by Veda Ramakrishnan
I started Happy Hearts Happy World when I was around 7 years old. My parents had been working with an orphanage a couple of hours away from my home, and one day they took me along with them to visit the orphanage. That was one of the most defining experiences in my life. This was the first time I had ever seen so many children without parents, without a home. As a child, my first instinct was to feel like I had so much more than they did, that I was surrounded by so much more love than they were. I wanted them to be as happy as I was, and I was determined to do everything in my power to make that happen. The logic of my seven-year-old self led me to the conclusion that the happier individuals were, the happier the world would be. At the time, even though my focus was on this orphanage, my vision expanded. I wanted to make as many people happy as I could. Hence, the name, Happy Hearts Happy World.
What is the Happy Hearts Fest? How do you find and come up with activities that serve the goals you are trying to accomplish with the festival?
We are currently working with five villages in Andhra Pradesh, India, as we attempt to transform them into sustainable ‘World Villages.’ The Happy Hearts Fest is a five-day event that we have hosted twice since summer 2019, where youth from all around the world immerse themselves in contribution to the village while undergoing meditations and spiritual sessions. Our ideology in terms of development is “Human Being First, Infrastructure Next.” Therefore, during the fest, we ask participants to give their heart and soul into the physical labor they do, put in focus and attention while sharing skills with the villagers, but most importantly, impart a connection with this village that will last a lifetime. We want the youth who participate in the fest to build a bond with the village that they can continue to build after the fest is over - in both future fests, and outside of the fest as well.
When villagers see others coming in to put in so much effort to help them and connect with them, they respond with so much love, gratitude, and joy.
Every fest, we have a set of activities that we direct participants. These are usually aspects of the village that require development, and skills that can support the wellbeing of the village. However, we offer a lot of freedom to participants allowing them to detect areas of the village that they would like to work on as we have seen that this proves to result in the most significant impact. Our primary goal is to cultivate a space of connection where individuals can be impacted by the joy of the villagers while creating an impact on their lives.
How were you able to get in touch with and communicate with the different villages that you help? Likewise, how were you able to reach out to volunteers abroad to create sustainable villages?
My parents have been working with several villages in this area for years. Therefore, when I wanted to focus on five of these villages and transform them into sustainable world villages, they knew of my parents and were able to begin communicating with me. The volunteers are people who know of my family, some of our friends, and people who learned of the project through social media, friends, and other platforms.
How does having both a beautiful external community and a beautiful state of consciousness contribute to maintaining a sustainable village?
A sustainable village is one that has everything it needs within the village while focusing on maintaining health, hygiene, cleanliness, a good infrastructure while staying in a beautiful protected environment, and most importantly, living in a beautiful state of consciousness. We do believe that a beautiful state of consciousness is at the crux of the village for a beautiful external community that can be rendered irrelevant without a beautiful state of consciousness. However, we also want the villagers to enjoy their setting and not struggle due to living in less than optimal conditions. Hence, once they are capable of living in a beautiful state where they can connect with one another and unite as a village, we take the next step of helping them live in a beautiful setting.
In the process of establishing your organization, were there any failures or setbacks you faced? How has this set you up for success later on?
One of the main setbacks we faced was funding. We now have extremely generous donors who I am extremely thankful for. However, initially, we did not receive as much support as we would have hoped, and have more recently started to gain the support of the government in certain aspects of our work.
We just decided to put in more effort to reach more people because there are people who are inspired by the sustainable development we do and support us.
Now, the million-dollar question (pun intended): How were you able to fund the village project?
We were able to fund the world village project by reaching out to as many individuals as we could. There have been several adults who have significantly contributed to the development of the village. There are also several youths who have been part of the development of the village and have put together funds to support the village. I have personally reached out to many of my friends and people around me who have contributed.
We appreciate any contribution - no matter how small or big - because everything makes a difference.
What do you strive to achieve in the future with Happy Hearts Happy World?
We recently completed creating our very first World Village, Santoshpuram. We are currently focusing on doing the same for the other four villages that we are working with. Simultaneously, we are creating a structure to help others who are interested in similar development implement it in other aspects of India and the world. Once we have completed the development of the other four villages, we will then begin to expand and work with other villages and communities.
What is your advice for teenagers wanting to start their own nonprofits?
I would say - don't be afraid. Initially, direct your attention to what you want to achieve because people will come forward and help you succeed.
When you are inspired to create change, do everything in your power to do so. I would suggest starting off by reaching out to adults and other teenagers who can help you raise funds, reach out to others, and offer you guidance when you need it.
If you could choose a symbol representative of Happy Hearts Happy World’s vision, what would it be and why?
I think It would be people holding hands because the heart of our vision is a connection between individuals.
What is your favorite kind of candy?
Honestly - I’m more of a chocolate person. Anything dark chocolate will make me happy.
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