‘Our hope is to empower individuals to become humane warriors’

With Humane Warriors, TU Delft alumni Malavika Nambiar is part of a growing team tackling social issues in communities across India and the globe.

Malavika Nambiar: “It was interesting that a lot of the people who came together shared that common factor of TU Delft.” (Photo: Private collection)

“I went to TU Delft for a master’s in Biomedical Engineering, in the Biomaterials and Tissue Biomechanics track. One of the other cofounders of Humane Warriors, Rhythima Shinde, also did her master’s at TU Delft, but we never crossed paths while we were there. I went to ETH Zurich for an internship and my master’s thesis and she was doing her PhD there and that’s how we met.

Last year when COVID happened and India went into lockdown, Rhythima and Naveen Shamsuddhin (a lecturer at ETH) came together and started the Fight Hunger Fight Corona fundraiser and then a bunch of us jumped on the wagon. During the first fundraiser there were eight or 10 of us and we were able to raise a sum of more than EUR 40,000 with which over 100,000 meals and sanitary supplies helped a lot of people. This was the beginning of Humane Warriors. It was interesting that a lot of the people who came together shared that common factor of TU Delft.

As we grew in Switzerland, we were also growing in the Netherlands, where we now have a chapter where the majority of members are alumni from TU Delft. We got a lot of support from the Indian Student Associations in Delft, Eindhoven and Groningen. The community has been very active and there was this connection, something that unites us apart from the fact that most of us are of Indian origin. In the Netherlands, the approach is very hands on and about getting things done and I think a bit of this attitude has been instilled in us from our time at TU Delft. We’re growing really fast and now have close to 80 members.

‘They can’t afford education if they can’t even afford food’

When we started off, the fundraiser was about hunger relief. During the lockdown in India there was a huge hunger crisis. We wanted to help vulnerable communities where government or big NGOs had not reached. Other projects evolved from that. For example, there is a very low-income slum in Mumbai, the city I come from. We were helping the school deliver food like dry rice and pulses to families. We realised that they can’t afford education if they can’t even afford food.

We started the mentorship project as a scholarship drive which put 100 students through school for a few months. It gave parents a bit more time to get back on their feet. We soon realised that funding the school fee wasn’t solving everything. The kids were not motivated and were not seeing the point of the whole year any more. That’s how our mentorship programme started, with the idea to have a mentor who is guiding you, keeping you on track and reminding you to think about your career. The dropout rates are quite high in general, even without COVID and our fear was this time around, it could be worse. We continue to work in this community.

With the second drive, the Help India Breathe campaign, apart from food, we also supported communities with oxygen supplies during the acute scarcity. We are now thinking about sustainable solutions like community kitchens and solar electrification in rural India. We also did a microfinance project where we provided loans to 10 women. It was intended to help the women be financially independent and empower them to support their family. Out of 10 loans, eight have already been repaid in one year, six more loans have been given out and now we plan to expand this programme further.

A lot of people that got involved with Humane Warriors said it was great because they wanted to do something but didn’t know what to do. Our hope is to empower individuals to become warriors and use the collective power of the individual to make impactful changes in society.

We do have active TU Delft students involved in our team. Since most of us have a technical background, we are trying to bring this into the social sector, for example, with ideating for green energy solutions and other sustainable projects. TU Delft has great inspiring minds and they are always welcome to join us. We are confident that we can implement any solutions that are thought of if we have people who want to work on them. This last year has clearly shown us at Humane Warriors, that distance does not matter, you can lead the change you want, no matter where you are.”

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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