Namaste from the Dove Foundation, Varanasi!

Namaste from the exotic, hectic, sweltering, holy city of Varanasi, India! On my daily rickshaw ride to The Dove Foundation, the vibrant colors, smells, and sounds of Varanasi bombard my senses. The Dove Foundation , the largest youth-led non-profit organization in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
The foundation aims to provide quality healthcare, education, and to expand educational and employment opportunities to youth members of marginalized communities, with a high emphasis on urban slums. At 3 years old, the Dove has already established three programs including Project Arambh, which has received the 2010 MTV Staying Alive Foundation Award. Project Arambh provides HIV/AIDS and reproductive health education to the low-caste community of bicycle rickshaw pullers in India. The Dove Foundation also runs two other programs: The Youth Education Program (2011), and the Community Involvement Program (2012).
I found the Dove Foundation through internship site leads posted on the Brandeis India Initiative website. I emailed Abhinav Singh, the listed Dove contact person, over winter break showing general interest in their organization. I soon received an enthusiastic response that we might be able to work together. We had many Skype interviews over break and continued to talk about what the Dove has already done, and what present needs I could meet with my already developed skills set regarding fundraising, publicity, and outreach.
As a Communication Intern for the Dove, I will help develop the organization’s online fundraising campaign; create a short promotional video about their various programs sponsored by their organization that will be distributed on social media sites and their WebPages; facilitate programs for members of the marginalized communities that The Dove assists; write and edit web content and brochures; and manage the Foundation’s social media sites.

When I first arrived at the Indian Medical Association Building, where Dove Foundation is based, I was thrilled to finally meet Abhinav Singh and Mohita Keshware, my two internship coordinators with whom I had been corresponding with since last winter. Both introduced me to several other Dove volunteers, all less than 35 years old. The youthful spirit and energy of the group of volunteers is contagious, and makes working for this organization much more fun, and I’ve already picked up some interesting slang from my co-workers.

The first week, the Dove organized the World Blood Donation 2013 mega event. My first day at work involved advertising the Dove Foundation’s blood donation campaign in Varanasi’s bustling IP Sigra Mall. This was fantastic exposure. I met up with other Dove volunteers, and learned several phrases in Hindi about the blood drive:
Didje to-fa dzindi ghee-ka: Donate blood, save a life!

Ya “Blood Donate” carne aye gha!: Come Donate blood now!
Also… Apke sahg-nam kiya-he? : What is your name?

me at the blood donor rally

The following day, I visited a local ashram/ orphanage with Dove volunteers to create a skit for a street theater performance with the young children for the Dove Foundation’s World Blood Donation Day rally. For this, I learned more lines in Hindi, and felt warmed by the bright faces of the young boys.
The rally was the most exciting part of my first week. An open-backed van mounted with several large speakers pulled into our office parking lot for the rally event. We decorated the van with vinyl posters and white and red balloons on all sides. The van blasted music as it drove towards the IP Sigra mall, where it a large crowd gathered. After we performed our skit for a hundred or so pedestrians, the van drove to its second destination, the gates of Benares Hindu University, for a flash mob performance to promote World Blood Donation Day 2013. A procession of motorcycles roared along the van’s path and volunteers holding signs followed the van as it reached the destination. As the van made frequent stops to announce its campaign to the community, volunteers distributed informational pamphlets and free coupons to a local restaurant.
At the gates of the university, loud music began to play and a group of fifteen dancers gathered behind the van. The crowd circled around them, and the dance troupe broke out in a choreographed hip-hop piece. In addition to publicizing World Blood Donation Day, and passing out pamphlets, and acting in a Hindi skit at the rally, I also took pictures.

Overall, my first week at the Dove Foundation made me even more excited to be working for a group of energized creative individuals for the rest of my summer. I anticipate learning much about how non-profits function in non-western countries, in addition to understanding the conditions and issues facing the marginalized populations the Dove Foundation assists. However, I did not anticipate donating my own blood for World Blood Donation Day.

– Aliza Gans ’15

2 thoughts on “Namaste from the Dove Foundation, Varanasi!”

  1. Hey Eliza!

    Looks like your having a good time in Varanasi- I wanted to ask you about the social media aspect of your internship, since that is a big part of mine as well.

    Would you say that the way social media is used to promote is different in India? Does it change from region to region, or is it pretty much the same as in the western world?

    Hope you are well and that your internship is turning out to be a perspective broadening experience.


  2. Hi Noah!

    Yes. Social media is a huge part of my internship, as well as the general youth culture in India and Varanasi. Many middle class youths don’t own computers here but have smartphones, which are considerably more affordable. It was very shocking for me to see a family living without plumbing in their home, but each family member has a very nice phone. Internet cafes are also popular hangout spots for young Indians. Facebook is the main social media site used here…not so much Twitter, blogging sites, etc. Teens and young adults are constantly checking their profiles, posting pictures, and messaging friends. Facebook is a way for teenagers who have never left Varanasi to have a larger social network than what is immediately available to them. Since the Dove Foundation is targeted to engage the youth, it’s critical that they maintain a colorful, current Facebook page. Also, internet-based advertising is much cheaper and environmentally friendly. However, my supervisor expressed some frustration with social media as a means of engaging youth. She said it is hard to gauge actual attendance to an event by Facebook RSVPs, and also similar to Facebook in the US, it is easier for a Facebook user to be engaged online versus active in real life. So one of the challenges has been finding a way to make these events compelling on and off the webpage. I’ve been making short videos and posting pictures after an event takes place to show those who didn’t show up that we had a great time and it was a worthwhile experience. Thanks for your interest! Your internship with the Bus Project in Oregon sounds very rewarding!


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