IN THE PURSUIT OF IDENTITY
The Blink Foundation turns one, this month. For the NGO’s founder Arun Fernandez, though, nearly a decade has gone into the making of his organisation that in his own words, aims to “celebrate differences”. It all began of course, when Arun began taking a paper for Loyola College’s Foundation Courses Department, where he mooted the formation of the Peace Rangers, an organisation whose sole aim was to sell the concept, idea and practice of peace in society at large. The CSIM alumnus left no stone unturned in developing and culturing his new organisation, so much so that it slowly became part of his DNA. “After my short teaching career at Loyola College, I even considered working at a private firm,” he admits, “The salary was good, and it was a great opportunity. But despite all that, I knew that my calling lay elsewhere.” Arun was right. What he really wanted to do, by his own admission, was make a difference. His passion lay in teaching, leadership, thinking and working with the youth. What Arun really wanted to do was continue his mission of celebrating differences and embracing identities. In many ways, it was this that led to the formation of the Blink Foundation.
Blink was established only a year ago, in October 2014. But in the last year, under Arun’s leadership, the organisation has successfully carved a niche for itself in society and academic circles. “Our mission is to embrace identities and celebrate our differences,” he reiterates, before going on to elaborate: “When we’re born, we’re all just a sheet of white paper. We don’t have an identity attached to ourselves. But as we grow up, our identity is what makes us who we are. At Blink, we want to celebrate the diversity that exists in these identities, and emphasize on the peaceful coexistence of these many identities.” And that was when the idea of the Blink Foundation was born within Loyola’s walls. “It was the Institute of Dialogue with Cultures and Religions (IDCR) that helped with us our initial funding,” recounts Arun, “The institute helped us with a handy sum of 12,400 Euros that we used to get started.” But that wasn’t all; support for Blink came from near and far. The Jesuit Provincial in Madurai parted with a few lakh rupees to support the organisation, while Arun’s father, a businessman, also helped him with the loan. “The IDCR funding was used to develop our web presence and set up our office,” Arun says.
In the last 12 months, Blink has made its presence felt in elementary schooling. The organisation has reached out to 5 schools and 1,200 students through a team of 120 volunteers. “Our volunteers are called change agents, and engage with school students on a very personal level,” Arun says. “The five schools include a rural school as well. “Our network of schools is divided into three categories: private schools, government schools and rural camps,” he explains, “Two of our volunteers are trained to reach out to as many as 210 students, across urban and rural schools.” Behind the legwork however, is a dedicated nine-member core team, headed by Arun himself. Out of the five schools that Blink engages with, two private schools have roped in the organisation to provide services on a regular basis. As part of its five-year plan, Blink hopes to engage with 5 more schools on a regular basis.
For an organisation so evidently young, ambitious planning is the hallmark of its work. Arun says that Blink will continue to impart its message of cultural identity, peace and peaceful coexistence for the years to come. “Our aim is to promote the concept that differences exist, and teach children that it’s okay to be different from each other,” he explains, “A simple is example is how fish is considered non-vegetarian in some places, while some countries and even North Eastern Indian States, it’s looked at as not necessarily non-vegetarian.” He continues, “Who’s to say what’s right or what’s wrong? The key is to accept and acknowledge both points of view. That’s exactly what we at Blink aim to achieve.” Peace, peaceful living and religious coexistence are some of the areas that Blink will continue to focus on, in pursuit of these goals. The organisation plans on bringing nearly 7,000 school children under its fold by the end of next year. “That’s a very practical goal,” Arun explains, “If we manage to extend our services to a school like Velammal, for instance, that immediately means nearly 35,000 students in one go. So, 7,000 students isn’t much of a challenge.” Through its team of 120 change agents, Blink will now set its sights on the future in the hope that it can well and truly bring about change in the minds and lives of several thousand students.