Around 40 boys belonging to Sevashram Trust, R.S. Puram, gather in their playground. They are divided into seven teams, and each team is given sheets of chart paper. “All teams pick a person from your group. Make him lie down on the paper, and draw his outline,” a college-goer instructs them in Tamil. Some children are all ears, while others are busy choosing names for their teams. The instructions continue: “After the outline, draw a pair of eyes and ears, and dress up the figure to make it look like a person. The best drawing will win a prize.”

This was how Make A Difference (MAD), a youth volunteer network that promotes child literacy in the country, kick-started its chapter in Coimbatore. As part of an ice-breaking session, the volunteers played and interacted with the children of Sevashram Trust. A bunch of college students will play teachers to these kids for the upcoming academic year. In association with Cambridge University Press, the volunteers will teach basic English to children from Sevashram Trust and a few other homes in the city.

Among the volunteers are Raichand. R and Sebastian Thele. These youngsters have been campaigning for the cause of child literacy for more than a month now. “Tour de difference” is what their project is called, and the name can't get more apt. Raichand and Sebastian, along with two other friends, have been cycling to various cities across the country to create awareness about educating children. Their journey began on August 7 in Mangalore. They have since been to Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Chennai, Vellore and Bangalore. Incidentally, they came to Coimbatore the day MAD was launched here.

Raichand and Sebastian, apart from interacting with strangers on the road and informing them about child literacy, have also been bonding with children at various MAD centres. Says Raichand, “At every city, we met volunteers and kids in centres associated with MAD. We played games, danced, made music and had fun with the kids. We are going to do the same thing here.”

Momentous journey

The duo has covered 3,000 km so far.

Ask them about the journey, and they smile at each other. “When we started in the Western Ghats, it used to rain at least five times a day,” says Sebastian, a student of chemistry and social science from Germany.

“It was good sometimes, because after a long day cycling, the rain refreshed us. But, sometimes, we couldn't see the path ahead.” Raichand, an M.B.B.S student from Mangalore, continues, “After Pune and Hyderabad, it just got hotter and hotter.” They also had to tackle the winds along the East coast.

Raichand and Sebastian have met with small accidents and suffered cuts and bruises. But these hurdles mean nothing, they say.

Sebastian and his friend Philip (from Germany) came to know about MAD through AIESEC, a student-driven organisation. “Once I came to know about MAD, I tried to get people back home to sponsor a child's education. But they asked me how advantageous this act would be for them,” says Sebastian. After this tour, he plans to go back to Germany and convince those people again.

Sebastian, who has come to India for the first time, admits he does want to do touristy things. “Through this cycle tour, I get to know India through a different perspective. Of course, I do routine sightseeing too on our burn-out days.”

The children are kicked about having Raichand, Sebastian and other MAD volunteers over. They wrap up their diagrams and the cyclists judge them. Prizes are awarded for the most funny and well-drawn ones. The kids of Sevashram Trust are now ready to begin their English classes with the folks at Coimbatore MAD.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012