CISCO makes Math fun.

We recently pulled out all the contents of Ganitha Kalika Andolana’s big White Box for you. It has a beaded rope, tape, blocks, foamed goodies, measuring tools, and weighing balance etc. In a nutshell, everything a child needs to understand every Math concept in his/her syllabus.

But explaining each concept is no nutshell of a job. It’s creative, challenging, easy and tough, all at the same time. Which is why, we decided to come up with as many ways as possible for the teacher to use as ready reckoners, while teaching Math.

And what made it better, our friends at CISCO Bangalore, decided to huddle together one day and brainstorm for us. Eager yet cautious faces greeted our entire team, as we began the fun afternoon. The sheer magnanimity of the things being pulled out of the box seemed to deter them at first.

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But once they got the hang of the entire kit, the place was abuzz. The entire group was divided into three large groups. Team A had to come up with pictorial representations for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and number counting using the abacus, beaded rope and base ten blocks. Team B got Fractions and Decimals, while Team C tackled Geometry.

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What followed was a few hours of excited squeals, quiet pondering, hushed discussions and noisy exclamations. Each team further divided themselves, so that they could come up with as many representative options as possible.

“It’s the most interactive session we have ever had” said Blessie, the chirpy and ever helpful team member of the CISCO volunteer team. “But a lot of the credit also goes to our leadership team. They push us a lot, “ she added without being able to pry her eyes away from the coloured blocks.

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It was amazing to see how 30 odd adults became a class of 30 in no time at all. While one team was busy dunking the foam strips in water and having fun, another was busy experimenting with stick figures. And yet another team was deep in discussion, ensuring theirs was the best 🙂

And the most exciting part for us was the fact that we actually got a great number of options to choose from, at the end!

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Soujanya, who has been interning for around 5 months was a little intimidated with the colourful yet unknown things overflowing from the white box. “It took us a while to get the hang of how different things are used, but on the whole, very interesting.” And so she continued adding the finishing touches to her group’s presentation.

A brainstorming session of this kind was an excellent way for this enthusiastic bunch to also experience the Math kit first hand. And a lot of them actually realised how challenging it is, to think at a 4th grade child’s level.

Sachin, who has taught in government schools before, confirms that a pictorial way is the most effective method of retention. He adds, “This sort of system with a pictorial representation of concepts helps schools where teachers are fewer in number, and they multitask. Many of these concepts can also help the kids directly.”

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As the session drew to a close, the teams got busy documenting their ideas.The last team that remained was a particularly interesting one. Khyati from that team, who has been with CISCO for a couple of years now, is from a government school herself.

Her excitement with an assignment like this is definitely above anyone else’s. While she was one of the lucky few to actually get a scholarship from Udyan Care, many don’t get that luxury. “Which is why, I am a part of the volunteer group. I want to give back to schools like mine, where getting a sound education is difficult.”

Reasons big or small, it was heartening to see so many people come together for the sake of education. And we thank them all for their time and effort in helping us take that one step ahead. Looking forward to many more brainstorming sessions. 🙂

You can see how the entire afternoon spanned out here.

Thank You, Teachers


Thank You cards created by the volunteers

Teachers play many important roles in the life of a child – that of an educator, mentor and a friend. They inspire, discipline, and inculcate values of thinking, reasoning, self-learning and exploration. They are one of the strong influences in developing the child into a responsible adult. And to recognize these efforts of the teachers, this year Target employees decided to do their bit.

As part of the Teachers Day celebrations, over 150 employees from the Marketing, HR, Merchandising, BI and Finance Team of Target and their families, made personalized ‘Thank You’ greeting cards to be distributed to Government school teachers in 360 schools across Bangalore, Hoskote and Mundargi. The whole activity was driven by a core group of volunteers who not only handled distributing and collecting back the cards; they also promoted the activity within their team and encouraged their team members to participate. The whole activity took one week. The end result was 1800 beautifully handcrafted cards.

For some volunteers, this activity was a good break from their desk job and showcases their creative skills, while for others it was a great activity to engage their families. But for most, it was just a small way of showing their gratitude to teachers who work selflessly for the cause of education. This was rightly echoed by one of the volunteers who said, “In this busy world, it was like this wonderful moment which took us back to our childhood and gave us an opportunity to express our feeling for our respected teachers. Irrespective of whom it would go to in person, the feeling of addressing it to a ‘Teacher’ was above all and delightful. The four hours I spent on those cards, though less compare to what my teachers have given me in terms of knowledge and wisdom.  It allowed me to give my respect to the teachers who help us reach where we are, professionally and as a person.

Cards distribution at a school
         
The teachers were overwhelmed by this token of appreciation. Some even went on to say that in their many years of service as a Government school teacher, never have they been recognized for their effort. Mamatha C, a teacher from GKMPS Nagashettyhalli said, “I thank the volunteers for creating greeting cards for us. We are humbled!

Teacher feedback

Such small gestures from the civil society does go a long way in encouraging Government school teachers to do their job well and deliver quality education to children.

Sound of Music


Super fun, sheer joy of making some cool music with self made musical instruments and a great sense of community! The musical instrument workshop held at Government Kannada Model Primary School (GKMPS) Hebbal, was a joyous, affirming and an incredibly exciting experience. A brainchild of Seth Molloy, Software Development Engineer, Analog Devices, the workshop facilitated by Akshara Foundation, saw over 35 volunteers from Analog Devices, Target India, CGI and HP India among others come together t o create a musical environment for more than 150 kids. The sounds of various musical instruments put together by using available resources like pipes, water cans and straw, filled the school campus, as children showcased their new found abilities. Conducted in such a way to facilitate students learning and creativity more than just playing an instrument, the workshop was totally inspiring and was the highlight of the week for all participants.

Step by Step
Spearheaded by Molloy and led by the volunteers and teachers, the workshop was split into four different activities. In the first step, the school children were educated on how various musical instruments work and the sound they create. This was facilitated with demonstrations by the volunteers.
The real action began with school children getting started on instrument making. Be it tuba, a trombone, quasi-xylophone, oboe, base drum – the kids tried their hands at making various instruments with the help of volunteers. The entire exercise motivated the children to think independently and generate new ideas. What’s more – the kids also had a great time testing and decorating their musical instruments.




Save the Best for the Last
The highpoint of the workshop was a live performance by the school kids. Accompanied by the school staff and the volunteers, the children did a small road show, showcasing the self made instruments and playing them in great harmony. The workshop accomplished exactly what was intended – fun, willingness to try new things and be creative and the pure enjoyment of working together in a group. Truly awesome!




          View photo gallery here


My Volunteering Experience at a Government School

Medha Bhattacharya, a student of Indus International School studying in Class 12 volunteered at the GKMPS Munichinappa Adugodi School. This is what she had to say about her experience!


I remember the first day I went to the school for (volunteering) very clearly because I had been incredibly sick the night before and just about staggered into the Headmistress’s office. Unfortunately I was entirely unable to understand anything that was being said because my knowledge of Kannada is rudimentary at best and non-existent at worst. But by the end of the meeting it was determined that I was to teach English to children from the fourth to the seventh grade for one period everyday. Needless to say I was quite freaked out. I had never actually taught anyone anything before unless you count helping people remember dates for a history exam. I was also well aware of what kids think of new teachers, especially flaky substitute ones.
My first class was with the seventh graders. I had made a couple of worksheets that I thought they could do. The response I got was incredible. All the kids were intensely competitive, trying to do everything as efficiently and intelligently as possible. Almost all of them got everything right and I knew I had to make stuff a little more challenging. That class was definitely one of the brightest. They were all really helpful and honestly made everything so much less scary.

I think the class that I probably spent the most time with though was the fourth grade. They were the polar opposite of the much better behaved seventh grade. There were only about twenty of them but honestly it felt like there were at least fifty. The first thing I did with them was to give them worksheets with the alphabet and an object beginning with that alphabet written next to it. They traced over the words quite peacefully albeit slightly noisily. And then to make it a little more interesting I put up an alphabet chart with pictures of objects from A to Z. But I left out the words underneath it giving them pieces of paper with the word on the pieces and told them to stick it onto the chart. And that was when all hell broke loose.

Everybody wanted to stick his or her word up at the same time. I think a couple of kids started crying, whether in sheer frustration or because they actually got injured in the mad rush towards the chart I will never know. But after a while we managed to get all the words stuck up there and everyone was really really happy. Yet again their drive and sheer joy in learning and doing something a little different completely surprised me. I think out of all the grades fourth standard were probably the most affectionate, hugging me every time I came and generally being absolutely lovely.

The class I particularly remember when I taught the sixth grade was the one with the (animal) flashcards. I divided them into three teams and the team that could recognize the most number of animals won. There was one boy literally knew the names of almost all the animals on the flashcards. I did the same thing with the fifth grade and when I told them to divide into two teams the boys rushed to one side and the girls to another.  The girls absolutely decimated the boys and were incredibly proud of their victory.

Another particularly memorable class was when I took a chart with the lyrics of a song on it but with some words missing. I gave the kids (seventh graders) the missing words, played the song and they filled it up. Then I played Hello and Goodbye by the Beatles to teach them opposites.

The most fulfilling part about this whole experience though was probably the way they talked to me and asked me how I was. Despite the fact that I don’t really understand Kannada they would talk to me before I left and ask me when I was coming next.

I had a really good experience and I would definitely do it again if I could.

(Medha Bhattacharya is bright 17th year old studying in Indus International School. She volunteered for 10 days and spent a total of 15 hours volunteering at a Government School. She loves to volunteer because she enjoys being with children, she feels that she is lucky to have so many opportunities and would like to contribute something whenever she can)

Volunteers required for Storytelling sessions

Image source: www.patrickranchmuseum.org
Would you like to read stories in Kannada to children? Now, here’s your chance !
Akshara Foundation had pioneered a major coalition involving Dream A Dream, Magic Bus and other leading NGOs, to improve the lives and life chances of children in Bangalore. As part of the initiative, we are organzing a camp for children from the slum in Ambedkar Nagar (Mysore Road) on Sunday, the 11th of August. Many exciting events including LEGO will be organized for children between 3 and 14 years of age.
We are looking for around 10 volunteers who could conduct book reading sessions for children. If you think that you conduct an interesting story telling session for children, do write to volunteer@akshara.org.in

Details of the event is as below:

Date: 25th August 2013

Venue: Ambedkar Nagar ( near the Pepsi Factory, Mysore Road)

Time: 9.30 am to 12.30pm

Languages: Should know to read Kannada

Coimbatore celebrates the Lego Kondattam



 The Bosch CSR team organized a series of Lego games in a few Government schools in Coimbatore. They aptly named the event Lego Kondattam. The idea behind this initiative was to provide opportunity to the Government school students, their parents and teachers to exhibit and display their creativity, team spirit and to improve their presentation skills.
The Lego activity was held at 4 different schools namely
   GHSS, Gandhimanagar,
   GHSS, Saravanampatti,
   GHSS, Idigarai,
   GHSS, Ganapathy.

GHS Gandhimanagar:
The first of the Lego activity was organized at the Gandhimanagar Government High School on 16th Feb. Over 120 students of standard 6th to 10th participated in this activity. The session started with a video on Lego games which created a real momentum for this activity. The success story of the Founder of Lego motivated the students’ big time.  They were then provided with 4 baskets of Lego Bricks and they had to build up a story around the theme “World of Stories”. 120 students were split into 4 groups and given 1 hour time to build their own story on a theme of their choice and 5 minutes to explain their theme.
At the end of the hour, one team explained how the global warming was showing its effects. The other team explained the value of human potential and the innumerable opportunities available for a healthy and wealthy living. While the third team exhibited the colossal effect of deforestation and the forth one exhibited their wish of future ‘Gandhimanagar’ which had everything just like any other modern      high-tech city.
Towards the end of this activity the students, teachers and the parents all had not just enjoyed the group activity with the Lego blocks but also learnt that games and creativity can teach better.

GHS Saravanampatty
The CSR volunteers reached the school at 4pm on a Friday and were introduced about the LEGO Kondattam. The students were packed with excitement and enthusiasm. They were then divided into teams of 4 and given detailed instructions about the activity. The Lego video was shown to the students and the volunteers took special efforts to make this activity an interactive as well as an informative one.
They were given one hour to come up with their own creative model with the Lego kit and to create an imaginative story.  At the beginning it was a clash and mishmash of ideas but then the volunteers made them realize that “United they stand strong and divided they fall”.  The leaders were chosen in each team and they directed the team while the others coordinated them well. Towards the end of the activity each team ended up with an artistic model and story. The parents, teachers and the students all loved the fact that they apart the children were learning important traits like team spirit and leadership skills.

Kids and volunteers at work
GHS Idigarai:
The Lego Kondattam in Idigarai School began at 10am on a fine Saturday morning. The campus was a bright and a cheerful one with lot of trees and birds. The teachers and the alumni of the school greeted and welcomed the volunteers with an infectiously enthusiastic smile. The students had already gathered for the celebration. The room well furnished inside and had sophisticated projector, laptop and speakers lighted up the zeal in the volunteers.
The Lego video was played and explained to the students. They were then divided in groups of fours. The teachers, parents and students all were equally excited to know that learning could be this fun. The students came up with some interesting themes and one team even managed to build the “Idigarai College of engineering and technology”.

GHSS Ganapathy: The Lego kondattam journey marched towards GHSS Ganapathy on a cheerful Saturday at 2.30 pm.  A hearty welcome by the students and the teachers made the volunteers happy. The activity of team building began by grouping the students into four teams and the volunteers were assigned to take care of each team. They were presented with the Lego video so that they could grasp the basic idea of working on with it.
Then as in every school the activity started and the students enthusiastically involved themselves in the activity. The teachers, parents and students contributed greatly to the event making it a huge success.
The teachers, parents and the students were more than happy to have learnt lessons on leadership and teamwork in such a fun way.

LEGO Habba 2012 : A big success !!



A Big Success
 
The LEGO Habba, happening every Saturday from October 2012 to December 2012 in selected government schools in Bangalore, concluded recently. The event had been been conceived with the aim of having Parents, Teachers and Children engage in a creative LEGO brick activity in school. This was good way to ensure that Parents and School Staff build a good relationship to ensure that they jointly do the best for the child.

From schools in Siddhapura, Austin Town and Harappanahalli, reports streamed into Akshara from the library resource team about the festive atmosphere the Habbas were generating, the light, happy mood of children, their buoyant creativity and the quite unbelievable models they designed, the parental participation and the support of volunteers and school managements in making the Habbas a huge success.

Groups of children made thematic models from stories that came out of their memory trove, stories they could best represent through art, design and construction, with the hundreds upon hundreds of bright, multi-colored, interlocking LEGO play-and-learning material before them. Children joined and fixed and connected the LEGO bricks, set elaborate stages for the characters that would live in their stories, the trees and animals that would inhabit them and built towers and forts and simple dwellings.

The Stories They Chose

 
At the school in Austin Town the children of Std. I, II and III chose The Thirsty Crow from the Panchatantra for their model.
For Std. IV children it was The King and the Parrot, again from the Panchatantra,  its characters a bit more complex.
Soleman from the cartoon serial was a more tricky concept to represent, but that is what Std. V children chose to depict.
Std. VI children came up with The Golden Axe, a well-remembered story of theirs, and had a forest ready for the tale of the honest woodcutter who was gifted the golden axe by the river god.
The children of Std. VII did something unique. They devised their own story, made animals their protagonists, assigned each a role and character and had them play out their parts in sequences. Their story was almost similar to The Royal Toothache published by Pratham Books.

“We Loved the Event”

Thirty five parents showed up at the Siddhapura school and though they were all shy and disengaged in the beginning, not knowing what to expect, Akshara staff and Fidelity Information Systems (FIS) volunteers thawed the ice and brought about a great artistic commingling.
One parent remarked that no one has ever invited them to come and play with their children in school before, referring to the library resource team’s ingenious invitations that went out to them from the school managements’ side. “We loved the event,” the parent said. “It helped us to get to know our children better and also helped us interact with teachers for a reason that was different from academic results.”
Cluster Resource Person (CRP) Govindappa said, “It was a very well-organized event. Looking at the LEGO play material I was half tempted to join the children (which I did too) and play with them. I was surprised by the presence of parents and that they stayed on for such a long time. They were not willing to get back home. I thank the Akshara Foundation team, all the volunteers and school staff for such a fabulous event.”

Pride in Achievement


It was all over in one short hour, the flying sparks and the bursts of ideas translating into solid substance, and the children stood under the marquees with their models, full of pride and achievement and ownership, surrounded by an appreciative and applauding crowd of parents, HMs, teachers, volunteers, School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) members and Akshara staff. They spoke enthusiastically about what they had so spontaneously created, their stories, their models, and how they went about it.



Over 130 volunteers from various organizations like FIS, Robert Bosch, CGI, Hibu, iGate and schools like Inventure Academy organized the habba at 16 schools over Saturdays. Thanks to their high enthusiasm and passion, the habba was a great success !!

As Sharath from Hibu, who had volunteered for the Habba at the Harappanahalli school, noted, “This was an amazing event. I am very excited by the creativity and the talent shown by government school children. My team has volunteered for some events with children before, but the sense of satisfaction and entertainment this event gave us is immense. I wish to participate more frequently in Akshara Foundation events in future.”

The last habbas

The last two LEGO Habbas were conducted at the Community Education Resource Centre (CERC), or community library, at two Bridge Schools run by Samruddhi Foundation. It is an Akshara – supported CERC, run with donor contributions from ING Vysya Foundation. Around 160 children from a local rag-pickers’ colony attend the community library and the team had introduced them to LEGO’s learning and creative opportunities early in the academic year.

Watch the Habba in action

Here’s a wonderful video created by Inventure Academy on the habba. The video tells you the story of the habba and how the children, parents, teachers of GKHPS Handenahalli and the students of Inventure Academy participated in it as a single community.

Akshara Newsletter : November 2012 edition

Akshara Foundation has re-launched it’s monthly newsletter in November 2012. The newsletter covers important events and happenings at Akshara, tells you heartwarming impact stories from the field and highlights efforts put by our volunteering community. This newsletter will reach out to the different sections of our supporters and keep them updated on our activities.

You can read our November 2012 edition newsletter here.

Do write to us with your feedback on the newsletter. We would love to hear it !!

LEGO Habba begins with a bang..

The LEGO Habba kick-started with a bang on Saturday, 3rd November 2012. The first set of schools to participate were GKHPS Siddapura, GKHPS Handenahalli and GKHPS T.C. Halli.  Around 300 children, 80 parents and 32 volunteers participated in these schools. While employees from Fidelity Information Services organized the Habba in Siddapura, children from Inventure Academy ran the show in Handenahalli and T.C. Halli. The theme revolving around the Habba was “The Land of Stories” and each class had to come up with a model depicting a story using LEGO blocks.


Come Saturday morning and all the locations wore a festive look. Shamiyana, music, colorful festoons created the perfect atmosphere for the Habba to begin. The event started off with a brief welcome to the children, parents, teachers, SDMC members, volunteers and department officials. Soon, teams were formed with each team consisting of a volunteer, teacher and an Akshara librarian. Each such team would coordinate the Habba in each class. It took a while for volunteers and teachers to gently persuade parents to tell stories to their children.  Soon we saw the whole group interacting well with each other to decide on the story and started building different components of the selected stories using LEGO blocks. In a lot of instances, it was so heartwarming to see parents and their children guiding each other and joining hands to build models together.

After 70 minutes, the outcome was  astonishing and satisfying. In front of us, there were highly creative models. Beautiful LEGO models told us stories of ‘Simha Mathu Mola’, ‘Mangoose kills the snake’, ‘Monkey and the Crocodile’, ‘Punyakoti’, ‘Onake Obavva’ and many more..

The models were then displayed and one could see parents beaming with pride. One parent told us that so far, no one had invited them to the school to play. This event helped them to know their child better as they were unaware of their child’s talent. For once, they could interact well with teachers for  a reason other than academics.


The Cluster Resource Person from the Education department Mr. Govindappa, who participated in Siddapura said,”It was a very well organized event. By looking at the LEGO bricks, I was half-tempted to join the children (which I did too) and play with them. And I was surprised with the presence of Parents for such a long period. They are not willing to get back home. So, I thank Akshara Foundation team, and all the Volunteers and School Staff for such a fabulous event.”

The event concluded with the distribution of gifts and snacks to all children. Each school was also gifted with a LEGO box.

Overall, the Habba, as the name suggests was like a Habba in the School, and was powerful enough to pull along parents, teachers, children and volunteers to come together to celebrate creativity !! We hope, this Habba is a gateway for better involvement of the parents in their child’s education and will initiative the demand for quality education in the future.

Arvind Venkatadri, Head of Akshara’s library program, participated in the Habba in the GKHPS Handenahalli. Below Arvind shares his joyous experiences of the Habba.

” I reached Handenahalli at 9:10 AM, well in advance of the start time of the Habba, planned for 1130. I was immediately impressed by the level of preparation by the HM, Shri Bhaskar and his staff: a very colorful shamiyana was already up, the LEGO Habba banner was flapping in the breeze over the main gate of the school and the HM’s voice could he heard testing their PA system! The ground was spruce and clean and very soon I spotted Akshara’s Librarians, all smartly dressed for the occasion: Deepa, who works from this school and her colleagues Renuka, Pushpa, BhagyaJyothi, Lakshmi, Manjula and Pankaja from other schools in Anekal Block. 

The SDMC members arrived and so did teachers from the neighbouring schools, Bikkanahalli, Sollepura and Kotaganahalli; I recognized and was greeted by Shri Lakshmipathi of Bikkanahalli.  For this Habba, we were expecting a whole bunch of volunteers from the Inventure Academy, an International School located near Dommasandra. Lavanya Vimala, a teacher at Inventure, called me to tell me they were on the way and soon enough the Inventure bus came rolling to the gate of the school. They were greeted by Shri Bhaskar and welcomed to the Habba. There were some students of Inventure and some parents as well, who were curious to see what this Lego Habba was all about. One of them, Anjana, started a very detailed shooting of the entire event, complete with interviews of participants. By that time a good few parents had also gathered, some grandparents too and were engaged in charming conversations with the Librarians. 

We quickly briefed them as to the plan; Prabha from Inventure agreed to be the compere and took charge at once. She kicked off the Habba by welcoming the assembled parents and the staff members of the neighbouring schools and the SDMC members. She gave a lovely introduction to the Theme of the Habba, “The Land of Stories”. Everybody was excited with the prospect of making Lego models to show off their stories. The children came streaming out of the classes to take their parents there; the teachers quickly took charge, along with atleast one volunteer from the Inventure group. Soon there were keen discussions in many of the classrooms: Children telling ” ajji” to decide on a good story and in some cases, children telling stories to the adults and exhorting them to adopt these as their story for the Habba. The volunteers helped create some wonderful talk: Prabha was very effervescent, as were many of of the other teachers. The Inventure Children sprang their own surprise: they had brought charts and banners of their own, handmade, which they decked up in the classrooms and also on the central stage in the courtyard. 


The stories were decided upon fairly quickly: the Thirsty Crow, the Rabbit and the Lion, from the Panchatantra and The Village Fair, a popular story in our Libraries. People decided upon how to build the stories: what creatures to make and what the surroundings were like and of course, deciding on the main event to depict. The Akshara Librarians then brought in the buckets full of Lego and upturned them on the floor. The surprise and utter delight on the childrens’ faces was a joy to behold, and they cheered as they dug in to get hold of the pieces they needed. The volunteers helped some of the shy adults to come out of their shells and make the models; the Inventure students thoroughly mixed with the children here and helped create some intricate models.                                                       

Soon it was time to bring out the Story Models and display them on the stage. Librarian Manjula had drawn up areas on the stage where each class would arrange its Story Model. 

They were astonishing, the models. The Lion was a sheer delight, with mane and tail, as was the reflection of the lion in the water inside the well. The trees in the forest had been made with a lot of care, and foliage looked very real. The Crow looked very good too, cocky and street-smart. The Village Fair was full of detailed pieces: a merry-go-round, dancers, shops, games, even a mobile tower near the village. Prabha invited children from each class to present their story; each story was cheered by the closely pressed group. Parents delighted in the attention their wards were getting; I also met parents from the nearby anganawadi who had come in to find out what was going on.

Finally, it was time to wind up the show. Prabha made the children cheer when she announced that there were gifts for everyone. The children quickly lined up in a crocodile as they streamed towards the gate. Akshara Librarians smilingly handed out goodies and snacks to each child, from both Schools. Some tiny tots from the anganawadi came up timidly asked for the biscuits too and gleefully accepted the gifts.

It was deeply satisfying. The Children, the Parents,the Teachers and the Volunteers: it was just perfect. I think we will see similar efforts being made by th Govt School teachers themselves at other places, on their own. That will surely make the future Open School Days in Govt Schools a very different and noisy affair !! “

Volunteering at the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, Hoskote


The Spirit of Volunteering

For people who volunteer for a cause it is the ultimate sublimation. Volunteering is activity on a higher plane, an attempt at an idealized world – the involuntary instinct for the level playing field, breaking down barriers of inequity and deprivation, giving everybody a fair chance, the belief in bringing about systemic change in a system that under-performs, simply drags its feet or outright fails. It is an act of betterment and uplift. Those who have giving to those who do not.
  • Akshara regularly facilitates volunteering in education in Bangalore – at government schools, anganwadis and community libraries, or prepares the ground for homework support classes, English teaching sessions, a sports event. Akshara galvanizes the corporate sector, parents, the student community and citizens and is looking to expand the volunteering base exponentially.
The Larger Question

But looking at the broader scene in the city, is volunteering a case of isolated largesse? Will it remain the occasional wholeheartedness, the odd abundance, not a continuous stream of the spirit?
  • Says Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation, “For many years Akshara talked about doing learning programmes for children, about building a relationship with government schools. That alone is not enough. If we can get people who have had the privilege of education – teachers, parents, citizens – aligned to a common goal of equitable access to quality education, we can make an impact.
  • The problem is we always think of our glass as half-empty. Can we look at our Indian situation positively? Can we do something? There are 95 lakh people in Bangalore. If 40,000 people could go into a thousand government schools on a regular basis can you imagine the difference it will make? The larger question is: How can we together make the world a better place for government school children?”
What can be done to enlarge the volume of contribution and make volunteering a self-sustaining movement of substantive results? This is what two of the Target India employees who volunteered recently at the Government Kannada Higher Primary School (GKHPS) in Doddaholluru, Hoskote Block, giving freely of their time, energy and resources, had to say.
  • Ann: “Not many people like us know that such opportunities exist, that government schools need such diverse inputs. Everybody wants to help, but we do not know what we can do or which platform to go through. If there is a volunteers’ group that can propose volunteering projects to companies and facilitate the process, or encourage employees to participate in large numbers, that would be great. The message should reach people, and 99% of us – you can even say 100% of us – would come forward to help and support.”
  • Keshav: “We do something like this once in a while and sometimes forget about it. A more consistent approach is called for. A more dedicated approach – the same pool of volunteers in the same school repeatedly so that children and volunteers can come together. So that children can look on us as somebody they can count on. We’re setting all this up in this school – a library, a science room. But we don’t know how these resources will be used by the school and its students. We must come back. We want to come back.
If urban children come here and see for themselves the deprivation they will value everything they have much more. I think students in the city must volunteer. A lot of parents would want their children exposed to the other side of the world, the larger fact.”
  • Asha Sharath who handles donor relations and volunteering activities at Akshara says, “Every small step a volunteer takes is a great stride. A day makes a difference. For long-lasting impact, volunteering has to be on a regular basis.”
  • The crux, however, she says, is to connect citizens to schools. Akshara is positioning itself to do that through the Karnataka Learning Partnership (KLP) framework. What Akshara has learnt from experience is that schools are wary of arbitrary goodwill. They have specific deficits they would like enriched – a drop in Mathematics, language failure, or, as in the GKHPS, Doddaholluru, a library in decline or a thriving science laboratory with no place to call its own.  
  • Says Asha, “KLP intends to bridge this gap in communication with a platform where schools can upload their requirements and interested volunteers can pick up from there and give them what they need. KLP is thinking of coming out with a prototype soon.”

A Quiet Sense of Purpose

It is the 17thof September. A remarkable instance of volunteering is taking place at the GKHPS in Doddaholluru. The thirty five Target India employees who are volunteering here are enablers, providers of opportunity that day, as they go about restoring to pristine condition an old, disused library in the school and a room for science.

The school wears a discreetly festive air. There is a quiet hum of activity and purpose. Visitors are streaming in and Harshita and Manjula, Std. VII students, welcome them with a single red rose and a shy smile and fade tactfully away. Today it is the volunteers who are unwittingly centre stage as, with a hushed sense of mission, they take to completion their self-appointed task.

A Targeted Intervention

The Science lab before the make-over
  • The library used to be a picture of rundown depletion, sadly, for a school with no obvious infrastructure deficits. The volunteers are painting it and stocking it with books. The science room, once painted and invigorated, will accommodate the many projects the children undertake under the guidance of their tireless science teacher, Basavaraj, a live wire of a person. It will be a place for experimentation and discovery, for unravelling science, a subject that is one of the school’s singular strengths.
  • This is example-setting volunteering. Guru, the Target volunteer in charge of reconnaissance, made three fact-finding trips to identify and assess the school’s requirements. The day’s endeavour is a targeted intervention to provide something the school needs and will, hopefully, make use of. Not random goodwill.
An Image Make Over

  • An image make over is in progress in the large, light-permeated library. A preliminary coat of thinner has been applied, but the soiled walls show through the thin translucence, scooped out or peeling in places, which the volunteers have scraped and filled in even-handedly. A painterly landscape dominates, with brushes and big hammers, screw drivers and rollers, and large cans of thinner and synthetic enamel. Mugs half-filled with cloudy blue paint for the room’s many metal windows jostle in the assortment.
  • All bought through volunteers’ contributions, including the elegant, red metal racks and the 2012 books that will go on them. The number 2012 is significant. It signals the year of the library’s resuscitation.
I too Have a Part to Play in their Growth”

  • It is a thoroughly professional approach, not least the painting, though most of the volunteers are first-time painters. Like Stephen, with a protective bandana round his head, about to go up a step ladder to paint the upper reaches with an intuitive sense of the work at hand.
  • A seasoned volunteer, Stephen says, “Volunteering is all about enhancing the next generation, making space for children to learn, providing opportunities for them. I too have a part to play in their growth.”
  • Mormita, part of the painting crew, says, “I feel strongly that what we’re getting we should give back. Everybody should, in whatever way, big or small. I feel satisfied and happy seeing the smiles on children’s faces.”
It’s a Pleasure Doing This”

Outside the library a section of the verandah has been unofficially cordoned off. There, on sprawling mats are the 2012 books meant for children up to Std. VII. They are in Kannada and English primarily, and some in Hindi, straddling fourteen classifications – stories, comics, General Knowledge, science, computers….There are books that build skill-sets too, in grammar and essay writing, for instance. 

 
Every book is being labelled with a unique code that will ensure that they do not all end up in a disorderly mélange where nothing can be found. Thick, plastic-coated brown paper is being fitted on the racks and the books will be arranged on them.
  • It’s a pleasure doing this,” says Samyukta who is leading this group. “Children come up and say they didn’t have access to such books before. I believe that knowledge shared is knowledge gained. Even we are getting to learn a lot.”
  • Shivaprasad who is sorting and labelling the books echoes much the same sentiment. “I have a passion for volunteering. There is self-satisfaction and fulfillment. I enjoy giving back to society. When we were young we got so much.”
The library was a crumbling institution in school. When this ensemble comes together – the fresh newness of paint, the scenery charts, hand-painted inspirational quotes on education, the gleaming books on smart racks – it will symbolize renewal and create a space for children to read, learn and grow.

I will Improve my Knowledge”
  • Kantalakshmi of Std. VII is excited about the new ordainment. “I am happy. I am looking forward to reading in the library. I will get to understand from library books what my teacher tells me in class. I will go there and find out. I will improve my knowledge. What I don’t know I will get from there.”
  • Harshita has to be goaded into thinking about the benefits of a library by her teachers. She begins hesitatingly and is nudged along. “Library books will be useful for reference, as guides to class lessons. I like reading jokes and short stories very much.”
  • Jayalakshmi who teaches all subjects, including Kannada and English, in Std. IV, V, VI and VII says, “It is good to have a library. Every class, I-VII, has a library period once a week. Library books are important for children to learn language, improve reading skills, for understanding and communication. The English books in the library will be particularly useful. Children will learn different kinds of words, difficult words. English is their second language. They have an English period every day.”
Different Hues
  • In volunteering there is also the not-so-exalted department of the mundane – the logistics, the hot food, the cold drinks…… All the eminently forgettable nitty-gritty at times like this. Anantha volunteered magnanimously to organize and provide and clear up. “Too many challenges in that,” he says affably. “What to source, what to provide, at what time. I got beverages, but how would I keep them cold when the school has no refrigerator and there has been no power the whole day?” He worked his way ingeniously around that constraint.
Anantha overlooked nothing – not the drinking water or water cups, the plastic spoons, paper plates or napkins, not the first aid kit. Then there is the humdrum everydayness of garbage, which needed some astute planning. Anantha will take ten bin bags with all the day’s debris back to Bangalore for disposal.

A Science Room – “It will Instil Scientific Discipline”

  • At the far end of the rambling school building is the Science Block, announced in thick, black, declaratory lettering. It underlines the scientific temper of the school, personified by the motivated Basavaraj who leads his students in curiosity-driven exploration. He teaches in Std. V, VI and VII.
  • Propelled by Basavaraj, his students have creatively designed a water recycling plant, a mobile phone tower, a hydel power generating dam with smaller check dams along a river stream to harness water to the fullest. And many more items, besides.
  • Children crowd around their projects eager to explain the scientific principles of each. Now there is a room Target volunteers are recasting and assigning to science. Says Basavaraj, “We did not have a place for all these projects. Earlier I would take the material to the classroom to educate the students. Now there will be a room in honour of science where students can gather and learn. A specially designated space will help children; it will instil scientific discipline.”
I Like Science”
  • I like science, “says Kantalakshmi, showing off the periscope she and her classmates have made. “It is used underwater during war. I learnt how the heart functions also.” Basavaraj was instrumental in spurring the children to make a simple instrument out of a plastic bottle, straws and a piece of fabric. “All low-cost material,” affirms Basavaraj. Kantalakshmi blows through the straws, then takes an inward breath and the pleated folds of the fabric in the bottle expand and contract, simulating the operations of the heart.
  • Harshita too confirms that she likes science, her earlier reticence melting in a flood of words. “I like learning about the heart, about health and nutrition. We carried out an experiment in class that demonstrates the force of air and water. I observe things through the microscope,” she says in wonderment.
I Enjoy the Act of Giving Very Much”

The Target team is in an act of consecration in the science room, dressing it up, painting it. Samir, Anu and Noor also team up to embellish with their art the two pillars that jut out, hand-painting the universe, the earth, a space ship, a rocket taking off.
  • Samir is in Development at Target. He has a speech and hearing impairment. This is his first experience of volunteering. “I am an artist,” he says, hands flying in communication. “I want to do art with children in schools.” A paint-flecked khaki smock over a long-sleeved, dull red shirt bespeaks a heightened awareness of colour. Samir is painting a half-sun on the edge of a pillar in the science room, a yellow semi-circle with dancing orange flames – half the world in light.
  • I like it very much,” he says. “I enjoy the act of giving very much. I am extremely happy doing it.”