In early 2017, a young Indian girl tugged on Viasat software engineer Karthick Arumugam’s shirt as he stood eating at a roadside food cart. The moment changed his life, and subsequently the lives of more than 150 orphans and the Viasat employees who joined the effort to help them.
The girl was wearing a school uniform and carrying a stack of books. When she asked Arumugam to buy one, he refused. But the girl’s expression got his attention.
“She started to plead … and I sensed something from her eyes,” he said.
Arumugam instead offered to buy her a meal but the girl said “no,” then asked if he’d buy her a small school notebook. Her teacher scolded her for not having one, she said. Arumugam bought her five notebooks, and while that satisfied the girl, the encounter left him with questions.
“Her face kept appearing in my mind,” he said. “The amount I spent was very small but it may have helped her to move to the next grade of her school life. This realization was so satisfying I thought of searching for a similar experience.”
The search led Arumugam to the Annai Fathima Child Welfare Centre, an orphanage in Chennai, India – where Viasat has two offices.
Last Christmas, Arumugam and several other Viasat Chennai employees celebrated with the children there, donating and sharing cake and other snacks with them. Two of the children dropped the sweets onto the dirt ground of the orphanage, then blew the dirt off the food and ate it without complaint. While the children weren’t bothered, Viasat’s holiday volunteers were.
“We decided to do something for these children so that rain or shine, they can sit and have their meals in a comfortable space,” said Vinod Sivadas, head of Viasat India’s People & Culture.
Moving into action
Viasat employees repaired and remodeled the dining hall, replacing the damaged floor and ceiling, rusted windows and doors, and inadequate lighting and ventilation systems. The children now take their meals in a brightly lit room with vinyl floors, white tiled walls, and permanently affixed tables with glossy black counters. The room is so popular, it’s also used as a study hall.
Viasat volunteers recently joined the children and the center’s staff at a pizza party to dedicate the dining hall.
“We’re hoping it helps with the ultimate achievement – contributing to a high-quality education for these children,” said Dinesh Ramalingam, Viasat facilities manager. “We’re very grateful that Viasat supports these kinds of CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities. It makes us feel proud to work for Viasat.”
Viasat Chennai volunteers plan to do more projects at the Annai Fathima Child Welfare Centre and other schools and orphanages in the area to help ensure that kind of outcome. Orphanages are common in India.
“There are many children like the girl I met, children who don’t even have a notebook, proper food, a proper place to sleep,” said Arumugam, who visits the children at the orphanage when he can.
The experience not only warms his heart, it opens his eyes.
“Whenever I get leisure time, I try to interact with the kids,” he said. “Every visit teaches me a new thing about life, about money, and so many other subjects.”