National Service Scheme units in city colleges are reaching out to society in a big way

If you think that youngsters have little time for society and spend hours on social networking sites, think again. Many voluntary organisations depend on students to make the difference. The National Service Scheme, (NSS), one such organisation that caters to students only, attracts many youngsters. In fact, this campus-community connect has moved beyond organising blood donation camps and cleaning drives to building homes, giving academic help and emotional support and palliative care.

Many city colleges have good Samaritans who care for the community in several ways.

“The volunteers build homes, provide food for the needy, and above all, they find time to be with those people who are left alone in old age homes,” says K. Mohandas, former NSS coordinator, University of Kerala.

Mary Mettilda Rose, Principal, All Saints College, agrees: “When our students visit old age homes at Chakka and Poojappura, you should see the happiness of the inmates there. The girls play games, sing and dance with them and listen to what they have to say. Our NSS unit also provides food to ‘Akashapparavakal’, a centre at Vettucaud that provides shelter to those who have been discharged from the Mental Health Centre, Peroorkada, but are abandoned by their families. Different departments of the college take turns and organise lunch for them,” says Mary Mettilda.

Eighty-four arts and science colleges under the University have NSS units and nearly 60 of them are active in various social welfare activities. Each college can have two units, with 100 members each.

Professional colleges are also allowed one unit. “But it is not possible to restrict the membership,” says Sherly Vallanthara, one of the two NSS programme officers at Government College for Women, Thycaud.

Blood donation drives, health and social awareness programmes, providing financial aid and organising cleanliness drives are among the regular activities of all the units, in addition to adopting a village/institution every year, where they usually hold the annual seven-day camp.

Such camps often script incredible success stories, as in the case of the NSS unit of Mar Ivanios College. These volunteers camped at Pappala near Kilimanoor and built a home for a single mother and her 19-year-old daughter within just five days, says Father Shoji Vechoorkarottu, one of the NSS programme officers of the college.

Since the NSS funds weren’t enough to build the house (each unit gets Rs. 22,500 for regular activities and Rs. 22,000 for special camps), the volunteers raised money through a lucky draw competition. “On December 25 last year, we started the work led by four masons in the area who cut down their labour charges. When the mother and daughter thanked us profusely, it was an emotional moment,” says Nidheesh Kumar, a NSS volunteer. The volunteers also provided furniture, provisions and stationery for the family, for which they spent from their pockets.

During its special camp at Venganoor, the NSS unit of Government Law College organised a ‘Grameena Lok Adalat’. At the adalat, conducted in association with the Venganoor Grama Panchayat and Neyyattinkara Bar Association, 68 cases were heard of which 22 were settled.

“Five booths were arranged for settling cases relating to family, civil, criminal and other miscellaneous matters including matters pending before the Panchayat,” says K. Hareendran, NSS programme officer of the college.

Then there are the volunteers of College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET), who constructed a study hall for the inmates of Chilla, a home for marginalised children at Karakulam, using PET bottles, during a special camp. Finishing touches will be given in the coming weeks.

Most NSS units undertake academic activities as well. While NSS volunteers of Women’s College teach inmates of Divine Children’s Home at Mudavanmugal every Saturday (on Fridays they provide lunch for these children too), those of Mar Ivanios teach English to AIDS-affected children who stay at a centre in Pirappancode and also spend a day with mentally-challenged students who board at a centre in Vattappara.

The volunteers of Government College, Nedumangad, help out SSLC students at a government school in the locality. The unit members of Government College of Engineering, Barton Hill, meanwhile take computer classes for students of Government U.P. School, Kunnukuzhy. Volunteers from CET take classes at two orphanages in the city on Saturdays.

And if you think that grace marks is the biggest attraction to join the NSS, the reality is that it is never a cakewalk. “It isn’t easy – staying back after college hours, balancing studies and community work, and braving heat and rain to work for others… Only the most dedicated volunteers and the most hardworking of the lot will be selected for the annual camp. Only after you attend the camp will you receive the certificates, and, of course, the grace marks,” says Fr. Shoji.

A movement

Kerala has 1,73,000 NSS volunteers spread over seven universities and seven directorates, says K. Prakash, State Liaison Officer, State NSS Cell. In addition to existing activities, the Cell proposes to take up awareness programmes on organ donation on a large scale. “There was a time when people were sceptical about blood donation, but that has changed now. We’d like to create the same kind of response towards organ donation,” he adds.

Touching lives

Government College for Women will give training for physically-challenged individuals in IT and communication skills with the help of UNICEF.

All Saints College is all set for Shantisthal, a green initiative of Kerala State Biodiversity Board, which will create a ‘forest’ on the campus.

Mar Ivanios is planning to introduce palliative care.

SN College, Chempazhanthy, has taken up an anti-plastic campaign and is making paper bags on the campus.

Government College, Nedumangad, is cleaning up a portion of its campus for farming.

Government College of Engineering, Barton Hill, provides food to two orphanages in the city every Friday. It has a ‘One Day One Rupee programme’ in which the entire college contributes money to buy medicines for patients of Regional Cancer Centre and also undertakes maintenance of equipment, trolleys and cots at SAT Hospital.