MEET THE LIGHT Rajagopalan R
“There are two ways of spreading light, – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it”- Edith Wharton
Rajagopalan R, fondly called as RR sir, is both the candle and the mirror to Deepam and its volunteers. A sprightly septuagenarian, a doting grandfather, an enthusiastic volunteer and a source of inspiration to Deepam and its volunteers. We bring some excerpts from his interview in this series, – ‘Meet The Light’.
What motivated you to take up volunteering work?
At one stage, you feel you are done with working for money and want to let money work for you. When I reached this phase, I found myself having a lot of time on my hands without anything worthwhile to spend it on. I guess my frustration at this situation, at not being able to put my time to good use, the nagging thought that all these days I had never given much thought to persons outside my own family and relatives, leave alone helping them — yeah, I guess all these motivated me, if that’s the word, to look for any volunteering opportunity.
How long have you been associated with Deepam?
Soon I will be completing ten years with Deepam. Ten years of joy, ten years of connecting with children too young to be my grandkids even, ten years of fun, ten years of getting to know people and importantly, ten years of learning.
What made you choose Deepam to work with?
It wasn’t as if I had many fields to choose from, given my limited capabilities. When I came to know of Deepam and its activities through one of my young ex-colleagues, Raja Prasanna, a BITS Pilanian who knew KK, I thought this could be what I was looking for — teaching English basics to primary school children. I chose the only option I had.
The school did not have electricity back then. When I stepped from the sunlit open area into the unlit classroom for my first Deepam class as volunteer, little had I imagined that that classroom, the school, the children, the teachers and scores of volunteers many of whom are now my best friends, will travel with me in my life for the next decade and beyond.
Talk about any particular instance that made a huge impact on you, at Deepam.
Seeing our volunteers enter the class every time eager, expectant, cheerful and happy with a broad smile for the lovable kids — despite the long distances some of them have to travel or the hectic work pressure they had to endure the previous five days, occasionally after a night shift too, few volunteers setting aside half-unfinished household chores — makes a huge impact on me. So, getting impacted at Deepam is for me a routine event and after more than 9 years, I’m still to get used to it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced during your volunteering? How did you overcome it?
In the initial years, making children understand English spoken by us was a challenge. The blank stare of a child would de-motivate us and make us switch to Tamil.
However, over the years our collective efforts to continue to speak to children in English — often trying to make kids learn our sentences or questions contextually, sometimes accompanied by gestures — had helped us overcome this ‘block’ and we are now proud to say that nearly all the children can get what we say; many of them can also respond in broken English.
Tell us more about the volunteer work at your centre – what difference has the Deepam centre made to the school? what do the teachers say?
Deepam’s focus has always been to make the children come out of their inhibitions and ‘fear’ of English first, then to enable them to progress further. Towards this, we employ many methods and tools, such as story reading, storytelling, giving storybooks to take home to read; custom-made curriculum, activities and talks on GK topics for different levels of children, based not on the class they are in but on their level of understanding and grasping power which is determined by way of periodic assessments; laptops, educational videos, field trips etc.
At the West Mambalam school where WM operates from, Deepam is a brand often shown off and displayed by the school as a credential. Parents of the students see Deepam’s Saturday sessions as an extension of regular classes and make it a point not to let their wards miss them.
The teachers have only good things to say about Deepam. They never let go of an opportunity in any forum to proudly talk about Deepam and its services. While always appreciating our teaching efforts, they heartily acknowledge the benefits of Deepam’s programs like Scholarship, Uniform subsidy, Cultural events and celebrations, educational tours, library, games/sports sessions, prizes, help on offer in various forms to the school, etc.
How are you able to volunteer regularly? Tell us about the methods you follow to be regular at Deepam sessions
I’m drawn towards Deepam children and I so look forward to my two hours with them every week to continue lessons from where I left off. Besides, I live nearby, have no rigid work routine, don’t go away from the city often, so it’s easy for me to be regular. Being regular, I strive to be punctual and I’m reasonably successful in it due to factors stated earlier.
What advice would you give to those who wish to take up volunteering?
Volunteering is like a temple car being pulled by hundreds of people, you among them. You undoubtedly contribute, but you alone can’t pull the car. You have to work in tandem with others and have to be in sync with them.
To be a teaching volunteer in a Deepam Centre all you need is an open mind, a willing heart, kindness towards children, and regular attendance. When these are in place, passion will develop naturally, free time will appear magically and new ideas will form surprisingly.