Society

Teaching and learning

The team of young professionals and students who work as Bhumi volunteers in Tiruchi (from left) Senthurren, Gayathri,Aarthi, Kaushik, Sampath and Harish.Photo:A.Muralitharan   | Photo Credit: A_MURALITHARAN

N. Gayathri, Aarthi Gandhimathy R., D. Senthurren, Sampath Raj D., Harish Marimuthu and Kaushik S. look like any group of young friends – joking and out-talking each other in a matter of minutes – but they share another life as well – as volunteers of the non-governmental organisation Bhumi, that focuses on education, civic engagement, environment and social entrepreneurship programmes.

Theirs is a tribe that declares its happiness in working for free. Young, educated and keen to share their knowledge with underprivileged children, these volunteers are making a difference in their own quiet way.

Bhumi was founded in 2006 in Chennai by ophthalmologist Dr. Prahalathan KK and his friends Ayyanar Elumalai, Dr. Harishankar, Namasivayam and Prakash Selvaraj. It came to Tiruchi in 2009, and starting out with a handful of students from the Saranathan College of Engineering, Bhumi’s volunteer strength today has crossed over 500, covering almost all the colleges in and around the city.

At present the NGO is active in 12 cities and works with over 15,000 children nationwide.

Interactive education

The young team we meet at city co-ordinator Gayathri’s residence in Karumandapam is in charge of academic and non-academic programmes designed for the children living in as many as 40 orphanages in Tiruchi. Some 600 children are tutored by Bhumi volunteers over the weekend in Computer Science, English, Mathematics and Science, while nearly 1,200 kids participate in the annual talent show called ‘Nakshatra.’ The NGO also has a mentorship project called Lakshya which imparts leadership and social skills. Each volunteer spends two hours on teaching, and two hours on project preparation every week.

“We try and get the orphanage children involved in events like Nakshatra to help them know more about what is happening in the world. We are laying the foundation for them to take up higher education, or at least become financially independent after school,” says Gayathri, who has been with Bhumi for five years, and also works as a lecturer at Saranathan College.

The Bhumi syllabus runs parallel to the formal school curriculum, with one major exception: it is interactive. Teachers are called ‘Anna’ or ‘Akka’, and with one volunteer for every four students, individual attention is assured. Being below the age of 30 years is mandatory for aspiring volunteers.

Far away from the stuffy atmosphere of regular schooling, the experience of teaching becomes transformative not just for the students, but also the tutors themselves.

“The kids have some kind of influence on you, that is hard to express in words,” says Aarthi, a JJ College graduate who has been taking Computer Science and Maths lessons for the past three years, and is waiting to start working at an IT major in Bangalore. “Children in orphanages don’t judge, they just accept you as you are. I won’t say they are different from the normal children, but there is a sort of openness to them. They know that ‘Akka is doing something for us.’”

For Harish, a student of National Institute of Technology Tiruchi (NITT), mentoring the children has been an eye-opening experience. “These kids are way more emotionally stable than those from privileged families, so mentoring is a lot more easy. But you also get that energy have that energy from them, that gives you the fuel to work,” he says.

Appreciation

Learning to face a class has also made them more appreciative of what they have. “I have changed my attitude towards my own teachers after becoming a Bhumi volunteer,” says Sampath, a student at SASTRA University, who is a project co-ordinator for Lakshya this year. “I have become more efficient in managing my study schedule because of my volunteering.”

The Bhumi system of teaching has other positives too. “We are not teaching conventionally and not forcing the student to learn something,” says SASTRA student Senthurren, who leads the Speak Out spoken English project. “We don’t beat or scold the kids. We don’t have exams, but evaluations.”

The wish fulfilment programme of Bhumi, called ‘Joy to the World’ has also helped the volunteers to value the things that they own. “We can see the impact of our projects on the wishes,” says Kaushik, a SASTRA alumnus who is also project co-ordinator for the Kanini Computer Science programme. “Some children want a laptop. Others want a BMW. But there are also some children who request for things that they can share with their friends - it could be anything from a mosquito repellent to a pencil with a rubber at the back or a carom board, things we take for granted at home.”

The reward

Family support is crucial to successful volunteering says the Tiruchi team, that has been lauded for its efforts in tree-plantation and securing organ donation pledges this year.

“Our parents understand why we want to be volunteers, but sometimes, when we get too busy, they do grumble,” says Gayathri.

More youth should try volunteering, so that they can become less of a novelty here, says Aarthi. “Volunteering is quite common among young people abroad, but in India, people are astounded when you say that you are a volunteer. Maybe they cannot get used to the idea of someone working for no financial gain. But we are happy, and we do get paid – in smiles.”

Find out more about Bhumi on >bhumi.org.in

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 12:43:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/teaching-underprevileged-children-in-tiruchi/article7615956.ece

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