The volunteers of Amaara Foundation impart life skills and communicative English to under-privileged children

It takes just a little cajoling for Besto Baiju to break into a Prithviraj dialogue. The 15-year-old is confidence personified. Six months ago, he was a shy boy with distant dreams of becoming an actor. Today, Besto is at the top in acting in his school. Yedu Krishnan would not get up from his chair in class. He was painfully diffident. Today he is up and about, talking chatting and playing. These confident kids of Govt.HS Panampilly Nagar are reaping the benefits of a weekly session in life skills and communicative English conducted by a dedicated group of volunteers of the Amaara Foundation.

The foundation is bringing a marked difference in the lives of children in three city schools. To create awareness about their work and to encourage people to join as volunteers, they are holding a rock concert, ROAR, (Rock For A Reason), where known bands from the state will spread the message, loud and clear. Rock icon Baiju Dharamajan says he takes great pride to be part of a programme which is changing lives of indigent children.

An initiative by Rashmi Deepak and five like-minded friends Kala Ravishankar, Susheela Pai, Kanak Jinnan, Beena Vas and Christopher Roshan, the group began by going to small schools and interacting with children teaching them life skills and English.

“We soon realised that this random method would not get us or the children anywhere. We needed to do things systematically,” says Rashmi, on the setting up of the foundation.

Once ready with a curriculum, charted by Kala, who is a consultant with an educational service, they received sanction from the DEO (District Education Officer) to introduce their system in willing schools. They started with Girls High School in Tripunithura and are now working with two other schools—Government High School, Panampilly Nagar and Mar Athanasius High School, Kakkanad. After recognition of their work that’s making a difference among children, two other schools, Palace School Tripunithura and Govt LP School, Padamugal, have sought their services.

Rashmi is elated. She says, “The crux of this programme is to enhance the confidence of the child and develop their personality.”

Innovative teaching methods

The programme, ‘Learning Inspired’, uses three methods of teaching—using worksheets, with multimedia and outdoor activities. The volunteers work with classes VI upwards. “In our sessions, we identify students and give them tangible benefits like career counselling and guide them through university. This is our basic aim.”

Twenty-four-year-old Nijo Lawrance, a designer with Chayowo Games, an IT firm, is a die-hard volunteer. Sporting a tee shirt—ALIVE that stands for Amaara Learning Inspired Volunteer Endeavour—he speaks of a transformation that has come within him. “This feeling of helping others is a rare feeling ,” he says about his experiences. He speaks of the change in Nikhil, a highly distracted child of Mar Athanasius school. Nikhil now studies regularly and says, “I feel I can do it.”

Rashmi recalls that at the start, the children were wary, and would run and hide but have begun to enjoy this new play way learning.

Alexander Raja, 28 is an executive at Wipro Technologies in Infopark. He works with the children at GHS, Panampilly Nagar. “The kids observe everything, the way we talk, dress, our body language and learn little things from us. But I too am learning so much from them. I tell them so,” he says, adding that this school in the middle of the city in this posh locality has only 44 children, most of who come from very disjointed backgrounds and need encouragement.

Rashmi, who is the backbone of this initiative and has worked tirelessly, informs that they have 25 regular volunteers from different walks of life. There is a good mix of homemakers and executives from the corporate sector. Each bring in their own strength, she says. She informs that the profile of the children under the care of Amaara is one of children of unemployed parents, or ones coming from broken homes. She has taken the services of the Rotary Club of Cochin East in the GHS Panampilly Nagar project. With the intervention of Rotary, the project gets funding and the schools too benefit, as they sponsor the mid-day meal scheme and other aspects.

Lakshmi Shenoy, a homemaker who thought she could do no work outside her four walls, is now smitten by the voluntary service and makes it regularly to be with the kids.

Rashmi reflects on the basis of their work. “Knowing that the underprivileged children have such great potential but don’t have the opportunities is what makes us work.” T. V. Surendran, H.M. In-charge of Govt HS Panampilly Nagar, says that the programme began in October 2012 and has had 13 sessions so far. “Students are very interested in this programme,” an opinion reiterated by K.P. Lathika, HM Senior School. Shyama T.V., HM Senior School, GHSS Tripunithura and Kumari Leela HM Mar Athanasius find improved proficiency in English and higher level of confidence.

Rashmi says that there is a long way to go, but a beginning has been made and “I hope we are progressing in the right direction.”

The Amaara foundation can be contacted on facebook.com/amaara.org or info@amaara.org