Meet the Light – Sree Nandhini

‘’Great teachers emanate from knowledge, passion and compassion” A.P.J Abdul Kalam

Such is the passion of young Sree Nandhini, a dynamic volunteer from our Kalapatti center, Coimbatore. An MBA and a fashion designer, Sree Nandhini, is one of the group of young women who initiated the start of the 1st NGO Deepam center in Coimbatore. Sree Nandhini says, “Volunteering for me is addictive”. Read on to find out more from her interview.

What motivated you to take up volunteering work and why Deepam?

I was looking to take up volunteering since school, when I realized I have been offered a great spread of education and all the necessary entities as a student and a woman.On the other hand children from government schools do not necessarily have that upper hand.

How long have you been associated with Deepam and  how has this association impacted your life and your thought process?

I have been in Deepam for about a year now right from when they started in Coimbatore. Deepam , for me ,is not just an NGO where a group of like minded people come together to teach the kids something.It is about spreading the joy of not just teaching subjects, but teaching them good values and life lessons.When we tell them something they have heard for the first time, the excitement and the positive shock on their faces lights our own souls and make us want to give even more. I realized, after joining Deepam Kalapatti center and preparing weekly syllabus for them, how education was a liberty for me and I got nothing less than the best.It pains me to realize that even if they do get knowledge in schools, some kids do not have everything that they require to realize their dreams.That is where, we as Deepam volunteers would like to stand.Teach them more on life lessons and bridge the gap to inundate them with knowledge of the opportunities there are available and that nothing is impossible.

Talk about any particular instance that made a huge impact on you, at Deepam

There is not just one, but so many countless incidents.One happy moment that I would love to recall over and over is when I walk every Saturday and see them, right before the class starts, they go crazy, shout my name, give hi fives and just start hugging me.Their happiness on seeing me, the excitement in the air,hoping I would create an impact big or small that will help them every week, makes my soul light.

.What was the biggest challenge you faced during your volunteering? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge for me was to make them sit quietly and listen to whatever the volunteers has to say.Depending on the volunteer that is coming in, they usually are more lethargic or disciplined , respectively. Then we had the idea of separating them in groups and making them work as a competition setup , so that it will not just boost them to be good, but also understand working in teams and other important team values.I am sure this way, they have learnt a lot.

Tell us more about the volunteer work at your center – what difference has the Deepam Center made to the school? what do the teachers say?

In our center at Kalapatti, the teachers are extremely supportive and encouraging.We teach English to the kids, based on the syllabus that they are following but with a lot of fun activities and games that will enable the kids to be more attentive.The teachers give their inputs and ideas too, as they know the children better.We work on these ideas and try to deliver the best content.

How are you able to volunteer regularly? Tell us about the methods you follow to be regular at Deepam sessions.

Volunteering regularly is indeed taxing, due to personal situations and other circumstances.We, at deepam, always make sure each of us spend at least 15 minutes daily to brainstorm the ideas for the upcoming session.This way, we will be ready and also come up with a plethora of ideas and suggestions to work on.At Deepam, we also try to make sure that the volunteers turn up for at least 3 out of 4 classes per month.We also maintain a separate attendance sheet for the volunteers and the students as well.From this, we will distribute certificates and medals to the regular attenders, at the end of the academic year.

What advice would you give to those who wish to take up volunteering?

Volunteering for me is very addictive.The reason being, whether we make a big or a small impact, we will be the reason for some positive change in the person’s life.Volunteering is more about giving, it surely is; but some do forget that the volunteers in turn receive a wholesome share of experiencing sharing happiness and spreading joy. Nothing can compare to this feeling in the world.I hope every volunteer should experience this beautiful feeling, in how much ever time he or she can spend for a cause.

Are you fascinated by what Sree Nandini is doing?
You can be part of it too, join us as a volunteer or donate for the cause.

‘MEET THE LIGHT’ Series

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.

Are you fascinated by what Rajagopalan sir is doing?
You can be part of it too, join us as a volunteer or donate for the cause.

Deepam Scholarship Program

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
Acknowledging the importance of education in a child’s life, Deepam has been extending financial assistance to selected meritorious students every year since 2012, to meet their study-related expenses.The students are selected based on mark-sheets produced by them and their economic background.
On 11th August 2018, Deepam scholarships were distributed to 8 ex-Deepam students. An amount of Rs.1000 was given to 6 students (presently in std 6-12) , while two girls (V. Aanathi and R. Bhuvaneshwari) now in college were given Rs.2000 each. V. Aananthi and R. Bhuvaneshwari were part of the second batch of Deepam in West Mambalam Centre.
Aananthi’s journey is one of strong determination and hardwork. She appeared for her Class 10 examinations while shouldering the responsibilities of household chores and also taking care of an ill mother. That did not stop her from scoring a 95% in her class 10 exams. A hardworking and studious girl, she scored a centum in accountancy in her class 12 board exams. She managed these feats without tuitions as she couldn’t afford it. She has a keen interest to learn new words. When she was a student at Deepam classes, she used to note down new words and look them up in an English-Tamil dictionary. She has been awarded  scholarship every year since Deepam Scholarship Program was started  in its West Mambalam Centre.
Bhuvaneshwari did her schooling in Tamil medium. Her mother worked hard to ensure that both her children got good education. She performed well consistently throughout school years. On the advice of a teacher, she shifted to English medium in class 11. Such was her grit and determination that, not only did she pick up the new language but also was a top ranker. She was interviewed by TOI for being an outstanding student. Her keen interest in computers since childhood, led her to choose B.C.A in her under-graduate.
Deepam is proud of their achievements and wishes them success in all their future endeavours.
“The only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them” – Michelle Obama
Do you like what we do? Here is how you can contribute towards the betterment of the less-priviledged children:

Scholarships for children

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goal₹2 lakh
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Donation Total: ₹3,000.00

‘School Teacher’ Award

At Deepam, we have some special people amongst us. 
To volunteer for a few months is easy. To do that, for a year can be bit hard. To do that for 5 years takes a lot of motivation. To do that even beyond – thats like a ‘School-Teacher’.
These volunteers show up every Saturday to the Deepam centres. They even plan their vacation around the school vacation time! 
They have made a huge impact on the children we teach, on the fellow volunteers, on the Deepam organisation as a whole. Deepam is lucky to have people such people.
‘School Teacher’ is a special person – they make the most impact on children. Hence, we have an award at Deepam named after all the ‘School Teachers’. ‘School Teacher’ Award is the highest honor for a volunteer at Deepam, for their motivation to make a difference to Children.
This award was given at Deepam’s 10th Annual Day event in March 2018.

Anu , 9+ years at Deepam!

 Arthi , 9+ years at Deepam!


Rajagopalan (RR) – 9 years at Deepam!

  Vasanthi – 9 years at Deepam!

  Maduravalli – 9 years at Deepam!

 Vedavalli – 9 years at Deepam!

 Prasanna – 8 years at Deepam!

Rohit – 7 years at Deepam!

 Sugumaran – 7 years at Deepam!

Interview with Devi Nachiappan

A happy picture of Devi with her center kids.
Ms. Devi Nachiappan was a volunteer with Deepam for four years. She did her schooling at Vidya Mandir and then did her Undergrad in Economics at Stella Maris College. She is currently pursuing her MBA at ISB, Hyderabad. At Deepam, she won “The Outstanding Volunteer of the Year” award in 2016.

Like many other volunteers she got to know about Deepam through word of mouth. After reading an article about Deepam, she decided to visit one of the centres to see what it was all about.
Here she talks about what happened during her first day in Deepam four years back.
“I was very impressed by the manner in which the organisation and its volunteers worked. The focus was on impact. A number of accomplished people were volunteering, but they did not seem to mind sacrificing several hours of their time. The impact of these established a strong connection. I am happy that I got to know such committed people through Deepam. The children are adorable and they get very attached to the volunteers.”
We ask her about handling children in the centers and she narrates this interesting incident.
“On the first day, I was taken aback by the technical Tamil the children spoke. I am a Chennaite myself and I speak good Tamil, but this once when I heard a kid say mukkonam, I was like where did that come from? The children had to draw it out and then it hit me that the kid meant a triangle. Initially I was a little nervous about teaching but the system and the volunteers around ensure that you settle in without any issues. Gradually, I realised that Deepam gave its volunteers sufficient power to bring about relevant changes in teaching methods, curriculum, etc. Responsibilities also increased over the four years that I volunteered with Deepam. You are very accountable even to the children. You need to be prepared to answer a series of questions from them – academically and personally.”
Though you are currently busy with your MBA and not in Chennai, it’s clear that you are still in touch with Deepam and you are trying your best to contribute. How do you manage to do this?”
“That is the Deepam impact. Usually people who start volunteering get really committed to the cause. You can’t see people just quitting for no reason. Even now when I come to Chennai I make it a point to include visiting the center as a part of my schedule. It is the same with everyone. It’s not just me. That’s the kind of connect the volunteers have with the children.”
Then we talk about how she took over the responsibility of starting a new center.
“After years of volunteering, we realized that the Alwarpet center had plenty of volunteers. We also noticed that the population in the Tamil medium schools was shrinking which in a way was a good problem to solve. So, we decided rather than just impacting a few children with so many volunteers, we can expand and bring more children into this net. That is how the T Nagar Center (MCN Primary School) was started.”
Tell me about a peak experience/high point in your volunteer position, a time when you felt most active and engaged?”
“Just a few months after we started the MCN center, Abhishek Mundhra and Karthik Padmanabhan who together were the backbone of the center moved out of India. I used to look up to both of them in a big way. Both of them leaving around the same time definitely made it hard. We got a few new volunteers, but they were still figuring out if they wanted to do this at all. It was challenging to not let this turn of events affect the regular functioning of our classes. Normally itself it was very demanding with the children as we had quite a few mischievous kids. Looking back, I am happy that we were able to pull through that part with support from all ends. Of course, both Abhishek and Karthik helped even though they were not physically present. By the same token, if some help was required in the center today, I am sure all three of us would be more than happy to help in whatever way we can.”
She has some interesting anecdotes for us.
“On the sports day I remember we volunteers had to do the lemon and spoon race. The sports day was meant for the children, but the volunteers were also made to do a few activities to make it more fun for the children. All the children were cheering for their center volunteers as it was a matter of pride for them. Small things like this really motivate you. You get to know how attached the children are to the volunteers. And that makes a big difference.”
She finally tells us how much she misses Deepam.
“Deepam is something that I benefited immensely from just in terms of the way it inspires you -observing both volunteers and children. It is a gratifying and transformative experience. It is also about the children you will get very attached to and a group of volunteers you will love working with. I feel bad for not being able to be there and contribute more to the development of the children and the centre.”

An experience that exceeded expectations – by Maduravalli

When I came to Deepam today, I hit upon an exciting (for me J) idea and wanted to try it out. So, I made this crude picture and wanted to fill the slots with six words denoting places where we see many people.

I was today handling the group that had Thirumalai, Venkatesh and Hariprasad (4th std kids). Wanted the children to suggest those places and I kept their interest sustained saying, “I have something interesting for you at the end of the class”, though I knew they were not very convinced. 

After finishing the curriculum, I pulled out this picture and turned it over to let them suggest six places, attempt spelling them out and jot down, so that they can fill the slots with those words. I admit that I had so underestimated these children, that the list turned out to be 15 places long (and even that was because I told them that this was long enough).


Wow! I was astonished. I helped them with just 2 or 3 words and for all the remaining places they were able to recall the right English word. They were able to spell the simple ones and very boldly attempt the rest phonetically getting close to the correct spelling. 

Then I revised the picture with 15 slots (a crude one again) and all three of them happily wrote down the names in those “word balloons.”

I felt so satisfied and told myself that I need to do something like this every class to make it exciting for me and the kids. If we can progress to forming simple sentences with such jotting of words, I am sure I will feel a huge sense of accomplishment that day. Waiting and working for it…….

– Maduravalli
  8 July 2017