They don't stop with making it big in life. Here's a group of first-generation graduates who volunteer to make a difference in the lives of children in rural areas

There are many success stories on Vazhai's list of adopted villages in Dharmapuri and Villupuram. Three child marriages have been stopped, debts settled to ensure the release of bonded labourers and children persuaded to complete schooling for a brighter future.

A few friends set up Vazhai, an NGO, in Dharmapuri in 2005. They chose students from Standard VIII onwards in the surrounding villages, and encouraged them to study further. “In villages, many students drop out after Standard X either because they're not interested or they fail. We are also from villages so we know what they go through and how tough it is to study. We picked children from classes below ten and began to help them so they continue studying,” explains K. Mugund.

Mugund, Vazhai's Chennai Secretary, has been an active participant in these programmes for over four years. He, like the others in the core team of this NGO, is a first-generation graduate. He now works as a software engineer in a reputed firm.

Though he elaborates on Vazhai's growth, he does not wish to disclose personal details. “I'm from a village called Nannadu near Villupuram. Agriculture was my family occupation. I studied engineering on a government scholarship,” says the 28-year-old. What kind of hardships did he face? “Well, there was never enough…,” he trails off. Now, Vazhai is based out of Bengaluru and Chennai. Its Chennai chapter is currently working in 15 villages in the Ananthapuram area of Villupuram, with 120 children. “We chose Dharmapuri because of the low literacy rate and the prevalence of child marriage there. Now that we have made some headway in Dharmapuri, we have moved to Villupuram. I chose Villupuram as I'm from there. We help kids as early as Standard Six onwards. Some of the kids who've passed out of Vazhai and are studying further in Chennai also help us,” explains Mugund. “It's a continuous process. We visit them once a month or two and conduct academic and life skills workshops for a couple of days. But the mentors constantly keep in touch with their wards. Soon, they become like family.”

Bringing in experts

Mugund says, “Sometimes, we bring in experts from different fields to talk about aspects such as presentation and communication skills. In villages, people don't send their children unless they know you are working for a genuine cause. We first gained the trust of teachers, influential people or a social activist in that area and proceeded from there.”

With 64 children having passed out and a hundred more waiting, the group is now on the look out for more mentors. “Our mentoring sessions are such that a girl teaches a girl, and a boy teaches a boy. There aren't many girl volunteers. A lot of people do come forward, and we expect them to remain with us for at least a year. Most fulfil this requirement, but achieving the 1:1 ratio is still difficult. We take Rs.1,000 from each volunteer towards expenses. The children are provided a school kit,” says Mugund.

Ask Mugund about the reason behind the NGO's name, and he says it stems from an old Tamil adage, “Vazhai adi vazhaiyai”. “We make a difference in someone's life, hoping they will do the same. It is like the young sapling that grows beside a fully-grown plantain tree.