Saturday, March 23, 2013

School Chaley Hum - Silver Spoons for the ones not born with it

This blog post 
 the "ISB iDiya for IndiChange"! 
blogging competition.

The Background

Very recently, I came across children playing along the road side. While I stood there to grab a lemon juice, these kids were running around merrily. They didn't seem to be localities  I happened to smile at them and they responded. We struck a conversation and it went on for long. I learnt that their parents work at a construction site nearby. When I asked them if they went to school, I was puzzled with their response, "Didi, gaon mein jaathe the. Jab shehar mein aaye, toh chod diya", meaning, "When we were in the village, we went to school. From the time we came to the city, we stopped". It left me with a big question mark. In a world where people move from villages to towns to cities to metros to foreign destinations for education, here's someone saying that they are losing education for having moved up. I smiled, with a confused mind, and left.

I have always been passionate about the education sector as education has worked wonders in my own life. I feel energized when I see education reach the underprivileged as it is one such tool that enables individuals to participate in the growth story of the nation, contribute even more, access opportunities and work towards a better society. It is this passion that made me quit my banking job and volunteer with Youth for Seva (YFS), an NGO that works for a numerous social causes (For a brief description, read towards the end of this post). I have learnt that value education (not mere literacy) is by far, the greatest and the most commonly spoken of solution to almost every problem that the world faces today. I am running with a goal to ensure that kids are not mere English readers, Orators, Number Cruncher. They should be groomed into responsible adults with sensible definitions of all factors that affect their journey on earth.

Today, even after 6 decades of independence, the challenge for our nation still remains the rural development as the people of the villages remain unconnected to what the other side of the nation has been progressing towards. The rural people have been deprived of education, health care, employment and over all welfare. According to the latest World Bank estimates, nearly 40% of the Indian population falls below the poverty line and every third poor in the world is from India. On the contrast, India has as many as 69 billionaires which is fourth largest in the world. These statistics give a clear picture on social imbalance in India which consequently has affected India's over all development. The gap can be bridged by making education accessible and spreading awareness about the importance of education to a large extent. Further, we also need to work on making basic necessities of life like a clean environment, healthcare facilities, safe drinking water and food, etc. available for everyone in the nation.

The Revelation

After the construction site incident that left me dumbstruck, I narrated the incident to my mentor at YFS. Surprisingly, YFS had already been working on this cause along with NGOs like Surabhi Foundation, Shalaya, etc. (For a brief description, read towards the end of this post) and with the support of organizations like the Government's Education Department itself, ISKCON's Akshaya Patra and several other large-hearted people. It felt great to note this. We discussed further to understand how rapid industrialization, most of it unplanned, helps some people and affects some others. Building replace open spaces in no time in cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Namma Bengaluru (our Bangalore). Over the last many years, we have seen huge urbanization as people moved to cities for education, job and a, so called, better life. We also saw a large people moving in to run services for these people - cooks, hoteliers, laundry boys, grocery sellers, vegetable vendors, bakers and construction workers. While there is one category of people who settle in cities, there is another category that hops from place to place in search of work. Construction workers fall under the later. Thus, the children either continue to work along, until somebody in the area is seriously opposed to child labor, or while around till they find something to do. If the parents wish to send them to school, the high costs of education and living in cities as well as regular move from one place to another discourage the children.

For the past two decades Bengaluru has been the fastest growing city of India. Bengaluru’s residential market interests all stakeholders – developers, landowners, double income households and growing migrant population. Many prominent national and international developers have entered Bengaluru's residential market and many more to enter in the coming years. Bengaluru’s residential market is likely to grow annually at 15% for the next 3 years. The economic outlook for the city remains strong in coming years as many large IT/ITeS, Engineering and automobile MNCs have aggressive growth plans for the city which will ensure healthy growth rate.

The aforementioned statistics imply that the construction industry will continue to seek more laborers/ employees. The ambitious metro rail project, road projects towards the international airport, aggressive expansions in Sarjapur, Hennur, Bagalur and in fact, every end of the city calls for many more people to work. These opportunities are definitely going to drive masons from different rural areas to migrate to Bengaluru along with their family in the next few years. The fact that it is not a permanent situation creates the problem for the kids. They lose their connect to school and slowly, the interest in studies dries out. Providing education to these kids at their doorsteps is the need of the hour or else, only after a few years, they will realize/repent on what they missed. We should make efforts to help them learn skills and improve their abilities according to their age so that they continue schooling, irrespective of where they go.

The Initiative

YFS is working on providing non formal schooling at certain locations where such a need is seen. It is an initiative with a mission to educate children by proper resource channelization. It would be very essential to catch these kids young and start training them lest they enter the trap of child labor and thereby, the viscous circle of poverty. Mumbai Mobile Creches is an example of a similar initiative through which, lives of almost 5000 children are touched.

At present, YFS has started non formal schools at three locations in Bengaluru - AGS Layout, Poornapragnya Layout and Raja Rajeswari Nagar. Each of these schools comprise of 30 - 40 kids whose parents are working at the construction site. They migrate very often as their job demands to do so. In this journey their kids get disconnected to the regular schooling. The very motive to come up with non formal schooling is that the kids can have access to education than losing it completely. Each of these schools, though have a single objective of educating the kids, are made up of varied models. School at Poornapragnya layout is run under the sheds of a temple wherein one paid teacher who is associated with Surabhi teaches. Along with this teacher there are two volunteers who are housewives who teach the kids. The main attraction for the kids to come to school is a meal. YFS has tied up with the government school nearby and have made arrangements for the food. The elder sibling has the freedom to get their younger one's to the school along with them. The parents are happy and content and do not stop the elder kid from going to school. The books and other materials are arranged from various sources. The school at RR Nagar is conducted at a room at the construction site which is sponsored by the builder himself. The teacher at that school is again a YFS volunteer. The school at AGS Layout is conducted at YFS volunteers home and she takes the responsibility of teaching the kids.

The Process

The first step towards getting all children into school would be to get to know them informally and persuade them to join a short non-formal education. The purpose is to serve this as a bridge course through which the children and their parents would become interested in the possibility of going to school. The central focus is to socialize children, provide them with some skills, and facilitate their admission to the government school in that locality.

Parents usually tend to send their kids to the school as they do not have time to take care of the kids. However, it is very essential to take their permission and learn about their interests as it creates a bonding and they feel motivated on being involved. Most parents tend to say that they are going to live in the city for 2-3 years and it doesn't make a big difference. However, the impact of these couple of years is huge. These are crucial years and in many cases, these couple of years push the child out of the education path. It is essential to discuss these points with the parents and help them take a decision keeping the long term impact in mind. These discussions are handled very sensitively, especially when the case is pertaining to a girl child, as education is still seen as an unessential burden by most people.

A strong attempt is made to promote the idea with the builder and in most cases, the builders are happy to consider the proposal. In case the builder doesn't agree, a community place like a community hall, temple premises or any place where classes can be conducted is being located. In case, both options fail, a place could be hired on rent. Identifying the location where the construction work is going on and study the profile of the children in the area, categorize them and find who/how many could be helped by the plan, plays a critical role.

On the financial front, each such project could cost up to Rs 1lac per annum (10 months) considering about 40 children in the class. Approximately Rs 30000 is spent to remunerate the teachers (the amount is only paid as a honorarium, Rs 40000 is spent on food, water and related facilities, Rs 10000 is spent on books, Rs 10000 is spent on helpers and another Rs 10000 could be other miscellaneous expenses.

The Workarounds

Kids or even for that matter adults, in general, are motivated by one or the other factor. Motivation, self or external, is one very important aspect of life as it prepares us to face challenges boldly. As the parents are daily wage earners, its difficult for them to take care of every need of the kids. They struggle to even provide a square meal a day. Many studies indicate, and I have observed it myself on interacting with people, that a square meal a day attracts kids to the school more than the opportunity of learning. Food is being arranged in two ways. One, it can be procured in collaboration with ISKCON directly and two, by connecting with a nearby government school, if any, by requesting the school authorities. Books, study materials and stationary are generally sponsored by the corporate and other organizations around. In most cases, the construction sites will be the prospect venue to accommodate such kids to the non formal schools to ensure they live their childhood with all the laughter, joy and happiness. In some cases, the classes are held in temple premises.

Many factors are taken into account while appointing a teacher. The most important point is that the teacher must be in a nearby location so that the access is easier. It would also make punctuality and continuity, easier tasks. The volunteers are given an opportunity to teach in these locations. Teachers can also be appointed in collaboration with NGOs like Surabhi. Further, in some cases, the educated housewives in the adjoining areas show interest in spending a couple of hours with the kids, which could be utilized for teaching. As the kids usually are the age group between 4-12 years (LKG to Class 5), anyone with education up to 12th and a passion to teach is in a position to take up the task.

The kids who are deprived of childhood life, the kids who are taking responsibilities more than their age, the kids who have all the innocence to laugh, play and learn are given a platform to help them mold as a better citizens. These kids are being trained on the basic reading and writing skills. In addition, something called as Samskara Shikshana, i.e, life skills on how to behave with various stakeholders in the society, how to lead their life path, the values to be learnt for leading a happy and content life in each aspect, etc. are being taught to enhance their living. All these activities are taught by making use of vachanas (verses), learning from epics like Bhagvadgeeta, patriotic and devotional songs and many other tools so that the kids can experience the holistic learning.

The Result

Once the kids are trained on the above skills they are in a position to be enrolled in the nearby Government school so that they can continue their schooling like any other kid going to school. In case the kid is going to another place, the NGO certifies their eligibility to a certain class/standard. The non formal school acts as a bridge to tap the kids who are not being sent to school due to various difficulties one is facing at home mainly due to the frequent transfer of their parents due to job. One such step will pave way for all these kids to be literate and have a better understanding of life and living.

India is, undoubtedly, the land of resources, resources of every kind, especially knowledge. If we channelize these resources appropriately, we can definitely work miracles. However, despite best efforts, education still doesn't reach a large number of kids. We should be considerate, in fact passionate, to take education to such kids who are left behind. Providing basic literacy to adults who have not been to schools is another mission that can be accomplished from non formal education system. While a value education process ensures that people are not denied of their fundamental rights, the most important contribution it does it that it makes people understand their fundamental duties and thus, evolve them into useful citizens.

Taking this and similar initiatives forward can definitely bring about changes in the lives of many people by helping them write their future, who would otherwise leave it to something called fate, which is yet to prove its existence.

Little drops of water, Little drains of sand. Make the mighty ocean, And the beauteous land.
And the little moments, Humble though they be. Make the mighty ages, Of eternity.
So our little errors, Lead the soul away. From the paths of virtue, Into sin to stray.
Little deeds of kindness, Little words of love. Make our earth an Eden, Like the heaven above.
Julia A. Carney

The Passionate

Youth For Seva (YFS) began operations in April 2007 to create a platform for volunteerism for the youth who wanted to take an active part in community development. Through this platform, YFS aims to empower youth to become positive change makers who will enable organizations and institutions to work without a vested interest. The goal of YFS is to support schools, NGOs, government hospitals and other organizations in the social sector through volunteers who can help them mitigate some of their shortcomings and challenges. Volunteering is made easy and customized to the individual’s interests and time constraints. Youth for Seva (YFS) is a project under Hindu Seva Pratishthana. (Source: YFS Website)
YFS has engaged more than 6000 volunteers until now. More than 250 volunteers engage themselves actively to teach kids. YFS has around 60 tuition centres, including many of them in slums. YFS volunteers cover more than 80 Government schools where they toil to build the basic blocks of education, communication, computers and other learning.

Surabhi Foundation Trust is an NGO established in August 2005 with an objective of building capacities of the rural population and empower the development of children and women in rural areas. It strives to bring the children to the main stream of education, empower women by creating employment opportunities, create awareness on health issues among rural population through Health Awareness and Rural Health Camps, address environmental issues and promote Self Help Groups constituted by rural women. (Source: Surabhi website)
Surabhi runs a programme called NRBC (Non Residential Bridge Course) under which they aim to provide Food, Shelter, Education and Medical Facilities to under privileged children like, be it single parented kids, orphans, migrated kids, runaway kids, children of masons, rag pickers, beggars or any child who is in need of help.

One of the best ads promoting education in India under the aegis of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Universilisation of Elementary Education) addresses the needs of the children. It completely changed the way people looked at education in those days and perhaps, today, we see a totally different India due to initiatives like this. There is still a long way to go and this video motivates me each day.

This blog post has been written exclusively for iDiyaISB's National Social Venture Competition that aims to stimulate, enable and develop high-impact, self-sustaining social businesses in India. The competition is being held as a part of IndiBlogger's new initiative of working for social good, IndiChange. You may participate in the competition by writing a blog about any social cause you are passionate about, and its potential solution. If there are any inspiring people or organizations working towards solving it, blog about them as well. For further details, go to


  1. I really appreciate your efforts...

  2. I wish you all best for your work... God will always with you.

  3. Very much appreciate our efforts...

  4. God bless the individuals working towards such an honourable cause. And thank you for sharing information about the initiative! Best wishes for the contest.

  5. Very well written and Congratulations on Winning :D


  6. Grt initiative....and very well written..:)

  7. Nice Article. By the way, the next time a person appreciates, you can ask them to share it by sparing couple of their precious hours to an awesome cause.

    1. Hi Saideep. Thank you :-) And yeah for sure will take your suggestion into consideration :-)

  8. congratzzzz for winning dear, hope this initiative blooms into something beautiful...

  9. Hi Asteria. Thank u :-) . Im happy to inform u that this initiative is blooming and happy to see the kids enjoying their childhood :-)

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Congrats for winning. A very noble cause indeed

  12. I loved your article!I came across it through Indiblogger. I was, coincidentally, looking for an NGO where I would be able to work to the best of my abilites. I think YFS will work for me :)

    Good luck :)
    Myra D

    1. Hi Myra,

      I'm glad that you liked the article.Great, if you want to get started with YFS & need any help do contact me. Find me on FB with my name. Thanks :-)

  13. Hi Priyanka, I came across this article while searching for ISB iDiya. Very well written indeed, and also congratulations for winning the award. Did you also participate in ISB's Social Venture competition? I plan to participate in this year's competition. Any pointers for me?

  14. Congratulations Priyanka. You should try a hand at writing. This is a very well written blog. Kudos to your efforts.

  15. this blog post is at par with any well researched journalistic article. kudos to you for writing this fantastic piece. congratulations on winning the award.