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A 320 km journey for cleanliness

A 320 km journey for cleanliness
(Before)This main road in Ongole was plagued by foul smell because of people urinating there. Hoardings too spoilt the scene. (After) The same road has now been beautified, and the ugly hoardings have gone.

Tejaswi Podapati has become a sensation in  Ongole. After all, this IT employee has changed the face of her city, so much so that due to her efforts, the city has been declared a poster-free city. The 23-year-old has always had an eye for social work. It was the encouragement from her father and the discussions with him that pushed her to go ahead to start Bhoomi Foundation in 2015, with just 10 volunteers, most of whom were family and friends.

“Right from college, I was involved in a lot of social projects but I wanted to take up something bigger and then got inspired by the work of The Ugly Indian in Bengaluru. It was on October 15, 2015, on the birthday of Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam, that we started our work. The scenario in cities like Bengaluru and Hyderabad is different from the state in Ongole. It’s a small town, where everyone seems to know everyone, and such cleaning was looked upon as something embarrassing,” shares Tejaswi.

Initially, the response that she got was mixed. “Some encouraged us, and others looked at us like we were clowns. We cleaned the walls and got rid of posters. Eventually, we got support from the authorities. In fact, when film posters were reappearing on walls that we cleaned, the municipal commissioner fought for us. The MLA too had come to join us. We didn’t ask for any funds and we were doing it all by ourselves. We just needed the authorities to co-operate. We got great help in that regard. What more could we ask for,” she shares.

With more than 700 volunteers so far — IT employees, college and school students and a lot of middle-aged people in tow, she has completed more than 80 projects, where they cleaned up parks, hospitals, schools, the collectorate and other buildings. However, there’s one glitch. “We don’t get any funds. My father usually bears most of the funds. However, a local businessman helped us with one lakh rupees and we spent them on flower pots to decorate a main road. On New Year’s Eve, someone destroyed them. We took it to the authorities but there has been no response,” she rues.

Alongside this, she loves the fact that they are inspiring others. “People have been asking us to come to their towns to start a clean-up drive there. We’re planning to begin work in Kukatpally and Hitec City soon,” she says.