Since 2019, over 10 lakh saplings have been planted in 978 Punjab villages. As many as 14,000 students have been enrolled in 54 ‘learn labs’ for education, and the opportunity to fulfil their sporting dream through 263 sporting centres. Nearly 122 villages have been efficiently managing their waste.
This monumental impact in the state is a result of Sunny (Gurpreet) Singh’s years-long endeavour.
As a young boy, Sunny was always the child with many questions on his mind — whether it was for school projects or the things he saw as life progressed.
“I would watch construction workers and domestic help going back from work with their young children, who were my age. The kids do not go to school, they have no future because of the circumstances they are born in. Their parents, as much as they would want to, cannot afford to educate them,” he recalls to The Better India.
Sunny moved to Seattle for further education and started working in companies such as Expeditors International and Microsoft. In 1996, he started Edifecs — a healthcare company. While he was doing exceptionally well in his work, the itch to do something for his homeland stayed with him.
“As a kid when I would watch those kids, I’d feel bad for them, but could not do anything about it. But as a man who has his own business, I knew I could do something because I had the means, talent and resources to,” he says.
Sunny came to India in 2014 to found RoundGlass Foundation, an organisation that aims to drive holistic well-being in Punjab — from education to waste management and promoting sustainable living. He says that so far, it has reached 1,442 villages across 23 districts such as Fatehgarh, Mansa, Sas Nagar, etc.
For every citizen of Punjab to grow together
Sunny explains, “What we want to do through our initiatives is make 12,500 villages in Punjab environmentally clean, while making them financially sustainable, so they don’t have to leave their villages. We have reached [around] 1,500 villages so far,” Sunny says.
The foundation has four initiatives — Sustain Punjab, Her Punjab, Sports Punjab and Learn Punjab.
Explaining how each works, he says, “Through Learn Punjab, we are trying to give education to village kids in a way that they understand how the world works. We don’t do textbook knowledge. Our goal is to make them think out of the box and help them have good communication skills. In a village, people can have a very confined way of thinking. We aim to break that barrier. The courses cover everything from agriculture, and AI to space sciences.”
“Sports Punjab is about getting the kids to get out for one or two hours a day to play sports. The idea was simple, I drew four lines and gave a few kids four footballs. Soon more and more gathered, and now, we have tennis and volleyball courts, football fields, etc, with professional coaches.”
“The kids come out of the learning labs, freshen up and come to their sports training. Their schedule is packed — they study, they play and they go home. Now their lives have a purpose instead of playing gulli danda, wandering around or, worse, getting into drugs,” he continues.
Talking about Sustain Punjab, he says, “We plant mini forests and trees in the villages and the villages take care of them. We also make compost out of the solid waste from the homes. They are all organically made and can be used as manure by farmers. This has driven a sense of cleanliness among the villagers and they start complaining to the sarpanch if the garbage collection person does not come even for a single day. We have reached 122 villages for waste management but we hope to expand it to every village in the state,” he says.
“Another initiative that the foundation has is Her Punjab, where we have set up self-help groups and a sanitary pads unit where they learn how to make pads, manufacture them and make money. We also help them set up beauty parlours, etc, to help them use whatever skills they have and become financially independent. When they are not subservient to the male members of the family, they can stand against the abuse and early marriages that happen. When the mother is independent, she would stand up for her daughter, and so on,” he adds.
Rajender Kaur, a victim of domestic violence, was given work in a flower nursery and now is able to earn a living. After enduring continuous violence for seven years, in 2020, she left her husband’s home. Her father introduced her to the foundation, where she was trained in the relevant knowledge and skills under the Her Punjab initiative.
“My husband would hit me for no reason. Everyone forced me to give him second chances. Now my life has changed drastically,” she says.
“The work at the nursery gave me the courage to stand up for myself. Before this, I was always tense and the work itself helps me to calm down. I am happier because I can give my children a better future,” she says.
‘My heart is in Punjab’
Although Sunny has spent a long part of his life in Seattle, he says his heart belongs to the villages of Punjab.
“I have a special connection with Punjab. I spent a lot of time with the villagers and you would cry if you witnessed their hospitality and the kind of affection they will give you. The warmth and the love they will shower will not be anything like you have ever experienced,” he says.
Sunny says he feels connected and in harmony with the people of Punjab. “I feel like these are my people, my land, my culture and I resonate with them and hence want to work for them. This is why I feel like I am the right person to be doing this work in Punjab,” he says.
RoundGlass Foundation works on an open-source policy which also focuses to help similar organisations and teach them the tricks of the trade.
“This is why I wanted to go beyond basic corporate social responsibility. I wanted to create a space which is actively involved and is leading the charge to make social change happen. I see a problem and immediately want to look for a solution. I want other organisations to come and learn with us and spread the work in other states too.”
“I hope that the work RoundGlass does in Punjab inspires and makes other Sunny Singhs say ‘Let me do something similar’. One day, by the combined efforts of organisations like RoundGlass, we can improve lives in all villages in the country and make them sustainable.”
“My learning is that I want to uplift my people and be in service of humanity. If someone comes to me with choices to get a billion dollars or do good work I would give up money. I want to leave behind a good place for my children and the children of the world. I will continue to do so for the rest of my life,” he says.
Want to contribute to Sunny’s efforts or volunteer in his work? You can reach him at the official website of RoundGlass Foundation.
Edited by Divya Sethu