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Street kids can now dream

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RIGHT TO HOPE Less fortunate kids being introduced to the world of computers by the volunteers of ‘Make a Difference’
RIGHT TO HOPE Less fortunate kids being introduced to the world of computers by the volunteers of ‘Make a Difference’

A group of youths who have come under an umbrella called ‘Make a Difference’, is making life sweeter for street children. Shilpa Nair Anand is moved by their concern and will to give that precious commodity called ‘time’ to them

Making a difference, haven’t we all (or many of us) felt the need to do that, and then comes the “what is the point?” thought and then we get on with life. But here’s this bunch of youngsters, ages average at around 20-25, who take two hours out every week for some affirmative action. “Taking a couple of hours out a week is no big deal. Everybody has that kind of time,” says Jithin Chacko Nedumala, president of ‘Make A Difference’. Taking the time out – that precisely is the point, ‘to make a difference.’

‘Make a Difference’ (M.A.D. – the abbreviation aggravates some parents given the connotations of the word) is committed to making a qualitative difference in the lives of underprivileged children in orphanages.

English the key

“What these kids need is language skills, importantly English and that is what we strive to provide,” says Jithin. How they zeroed in on the need to teach English is sheer common sense – being able to communicate in English would better their prospects of employment. “Most of the kids that we teach are educated in Malayalam medium schools till Class X and their skills in English are really bad.

So when they go to Plus 2 in English medium schools, they have problems studying, which eventually leads to the kids dropping out and ending up doing menial jobs. This is where the need for skills in English comes in.”

The volunteers work against odds such as emotional or psychological issues. For instance at Snehabhavan in Palluruthy, a home for street children, the kids speak 11 different languages. This is one centre which needs help from older folks.

Patience needed

“Kids at the orphanages have fewer issues as compared to the children in Snehabhavan and therefore dealing with them is tougher and you need infinite amounts of patience.” But once the kids get interested in what is going on they are hooked. Since these are voluntary classes the kids are free to walk in or walk out when they feel like it. One volunteer recalls how the class started out with seven students and by the time it ended there were just two left.

Says Rohini Idicula, student of law and Miss Kerala 2007, who is a volunteer, “The kids put in twice as much effort as we put into teaching, and when you get to see the improvement in the kids it is a great feeling. Every bit of time that you spend with these kids is worth it.”

The entire selection process of volunteers is laborious and each volunteer is chosen with painstaking care. The effort that the organisation puts in is proof of commitment, this only goes on to prove how important that the underprivileged kids are. There are no compromises in the quality of education provided, hence the attention to detail. Communication skills are stressed upon – listening, speaking and reading – rather than writing. The ages of children range from as young as five to 17 or 18. This is why the need for a separate syllabus arose. “Some of these kids do not have too much time, we therefore cannot start with ABCD and so we have a separate syllabus,” Jithin adds.

Although most of the volunteers are college going students. There are employed people like Vivek P., an engineer with a diploma in management. For him it is a stress buster and a source of great satisfaction. “I did not want to do the kind of charity that involves making donations, which I have done in the past. But working for ‘Make a Difference’ is different, it is constructive and I have a role to play in the whole process. ,” he says. It is this hands-on approach that has drawn so many volunteers. Says Rohini Idicula, “I feel passionately about education for children, I have always wanted to work with children and this is the best, help underprivileged kids.”

Says Aswathi Nandakumar, who has trained volunteers for MAD, “What is striking about the student volunteers is their enthusiasm. What they lack in teaching skills they make up in exuberance, and they work very hard at it as well.

It really pushes you to do more.” What MAD has achieved is that they have raised the bar in terms of dreams for underprivileged kids. That is not all, to be more effective the organisation has launched a computer programme to teach English. Getting computers is an uphill task which they are sure of achieving. Each computer costs around Rs.10, 950, and MAD has managed to get around five computers and is confident of getting all it needs. The software is combined with the syllabus to arm the kids with skills – exposure to hearing and speaking – that they need.

A cause for a "Mastercard moment": "The price of the computer is Rs.10,950, the joy of watching your hyper active kids sitting silently and

learning in front of the computer - PRICELESS," says Jithin.

The payback is not monetary. The organisation keeps no money that it gets, it is used up immediately and it goes straight to the cause. Words such as “my kids”, “hope”, “peacefulness”, “self-discipline” come effortlessly. If for Vivek making a difference brings peacefulness and stress busting, for Rohini the whole experience has taught her about self-discipline and refreshes her.

For Jithin it is about opening a whole new world to ‘his kids.’ And the cost of all this work? Zero overhead costs and the impact priceless, indeed!

Their website is www.makeadiff.inWorking moduleThe organisation has 89 member-teachers who are college going students. There is a proper screening process that goes into selecting the volunteers for MAD. The screening panel includes a member of the organisation, a teacher and a psychologist. The first and the most important criteria for membership is fluency in English or at least the ability to handle the language well.

An expert from Cambridge affiliated Teacher’s Training Foundation trains the new recruits, arming them with teaching skills and tools to teach. The members of MAD have formulated the syllabus, and fine-tuned the methods they have learnt to suit the needs of their students.

Two hours daily (two slots), seven days a week and eight orphanages: The 89 volunteers divide the work among themselves. Taking a class, is not easy as it sounds. There is the preparation that goes into taking each class, planning the activities and lessons for a particular day. This is only for the seriously committed.

Once the classes are over, the volunteer teachers go online, on Orkut, with the feedback vis-À-vis the class, the difficulties faced, be it the lesson or the class and share this with other members. There is a log book to mark attendance of the volunteers so as to ensure that the work goes on, unabated.

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