I had the opportunity to meet with Shubhangi and Sanjay Tambwekar the minds and hearts behind The Arundathi Foundation a private non-profit foundation started in memory of their daughter, who passed away in an unfortunate road accident.
After the accident, many young individuals came to us and said, “We really didn’t know it was such a big problem”. They all looked up to our daughter Arundathi, and her death really affected them.

She did everything right. She wore a helmet despite being a pillion rider, and was still taken away. This is the message we are trying to send to our audience. No one is safe. If you think you are, stop immediately and listen to our story.

In conversation with Shubhangi and Sanjay.

How did you get started on your philanthropy journey?

Well it wasn’t new to us, as we had seen our parents and grandparents giving. If you have, you must give. It was just a way of life for us.  Even, before the foundation started we would find ways to help out by sponsoring children’s education, paying medical bills etc. But we wanted the foundation to be about more than just giving; we wanted it to be about making a change.

When we started the foundation, people were ready to send money, because they were all fond of Arundathi. Arundathi’s death caused a kind of itch within us, which we knew that no amount of scratching could pacify. We were restless and relentless; we had to do something in memory of our daughter, we couldn’t let her die in vain.But more than the money, we felt people joining our cause, this felt more rewarding.

“But we wanted the foundation to be about more than just giving; we wanted it to be about making a change.”

“We were restless and relentless; we had to do something in memory of our daughter, we couldn’t let her die in vain.”

Accidentwasn’t new for us; it was something that the two of us were familiar with, because of where we stayed in Goa during our early days. Initially, it would just be strangers whom we saw dead, then it reached closer circles like aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Then it got a lot closer to our lives. With Arundathi’s death, starting the foundation wasn’t an option anymore. It became a compulsion.

We wanted the foundation to be a reflection of the kind of person she was and still is to us. It has two points of focus. The first pathology as it was her academic field, and the second, road safety and civic obedience.

She wore a helmet, even though she was a pillion rider, on that fateful day. Yet, she still didn’t make it. She would have done so many great things, if she were still alive and had influenced a great number of people in her short period on this earth. Everyone was shocked and saddened by her death. We met her students whom she was mentoring at Sri. Devaraja URS Medical College, and all of them were affected by her passing. We felt pain, pride, grief and loss all at the same time, hearing all the nice things they had to say about her. The Arundathi Foundation started right there for us. People do tell us that we probably started the foundation too early, just two months after her death on 27th December, but it just felt like the perfect time to us.

“We wanted the foundation to be a reflection of the kind of person she was and still is to us. It has two points of focus. The first pathology as it was her academic field, and the second, road safety and civic obedience.”

Please tell us about the success on this journey?

So when we look at these problems related to road safety, there is the problem about driver behaviour, the road infrastructure itself, transport and road law enforcement related problems etc.The first step was to bring out awareness, with respect to all these aspects of road safety. We wished to establish contacts with various agencies to bring changes to the infrastructure, improve the quality of the support, and also find out how we can influence law and enforcement. And that’s exactly what we set about to do.

We connected with Piyush Tiwari from the SaveLIFE Foundation, who had a similar back-story to us, which kind of spurned him into action. He was very nice and wanted to do something in Arundathi’s memory. He urged us to work towards being ‘part of the change’. That’s how we became part of the Good Samaritan bill passed by Nithin Gadkari. Through the SaveLIFE Foundation we were able to give our inputs on the new motor vehicle laws. That was one of our first wins. We got involved with their petition and they formed a group called ‘Colours’, which is a coalition for organizational road safety. And that’s how we came in contact with many other people who have been affected by similar issues.

A classmate of ours in Bombay looks after a particular stretch of road, making sure it’s in good shape. She wanted to do it under the foundation of the Arundathi Foundation, as she was fond of her. We look for more people like her who work to make a change, whether it’s under the umbrella of our name, or on their own. As long as everybody’s children come home safely, we’re happy.

“We look for more people like her who work to make a change, whether it’s under the umberella of our name, or on their own. As long as everybody’s children come home safely, we’re happy.”

We realized the best way to go about our goals would be to target the younger generation. School children, college children and young adults. We started to researching and creating material to suit their needs.

Working with the Underwriters Laboratory (UL), a safety testing laboratory, helped us realize that our best bet would be to work with youth i.e. school children, college children and young adults. With their help we have been able to develop videos that reach the young audience by using Disney characters in the videos for school children with a focus on vehicle and pedestrian safety.

We started with Arundathi’s school, National Public School, Indiranagar and since then have spoken in seven schools in Bangalore and Goa. We also talked to over five corporate companies including Quicksilver.

Senior children and younger adults are put in the same category. With them the message is harsher or rather more direct because we have footage from the Bangalore traffic police, Calcutta Police and YouTube. What really seems to connect with the audience is that how that even to us, it first happened to people we didn’t know, then friends, relatives and finally to us. One cannot be complacent when it comes to road safety. Nobody is safe until the roads are safe.

“We have spoken to over seven schools and five corporate companies in Bangalore and Goa, to spread the message of road safety.”

“What really seems to connect with the audience is that how that even to us, it first happened to people we didn’t know, then friends, relatives and finally to us. One cannot be complacent when it comes to road safety. Nobody is safe until the roads are safe.”

Another one of our successful experiments was the one called Road Arts. We teach them the structured way of looking at the roads and assessing if it is a safe road? It could be things like are there footpaths? Is the condition of the road good? Is the signage good? Is the street lighting okay? Do we have good places and markings to cross the road if we need to? Based on these factors the children are able to difference between a good road. Our aim is to have well behaved, committed individuals guiding the future of the country. If this is the case, the future is sparkling. If the same people are misguided, there is really nothing, no hope.

UL has introduced a program called “Safer Road, Safer India’ which is teaching program with many sub-programs in it. We decided to apply for “Classrooms with a Cause” which is one such sub-program.

This is for teachers, and they get a stipend of Rs. 30,000. The only condition they have was to guide twenty five students on a road safety program. And their larger goal was to spread this program to reach 100 students at a minimum. A bunch of kids who work with us on Ugly Indian along with the children in our building, jumped at this opportunity. Now these kids attend safety lectures and volunteer. They also carry the message of road safety to their different schools. There are children who knew our daughter, who would come and ask us to talk to their teachers so they could spread the message to their school. These little actions save multiple lives.

“Our aim is to have well behaved, committed individuals guiding the future of the country. If this is the case, the future is sparkling. If the same people are misguided, there is really nothing, no hope.”

“And there are children who knew our daughter, who would come and ask us totalk to their teachers so they could spread the message to their school. These little actions save multiple lives.”

Another one of our breakthrough moments came from St. Meera School. Here the childrens’ parents consist of drivers, maid servants etc. And our words really resonated with them. There were 9 boys who came to us post the lecture asking, “Can we volunteer?” To increase the awareness regarding the subject, they held a drawing completion on road safety. This was sponsored by the foundation, to encourage good road behaviour. We even gave prizes for some of the best work. These miniscule steps can imprint the minds of a few children, which will bring about the change that needs to happen. They have maintained an ongoing engagement with our cause by conducting competitions, filing complaints on the BBMP site etc. They are even ready to fill in potholes on their own.

And last but not the least of my friends wanted to do something in Arundathi’s memory. So they gave a total of eighty safety vests to the police department. We believe our success is true, only when we talk to a room full of people, maybe a hundred people; and five of them approach us after the talk and promise that they will make changes to their road habits.

What are your future plans?

With regard to children the first one is to bring road safety into the school curriculum. So we believe that sensitization should start in school, by starting a road safety program that has exercises, that heightens their awareness regarding signage and road quality etc. The second way is to start a “Take the child to the Bangalore Traffic Police Control Room” program.

“Sharing stories about people who have been affected by such tragedies helps leave an impact on the minds of the listeners”

Through this the children are given a chance to take a tour of the police monitoring cell and identify the positive and the negative behaviours caught on camera. More inclusive activities like this, have a positive long-term effect on the child’s mind.

The third way is to get the children involved in the process of change. Asking them to take a survey on positive or negative behaviours like using helmets and using cellphones (to take selfies, text and talk) while driving/riding can form life-long impressions in the minds of children. Sharing stories about people who have been affected by such tragedies helps leave an impact on the minds of the listeners.

Next few steps will be to connect with Ola, Uber and other taxi corporation to promote road safety. But the problem in this case is that they will not attend such activities unless it is made mandatory. Our next main focus is the revenue models of taxi drivers and bus. Their revenues need to be reviewed and amended to be rewarded for good behaviours.

Working with more schools, colleges and corporate is an obvious future plan for us. But our biggest challenge is spreading the word, and finding ambassadors to pass the message one. Our group of boys in St. Meera’s seem quite promising, but we need much more than that. The same thing applies to corporates as well. If we find ambassadors to pass on the message we will be able to reach a wider audience. If you need to reach us, please write into info@yourphilanthropystory.in or thearundhatifoundation@gmail.com .

Road safety is the main theme that we have when we are talking about safety but we shouldn’t stop at road safety. There is fire safety, electrical wiring, engineering aspects and other things that come into play. It’s more than awareness. It’s the idea of being conscious about taking responsibility for yourself and the people around you.