‘’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.
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.
Scholarships for children
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.