According to the United Children’s Fund, 31 million orphans live in India.
Even for children not sleeping on the street, orphanages are often run-down and underfunded.
Khusi Hona, which translates to “feel happy” in Hindi, is an organization that funds needed supplies to orphanages across India. Its USF Chapter held its first meeting in the Marshall Student Center.
The meeting commenced with a video message from Matthew Rooven, the organization’s founder and director, who thanked the USF chapter for their initiative.
“We’re dedicated to empower orphans to reach full potential,” Rooven said. “I’m so excited to see the impact that the USF chapter will work towards.”
Rooven traveled the world while working as public relations agent in the private sector and said he felt his marketing skills could be used to help orphans. The organization relies heavily on social networking to attract funding.
Khusi Hona completed more than 50 projects assisting orphanages across India in 2013, he said.
The projects provided orphanages with food, hygiene and other necessities such as mosquito nets or fences.
Emily Carroll, chief volunteer officer of Khusi Hona, was present at the meeting and acted as a guide to help the USF chapter get started.
She said she hopes the USF members will acquire the same sense of purpose she has felt since she joined the organization three years ago.
“Kids were cooking their food with sticks, so we bought them cooking ware,” she said. “I saw what a big impact only a little effort could bring – it was motivating.”
Carroll and Rooven said they sold their possessions to fund their Indian exhibition.
Having eyes on the ground confirms Khusi Hona’s contributions go to the intended cause, she said.
The USF chapter will be sent video updates from Rooven, who will be spending nine months of this year in India, Carroll said.
“A lot of people will feel connected,” she said. “They can literally see where their money went.”
Since Khusi Hona was founded, Rooven has actively traveled across India to find orphanages worth supporting, Carroll said.
Khusi Hona is cautious of state funded orphanages, which Carroll said are susceptible to corruption, and instead supports orphanages run by humanitarians or families.
“There’s a belief in the Indian caste system (that) these children deserve where they’re at,” she said. “We like to affiliate with people doing it for the right reasons.”
Rooven personally meets the orphanage staff and children before offering help, said Carroll.
“(Rooven) once went on a 14-hour adventure to a remote place to meet a guy who gained the trust of street children. Now he lives in a house where he takes care of 29 boys,” she said. “They were absolutely secluded, but we found a way to help them.”
Once affiliated, she said the orphanage might contact Khusi Hona with supply requests.
Khusi Hona attempts to fund at least one project a week by running a weekly feature on its website describing specific projects. For example, this week’s feature intends to raise $240 for vegetable gardens for four remote orphanages.
Occasionally, Carroll said, there might be emergency fundraising in the event of extreme circumstances, such as a dry well or an infection outbreak.
Khusi Hona also funds projects to foster the “happiness” of children. Mental wellbeing is an important and often overlooked aspect of health, Carroll said.
“Art projects make a huge impact on a child’s happiness,” she said. “A lot of these children were sexually abused, but have no counseling. Art is another way to heal.”
Indera Ranaweera, president of the USF chapter and a junior majoring in biomedical sciences, said the first fundraiser is going to be a bake sale outside of the Library in two weeks.
“This is just the starting point,” she said. “I feel like we can all do something that we can feel happy about.”
Once the USF chapter has a larger membership, the organization hopes to host raffles and carwashes, Ranaweera said.
“Our goal is to get USF students to see outside of their own world,” she said. “And then want to do something about it.”
USF’s Student Government does not directly finance the organization’s fundraising efforts, she said.
Sonica Sharma, a senior majoring in psychology and new volunteer, said she was aware of the struggles faced by orphans in the India, the country of her birth.
“Their cause speaks to me,” she said. “I want to go into the social work field, and I gravitate towards the struggles of the unfortunate.”
USF is one of three college chapters opening this month. The other two chapters are at University of Tampa and Rutgers University.
Khusi Hona’s presence in a college atmosphere will grab the attention of college students who care about the outside world, Carroll said.
“In the West, we believe life is so hard. From my perspective- we are the 1 percent,” she said. “At least I get to wake up in a bed, and not on the floor of where I work.”
Rooven said the ultimate goal is to instill a sense of “oneness” with the world in the community.
“We don’t pretend like we’re going to bring an end to the struggles of the orphans around the world,” Rooven said. “But doing one small thing with love can make all the difference to one orphan or orphanage at a time.”