The Drishya Kalika Kendra in Yelahanka New Town is a learning centre that follows its own curriculum, which allows students to run around and do what they should — make noise, have fun and ask all sorts of questions. Here, children are encouraged not to simply learn, but to take away and disseminate.

Run by the Drishya Foundation, supported by the Rajiv Chandrashekar Foundation and established by the Dwaraknath Reddy Ramanarpanam Trust in 2002, the kendra at Yelahanka New Town (the first of three in the city) caters exclusively to children of the urban poor. At present, 100 students between the ages of seven and 17 attend the three kendras, coming from various slums in the city such as Byappanahalli, Vyalikaval and Sanyasikunte.

“They are the sons and daughters of migrants who came to Bangalore looking for work, former farm labourers who now work in construction or as vegetable vendors,” says Sharada, one of the ten facilitators who work in the kendras.

The kendras are dedicated to providing these children with an education that is different from the kind imparted in mainstream schools. As the students, for various reasons, are unable to attend typical schools, Drishya provides them with a more holistic and dynamic curriculum, including subjects such as painting, drama and embroidery.

It brings in experts to interact with children, and provides SSLC coaching to those eligible to take the test. The students are encouraged to find and pursue their own areas of interest. Their day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5.30 p.m. It starts with meditation, followed by what the facilitators call a ‘sharing’ session, where the children talk about whatever they like; what happened at home, the highlights of yesterday evening, something they saw.

The kendra also provides the children with food throughout the day, and most of it comes from ISKCON, with whom they have a tie-up. “We also used to have a garden, quite nearby. The previous owner let us use it to grow fruits and vegetables, and the children had a lot of fun taking care of the garden. Now, the land has been purchased and an IT park is going to be built there,” says Sharada. This is a problem, but fortunately, the facilitators have a lot of experience in finding outlets for these children. “Many of the younger students love to draw and try their hand at craft,” says Shubha, one of Drishya’s founding facilitators.

The kendras also offer courses such as weaving, woodwork, pottery and animation. The students are introduced to experts in these fields through camps, and their work is often displayed at exhibitions. “The products that they bring out usually sell at handicrafts exhibitions,” Shubha adds. “Some of the students have won prizes. Two of them were selected for awards by the National Innovation Foundation last year. Some of our students even come back to the kendra as instructors.” Then there are other activities: some have gone on to study music; some participate in theatre; two of the kendra’s former students even play professional football.

Like many of the children, the facilitators at Drishya have interesting stories of their own. Shubha has a degree in agriculture, which rather invites the question of how she came to work for Drishya. “I wanted to teach,” she says, a view shared by the others. Vidya, who teaches Hindi, science and geography, among other things, used to work as a stenographer. Sharada came out of voluntary retirement, after working in Mysore Cement, to reply to an advertisement looking for those interested in social service.

The Drishya Foundation offers children of the urban poor a different approach to learning