On October 9, Ragavi GS blew out 15 candles on her birthday cake but what made her day memorable was the little acts of giving she took up with her parents, inspired by a month-long campaign that her school had initiated. Ragavi offered food to roadside dwellers in Mylapore and interacted with residents of a shelter for the homeless. Her father engaged in volunteering, the Class X student of DAV Girls Senior Secondary School in Gopalapuram is not new to such acts of giving. However, this time around, she derived her motivation from the fact that the entire school was involved in various acts of volunteering. A Class VI student, her cousin, who lives near by, kept a container of water for birds.
Through its volunteering initiative — ‘Sushrusha’ (meaning to serve with humility) — DAV Group of Schools in Chennai is seeking to instil empathy in its students. Its volunteering initiative empowers students to make a difference in society through activities that are designed and curated by non-profit iVolunteer.
Sushrusha was born just before the pandemic with offline volunteering initiatives for students who had taken the Class X board examination.
“With lockdown, we took the activities online and ran two editions with limited activities and students,” says Aarti Madhusudan, consultant, iVolunteer.
In Sushrusha -2, ‘Tell a Story’ (students record audio stories in English and vernacular languages) and ‘Making Worksheets’ (children designed a worksheet that could be used by teachers and resource persons of NGOs) were taken up.
“The third, which concluded recently, was much bigger as students from Classes I to XII were involved in a choice of activities that had be done offline and reported online,” says Aarti. Students were asked to grow a medicinal herb; feed an animal or bird; or cook something to offer the needy.
Inspired by some elements of corporate volunteering programmes, a structured strategy was designed to motivate children to take up little acts of giving around them.
A WhatsApp group comprising three coordinators from each school, principal and iVolunteer members was formed.
“Apart from the class teacher, we asked the value education, dance and art teachers to nudge the students to take up an activity that would make a difference,” says Vibha Roy, social science teacher representing the Ranipet campus. Acts of compassion done by students were discussed in the class to encourage others. She says 40% of the overall participation came from the school.
A tech platform was made available for participants to register, choose their choice of activity and submit a video or take a picture showing their act. The platform also facilitated queries from parents.
“Without the tech platform, engaging with students across schools would have been a challenge,” says Vikas Arya, secretary, DAV Group of Schools.
In Sushrusha - 2, a dashboard was created for the participating student and the school to track their work.
As per data from iVolunteer, more than 1400 students from eight of the DAV schools took part, with 55% of them taking up the activity of planting medicinal plants, followed by 28% who decided to feed a stray.
Nearly 60% of the participants in their statement of self-reflection said that they received great joy in the activity and noted that it offered them the ability to translate the values taught by the school into meaningful actions. The highest number of participants were from the smaller classes.
“This shows that parents have also been involved and we are happy as this is a way to increase the circle of volunteers,” says Aarti. She says students were encouraged to maintain a gratitude journal for them to reflect on their work and jot down other observations.
iVolunteer has two other sets of drives planned through the months of January and March; and going forward, the institution plans to make it an ongoing programme.
Vikas points out that it is important that certain initiatives once started should not take a break, but must be ingrained in the student’s DNA.
He cites the example of Daan Utsav. “We started with some help, and now it has been internalised and is a part of our annual calendar,” says Vikas.
Value education is a part of the curriculum offered across classes. “For Class V onwards, they learn about one non-profit in detail but there is a difference in offering students something hands-on,” says Vikas.
He notes that when they started Sushrusha for Class X, 15 NGOs working in Chennai were identified and they got to present their work to students and we also wanted our students to volunteer with them. With the pandemic applying the brakes on offline engagement, Vikas feels he is more keen on exploring initiatives where youngsters get hands-on exposure.
“Offline will have a huge impact on students as it would teach children what it means to execute a programme of this kind,” he feels. Keeping COVID guidelines in mind, Aarti says they are looking at designing volunteering opportunities within the school. It could be setting up a herbal garden or refurbishing the school.
As of now, the school plans to inspire and encourage students with certificates. Vikas adds, “We are also exploring other options.”