A reason to come home

Volunteering for the first time, Maersk Line Second Officer Viswajit Dilip Vishwanathan was surprised when children from the organisation he was visiting confronted him and said: “we are sure we will not see you again.” His reaction influenced the next several years of his life.

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Maersk Line Second Officer Viswajit Dilip Vishwanathan with the children of Down to Earth.

Viswajit Dilip Vishwanathan

Age: 27
Nationality: Indian
Education: Diploma in Maritime Studies (Second Officer and Third Engineer)
First job: Cadetship with Maersk Line
Interests: Travelling, basketball, chess, badminton, table tennis and various other sports.

Vishwanathan met the children of Down to Earth in 2009. The organisation aims to help kids stay out of trouble, and he was invited by college friends to come over and meet the children from the pro- gramme while waiting for his sailing pa- pers to come through.

“As an observer on that first day, I was not so keen on it and was bored. As the day wore on, I decided not to come again, but the kids surprised me by saying, ‘we are sure we will not see you again’.”

When he asked why, they replied: “volunteers come for a few days until they feel nice about themselves and then they leave.”

His involvement grew
At that moment, Vishwanathan made a decision to keep coming back simply to prove a point. Over time, his involvement grew, from teaching the children to eventually mentoring them and giving them advice about their lives and careers. Today, the affinity between Vishwanathan and he children has grown to a point where he now comments:

“My kids have grown with me as I have grown with Maersk. They know my ships’ names, the routes, the schedules and even what this company does.”

In addition to keeping him busy while onshore, volunteering has unexpectedly helped Vishwanathan to deal with one of the downsides of a seafaring lifestyle: the lack of continuity. Like many seafarers, his work schedule is based on rotations: three months on board a vessel followed by three months of time off.

“We keep going away and coming back, so we miss out on a lot of things with our friends and family. Spending time with these kids, I was amazed that I could continue where I had left off, whether it be teaching them a book, life skills or sports, etc. I am not married and I would rather help the kids that are already in India.”

Quality time can solve societal issues
Vishwanathan believes that spending time with the children of Down to Earth is the most meaningful gift one can give. Early marriages, problems with the law and dropping out of school are just some of the issues that quality time with India’s youth can prevent, he says.