Walking ahead with a vision

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 ANU SHIVARAM looks at the work of Vision 2020, an organisation that funds projects based in India


It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself, said Ralph Waldo Emerson

 It is precisely with this awareness that a group of Sydneysiders got together and set up an organisation called Vision 2020.
On the eve of Gandhi Jayanthi on  October 2002, a group of friends met and set about discussing their vision of the future, a future where they could make a difference to the lives of the less fortunate and in the process, find an additional dimension, an added meaning to their own lives.
What started as a small initiative has now grown into an organisation known for its integrity, transparency and efficiency. In the last decade, Vision 2020 has raised money to fund thirteen projects. Each of these projects has been chosen solely based on need and merit. The projects range from funding for wheelchairs to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Chennai India, to making a substantial donation to the cause of starving children in Somalia.
One of the dedicated members of the organisation explained that Vision 2020 is committed to ensuring that all of its activities are free from any form of discrimination. It does not have any preference based on political or religious grounds, nor is it limited by any national or geographical boundaries.
“Since Indians are the predominant group in this organisation, it’s natural that most of the projects funded by Vision 2020 are based in India, however we were only too happy to fund a project in Nepal called Hope for the Himalayan Kids. We provided financial support for the purchase of: bunk beds, kitchen items, and for the construction of soak pits for the Sahara Children’s Home,” elaborated the member.
Why create a separate organisation? Why not donate to the existing charity organisation? This is a pertinent question on the mind of many people. The prohibitive administrative costs of many high profile organisations was disappointing to our members, explains the treasurer, who, like most other members of the organisation, is reluctant to be named. In effect if you made a $100 donation to a cause that you wanted to support, only $65 reached the needy, after deducting the administrative charges, and this was not a happy outcome for many. Members also wanted to ensure that the projects selected and funded satisfy all of the other objectives of Vision 2020.
Vision 2020 is a member driven organisation. The members are personally involved in nominating projects, organising the funding and ensuring that the funds reach the projects. Not only that, the projects are monitored on a periodic basis to ensure that the funds are utilised and the benefits do reach the needy.
It was a policy decision to fund one-off infrastructure projects where Vision 2020 could see tangible results of the funding and monitor the quality of project outcomes.  Funding for wheelchairs, electricity generators, disability friendly vehicles, ambulances, helping to build homes for destitute old people, toilet blocks, class rooms, hostel buildings; these are the types of solid, sustainable projects that have been funded by Vision 2020 so far.
When you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day but when you teach him how to fish, you have helped him earn a livelihood, this is the belief that most members subscribe to. Hence charity work here is primarily based on reason, not emotion. This explains the name of the organisation as well, 20/20 vision. To have a vision for the future, a normal vision that includes the welfare of all human beings, is the aim of Vision 2020, another member explains.
Each project is thoroughly scrutinised to ensure that it is beneficial and long lasting. The manager of the Jyothi’s School for Cerebral Palsy, in Kottayam, in the southern Indian state of Kerala  says, “we got the van delivered at our door steps, with all the modifications required, to transport children in wheel chair to their schools. This was a double blessing as we not only got the vehicle meeting our specification but we were saved the hassle of shopping around for the right vehicle”.
Vision 2020 is a voluntary, not-for-profit association registered in New South Wales, Australia. To comply with the government requirements an independent auditor, has been  recruited and is, of course working on a voluntary basis. There is a group of committed life members and the membership has been growing continuously as more and more people are getting convinced about the transparency and integrity of the organisation.
So how are the funds raised for these projects? There are two major events conducted each year, an indoor cultural event closer to the Indian festival of Diwali, the festival of lights.  A festive atmosphere is created for family and friends to get together and celebrate the festival with good food and entertainment. Fresh sweets are also custom delivered from India for which there is a great demand. Tickets to this popular event are being sold out each year.
“We also have an outdoor event every year and that is great fun,” gushes a young volunteer who is helping with organising this year’s Walkathon on April 25, the Anzac day Public holiday. This is the second year of this outdoor event, being organised in the Lane Cove national park. There is a 10 kilometre walking route, but people can walk as much as they please and then stay back for some delicious food prepared by the volunteers. They can have a picnic with family and friends and while they have fun, they can also donate for a project that will provide young school kids in rural India, the decency of clean toilets.
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