Imagine waking up in the morning on the hard ground, or going to bed with no food in your stomach. Imagine the feeling of loneliness weighing down on you or feeling helpless as you walk around the eerie streets each night.
On one hand, there are people who live their lives lavishly. They are not only enjoying the joy of essentials but also have what they want and desire; a luxurious living providing them an extra comfort. On the other, there are people who cannot even afford the basic requirements of living. They do not have shelter to live, food to eat, and clothes to wear.
With the fortunes of billionaires increasing by 35 per cent in India, the poor in our country are still struggling to get a basic meal. But is rolling down your car window and giving change to a beggar really enough? “It’s clearly not enough,” says Assam’s youth leader Barnali Phukan, who is no less than a philanthropist in her own way.
Barnali Phukan is a well-known public figure, you can say – Youth Icon in Assam who works as one of the spokespersons of the Indian National Congress. She has been actively involved in humanitarian works for the past several years in the far flung rural areas of Assam and neighbouring states.
She is the founder of SMART Behali, a charitable group based in Biswanath District of Assam. Under her guidance and duteous planning, the social group works for the socio economic upliftment of the poorer sections of the society along with empowering the youth and womenfolk. In addition, she is the President of the North East Human Right Organization (NEHRO), an NGO fighting for the rights of the poorer sections of the society along with indulging in other charitable works.
Says Barnali, “If you look at the poverty situation closely, then you will see that there is inequality. Governments and other organizations are trying to fix this gap but it will make sense only when individuals find a way to contribute to the poor.” She is right, isn’t she? Well, she is not just words but her contributions towards the poorer sections justify her statement!
As a social worker, Barnali Phukan has been involved with different types of relief and rehabilitation works throughout Assam. Be it people suffering due to poverty, discrimination, or other social injustices, you will find Barnali touching upon their lives and bringing a meaningful impact.
With 32 per cent of its population living Below the Poverty Line and lakhs of people getting affected by floods every year, hunger and homelessness is common in Assam. Social Worker Barnali Phukan has taken immense efforts to rehabilitate the affected masses. She indulges in distributing temporary shelters in the form of tarpaulin and warm clothes to the flood affected people.
You will also find her involved in food packet distribution programs where she provides basic meals to the calamity affected people. Be it wading through boats to the flood affected areas or teaming with Government officials for relief programs, Barnali stands tall when it comes to rehabilitation works.
Assam has been fighting with inadequate livelihood options and unemployment since long. According to the International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts, the unemployment rates of male (rural) and female (rural) in Assam are 25.7% and 38.5% respectively. These rates are much higher than the national average unemployment rates.
One cannot make such people opulent but can at least help them achieve the essentials of life and lead a prosperous life. Says Barnali, “Helping the poor and needy people is a good deed. Caring for the poor and needy people and helping them is also a noble endeavor. BUT, the more you give to poor and needy people, the more you strengthen their dependency. If you give them the chance or opportunity, you’ll see an effective and long-lasting improvement in their lives.”
Like she said above, it is apparent Barnali Phukan has a different perception when it comes to ways of eradicating poverty. Rather than making people dependent on donations, she strives to make them independent by providing sustainable livelihood options.
Every year, she helps a selected few families belonging to the BPL (Below the Poverty Line) category by providing suitable livelihood options according to their living condition. For example, she provides cows and goats to families who have the required provisions to take care of the animals. This way, they can sell their milk, increase their numbers and thus, earning a regular income each monthly.
Barnali Phukan has been associated with a Mahila Committee in her district that has around 100 women. This committee is basically a Self Help Group that works together to learn new skills for employment generation. For instance, these women make weave the traditional Assamese gamusa and Barnali helps them sell it, thus making them self-dependent.
Through her initiative-SMART Behali, she has also made an effort towards employment generation amongst the poorer women by making provisions for learning tailoring. School and College dropouts, widows, single mothers; everyone can join her scheme and start their own businesses.
In addition, Barnali’s social group also promotes education among the girls of the Adivasi Community who work in tea gardens. She provides financial assistances to these families for bearing their educational expenses. Besides, they also conduct educative programs to motivate the young boys of the tea workers who dropped out from school.
Barnali Phukan has also helped young boys and girls who are skilled in music, dance and sports to get admitted in good training institutes so that they can hone their skills and move ahead towards a promising careers.
Although young, going through immense hardships as a youth leader has made Barnali Phukan an empathetic person. She has the ability to imagine herself in someone else’s situation, and then be able to understand what that person may be experiencing. You can feel it in her speeches or whenever she talks on television shows as a Media Panelist.
She has the ability to inspire, invite, encourage, or even excite others to act towards making a change in the lives of the poor.It is an invaluable trait and it can mean the difference between a positive outcome and inaction.
“One of the better ways to help the poor and needy people is to give them a hand up rather than a hand out. Giving them moral support, showing heartfelt humility and respect makes them aware that someone really does care about them and trying to improve their condition,” says Barnali Phukan. According to her, by providing them with the opportunities to improve their condition on their own would increase their self-esteem and help them in overcoming barriers they face every day.
Social Worker Barnali Phukan did her schooling from Borgang High School, located in Behali, a place in Biswanath district of Assam. She passed her college from Behali Degree College and did her graduation in finance from GEA National College, Guwahati. Thereafter, she did her MBA in finance from Symbiosis University.
Due to her immense popularity, Barnali Phukan has garnered a huge fan following on different social media platforms. Through the clever use of social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, she raises her voice and creates awareness.
This way, she is able to highlight the sufferings of the poor and destitute among the netizens and general public. Besides, she also shares posts and updates from her personal and professional lives on social media. Her fans and followers throng to listen to her whenever she comes live!