ARON YONZONE TAKING CARE OF THE HOMELESS PEOPLE
(an in depth look at the heart of the founder of TEAM WHO CARES?)
Aron Yonzone the founder of Team Who Cares? joins Adwiti Subba Haffner in the most caring and compassionate interview as he talks about the street people, the homeless and the loveless. His relentless effort to uplift the downtrodden by any means possible will move you to tears. Continue reading about this young man whose selfless work has touched many lives and I guarantee you will touch yours as well.
That ochre colored Kalimpong sun spilled into Aron’s room, his rubix cube twisted and turned inadvertently in his hands, his thoughts latched on to what he felt on the way home from school.
Mr. Baam sat in the corner of the steps of the main bazaar, his grey hair matted and unkempt like he had not known the pleasure of a shower in his entire lifetime. His old worn out jacket exposed his elbows covering an old grey sweater. He had always seen him but then this time something remarkable happened, which changed his life and his heart forever- Aron made eye contact with this man and in that split second he saw the man’s soul – filled with loneliness, desolation and a severe lack of purpose and hopelessness in his eyes! Somewhere deep inside Mr. Baam’s face lurked a smile, buried under wrinkles and layers of failure and rejection. That night Aron could not sleep because the scene haunted him deep in his heart and as he grew up the vision grew with him, the vision to uplift the poor, the needy, and the hungry – the man on the streets, the homeless and the loveless.
By July 2012, he gathered a team and made a revolutionary step towards his dream. He challenged our society to look at life with slightly different eyes. He published a calendar with images of the street people and started raising awareness. When asked why, his reply was “The world does not just consist of beautiful things; it also includes sadness, ugliness, anger, poverty which needs to be addressed and polished so the dark side can be lit!” he wrote a song for them called “mero pani tah jiwan ho” and touched many hearts around the world.
And now, the team headed by Aron Yonzone, the compassionate gentlemen who saw such a need in our society has spread to 12 different countries and has made such an impact that now people from our community do not look at the homeless the same way we did before. Aron has mobilized teams to clean them, clothe them, shelter then and has given them one thing that is more priceless than anything material- love, faith and hope!
Their support does not simply extend to the street people; it is for everyone who needs help and assistance. On the 9th of May the team left for Gurkha, Nepal after making an extensive collection of rice, dal, oil, Water, fast foods, blankets and money. They braved the journey and shared their kindness, displaying their integrity and solidarity once again.
Adwiti: According to Wikipedia at least 23 million people are homeless in India. Homelessness is a very complex and critical problem and does not appear to have any easy solutions. So, Aron hats off to your cause. How did this start? What moved you to start this noble cause and what is your ultimate goal/vision?
Aron TWC: Yes, there are a staggering number of homeless people in India and the solution seems to be quite complicated and until the Government and the wealthy section of our society doesn’t step forward to solve this problem with generosity and resources that come with wealth and affluence then this problem will keep multiplying. Determination is important to keep the cause moving forward and I will keep making everyone I come in contact with aware of this issue.
As a teenager I think my heart was in a place that felt compassion more than anything else, my heart cried every time I passed the homeless, I felt a tug, a calling, I wanted to help them but as a kid I did not have the resources nor the skills to assist them. I took pictures of them in the streets, begging, dirty, ragged and grungy and kept them in my scrap book to remind myself of the work I wanted and needed to do, it was like an involuntary burden on my shoulder. As I grew up my need to help them grew stronger and one day on the 26 day of July 2012 I gathered 17 core people with me I took my first step of my dream mission. Of course without the team who cares? is nothing. I do give full credit for the mission that has moved many and helped many.
People watched us with mouth agape as we gathered one street sleeper after another around Kalimpong town and started giving them baths, feeding them and dressing them with clean clothes that we had collected from our own wardrobes! They were looking cool too!
For the first time, I saw them really smiling, marveling at their new clothes and basking in the love that we showered them, and deep down finally, this is where my heart started to feel lighter and happier. I felt the burden on my shoulder reduce considerably and that is when I knew this was my calling and my life purpose!
TWC has a vision, a goal to eventually build a shelter for them, vocation training and help them with the process of reintegration into the society.
Adwiti: Please describe in detail the work you do from the time you spot the homeless person to the final outcome of your effort and labor.
Aron TWC: As we see the homeless person we immediately arrange clean clothes for him, cut his/ her hair and clean him up and give him something to eat, we do his cleaning and clothing and we feed him on a regular basis. They get a sense of belonging and the happiness in their faces is what we most feel privileged enough to experience. We keep tabs on them and they know where to find us. We are as I mentioned earlier looking for a more permanent solution to this challenge.
Adwiti: We cannot ignore the fact that the team is dealing with people whose mental state may not be particularly stable or some of them may even be mentally disturbed. What type of precaution does your team take for any untoward incidents? Do you have a volunteer team of health care professionals working with you as well?
Aron TWC: Due to my team’s core experience we train the new volunteers with our expertise. We have found a number of items that they keep in their clothing, like knives, forks, sharp objects made from broken bottles; we train our team to be careful dealing with them. But, mostly they are just sad and depressed and do not have any intention of hurting us. We approach them with love and because I am a believer in Isu/ Jesus I believe he has given me and our team even strength to deal with issues of this nature with love and resilience. We pray a lot!
Adwiti: What is the team’s plan in rehabilitating the homeless people? Do you have a strategy to make them financially independent? Please share some story in this regard.
Team Who Cares/Aron: Although we have a goal of creating a shelter, almost like a place where they will be allowed to learn the social and other skills necessary to integrate and re integrate into the main stream society, we are trying hard to secure funds. Since funds are so limited and we are not being supported by any financial institutions or even the government presently we are simply working on the dream by taking care of these people who have been neglected by their loved ones and the society for so long. I believe that everyone in this world has something to offer, everyone comes to this earth with a talent and it is my mission to rehabilitate them by giving them hope and direction. There are some we have helped to get back into mainstream society. One happy ending is that one of them has become a bus boy for a store in Kalimpong. A small home was also built by our team for an old lady, besides the usual clothing and feeding that we do there are some areas of real triumph and we are working towards making the whole experience a solid victory which means rehabilitating every homeless in our region into the society. It is always so good to be able to see them as humans and love them as people.
Adwiti: Data also indicates that alcohol and drug abuse are excessively high among the homeless inhabitants. Tell us more about how your team works through the substance abuse issue which is very demanding and complex. Please share you experience.
TWC/Aron: I do believe that the homeless inhabitants are not homeless by choice. Circumstances have brought them to this condition and one of the main culprits is poverty! Poverty pervades all aspect of their lives, it is a cycle. No money. No education. No education. No job. No job. No self esteem. No self esteem. No spirit. No love. No life. No life. No food. No friends. No society. No home. No place to go.
About drugs, astonishingly in all my years working with them I haven’t even met one single person doing drugs or have been rendered homeless because of drug abuse.
Adwiti: What about the homeless children? Can you highlight on this issue?
TWC/Aron: As far as me and my feelings are concerned, we TW.C. really appreciate your query about homeless children. We would be love to help them if we could .We are still seeking for these kinds of kids/children and we are making extensive enquiries about them and my heart goes out to them. We would love to bring them under our wing and support them and help them stand on their feet and become upstanding members of our society.
Adwiti: What kind of support does Team WHO Cares get from the Government and the local body such as GTA?
TWC/Aron: TWC has never been supported by any governmental bodies. We are seeking ways to get help us through Governmental aids so that we can break the cycle of poverty and marginalization that the street people face every day and create a resource for them. We are also calling urgently for local and global support from people around our area. Our people are basically very proud and as you know only the most destitute of destitute are in this position of begging or being homeless. We definitely do need to urge and invite GTA to help us with our efforts to enable the homeless people to come back to mainstream society and community. I am definitely spending some time this summer writing a proposal!
Adwiti: Are there any shelter homes for the homeless people particularly in extreme weather conditions such as winter and natural calamities?
On a wing and a prayer we are working towards procuring a plot of land and hopefully we plan to build something there. Besides temporary shelter for them we want to create what we might call a transitional home where the homeless and the destitute are given food, medical attention, counseling and what I believe is most important is to create incentives for homeless people to become self-sufficient and no longer dependent on us. Our goal is to make them independent and adjusted back in the society. This is our vision. A land where there are no homeless people!
Adwiti: Where and how do you generate funds? Is the auditing of the funds available for the public?
Aron/TWC: Unfortunately there is no such thing as fund generation so far. People have watched our efforts and once in a while some will open their hearts and donate, some people working abroad have donated sporadically, but most of the funds are generated from membership fees. We do not have a consistent stream of donations coming but the team is growing and the love is growing as well. When membership fees are not enough we contribute from our own pockets and this happens quite often and that is how we work the funds. Once in while we are compelled to collect some extra money to conduct some activities out of town.
Midyear we do some creative fund collection, like selling raffle tickets. We sell donated recycled goods like cardboard cartons, bottles any and everything to keep our campaign and our dream alive. We do street plays to raise awareness and inform of improvements in the program itself.
We are of course open to receiving funds if people feel moved enough to donate for our cause and if they feel for the team’s efforts and for those who have in the past we are ever so grateful for putting yet another smile, yet another fresh pair of trouser or a sari for the people in the streets. Anyone who wants to check our accounts is welcome to do so. We don’t have a large scale operation so it is not really a huge complicated deal.
Adwiti: Aron, you shoulder a HUGE responsibility, which I am sure ushers in a bit of stress. How do you balance your work life, home life and your noble cause? What do you do for fun? Who is Aron when he is not the founder of TWC?
TWC/Aron: Good question! Let’s just say I sleep very little! Prior to the campaign I had sleepless nights over not being able to do anything for them and now that I can the little that I sleep is satisfying and rewarding. As the team grows the responsibilities on my shoulder grows as well. I am constantly thinking about how to better the team, how to make it tighter, more efficient, more resourceful. How to keep the funds coming but I have immense faith and confidence in God and I know that he is watching over this cause. I cannot lie to you…sometimes it is difficult to balance work life, home life, and my team who cares life, I am constantly juggling and I am under a lot of duress but I am happy this makes my life very rewarding and fulfilling. This keeps me going forward and upward towards the betterment of the society I live in.
Adwiti: How seriously is Team WHO cares taken by the public, the media? If you could lay your heart out ( man bhitra ko bhawna) and make an appeal to the masses what would it be?
TWC/Aron: From the time we have started we have grown from a 17 member team to now we have spread into 12 countries. As far as the public and media are concerned they have been extremely supportive, in a span of 3 years we have grown to such an extent that gives us strong evidence that our work is making a real difference to people’s lives ! I see frequent posts about TWC’s development. They are very interested in the team’s efforts and our heart based endeavor. We are constantly collaborating with different groups, some celebrities like Adrian Pradhan has also stepped forward to support us, it is always good to have people with big hearts of compassion by our side, yet I believe that all people are great and they just need a little nudge or encouragement! So I, on behalf of team would like to make an appeal to the public to come forward and extend their help generously, so that poor and needy people can survive like normal people in the society. We humbly urge to come forward to help us, and the needy people who are seeking for their family- and the family is us, the people in the community.
Adwiti: What advice do you have for the youth of today?
Aron/TWC : If you have dreams then go for it. Have compassion in your hearts, do not forget the poor, the needy and the helpless. Always think in terms of what you are doing for the community, keep others first before yourself, give yourself selflessly to the service of others in whatever you do and find it in your heart to go after what you truly love.
Team who cares? headed by a leader without a title (Aron Yonzone) has gone far and beyond what ordinary humans are capable of feeling and doing. If we believe in each other’s fundamental humanity then let us no longer turn away from the truth of each other’s hearts and the reality of the situation. TWC has rightly demonstrated how we need to see each other as equals, to continue to be bold and daring. He cared but we all care to a certain extent don’t w? The difference was he dared and now there is a movement that seeks in itself the voice that heeds the poor, the downtrodden and the needy.
In one of his speeches Aron says “ do not polish just one side of the bike, polish both sides so you can proudly display the whole bike to the world”.
If you want to make a powerful change right now which I no doubt think you do, join TWC in their page and contribute anyway you can by donating, volunteering or simply encouraging the team- : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Team-WHO-Cares/507041412693575?fref=ts&ref=br_tf
E-mail: [email protected]
[Adwiti Subba Haffner is an entrepreneur, social worker, writer, freelance journalist, world traveler, mother, wife, meditation instructor. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner and her website is www.alivewithadwiti.com]