their life was about to change. Looking at them, Swati could not bring herself to say that she had not succeeded.

She decided she would be the one to create jobs for them.

She sat down with them to find out what they could do. The family knew the art of making handicrafts so Swati decided to give handicraft making a try. She bought them some raw material for Rs 250 and they made beautiful crafts from it. Now it was time to be back at the busy signal.

They displayed their wares on the pavement and behold, they made sales of Rs. 750 that day. Swati says it was the proudest day for all of them.

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Encouraged by their achievement and now confident of themselves, the family started making more handicrafts. Swati took their products beyond the traffic signals of Bangalore, under the banner of Om Shanti Traders. She sold their handicraft items as corporate and hospitality gifts. The takers for the products grew and so did the number of families that became part of Om Shanti Traders. Seeing the change she had brought to the life of the first family she helped, more and more street dwellers wanted to become part of Swati’s organization.

Today, the little girl who cried at the signal goes to school.

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One thousand individuals who would otherwise be begging on the streets are able to earn up to Rs. 10,000 per month and lead dignified lives. Swati grew the business to set up a factory and provide accommodation facilities for these families. When families sign up with Om Shanti Traders, Swati insists they commit to sending their girl children to school; she funds this initiative herself. She notes that the boys have been a difficult lot to keep in school but is trying to ensure that happens as well.

All the while that she was changing the lives of street people, Swati continued to lead her life as a college student as well. She completed her BBM and MBA, efficiently juggling her studies with her social enterprise. Swati has now started her new entrepreneurial venture, which provides virtual exhibition services. Her company, Enrich Expo, provides scholarships to children from 12 different villages, each village getting Rs. 20 lakh. As she builds one entrepreneurial venture after another, she says she wants to eventually realize her vision of bridging the gap between the privileged and the underprivileged.

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us: [email protected], or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

About the author: Ranjini Sivaswamy is a freelance writer and one of the first team members of The Better India. She comes from a mass communication background and is currently a consultant with IIM Bangalore.

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