In March 2006, when we, a few passionate young people, wanting to do our part in changing society met up and discussed ways to do it, we decided the surest way was through education. So, we approached Bala Mandir children’s home to start a teaching programme and were promptly given the go-ahead. Our plans were vague, but our approach was steady. We would meet half an hour before every class and decide what was to be taught. We started off with a bang; there were just a few of us with a little over 50 children. From English, Arts and Craft, to Science and games, we managed to bring in a pool of educational activities. Enthralled by the response, we started a ‘community development’ programme for slum dwellers in Pudupettai with some support from a local NGO. Our plan was to reach out to older people and ‘change’ their mindset by first gaining the confidence of their children (We thought it was an easy task!).
As the country turned 59, the seeds of thought to form a non-profit organisation were sown, which finally led to a few of us penning down the objectives of the organisation on October 2, 2006. We decided to call ourselves ‘Bhumi’.
Though at the core, both Bala Mandir and Pudupettai projects were meant to teach children English, the lack of objectivity on what we wanted to do reflected in our classes. Except for a few, people kept walking in and out, but things progressed smoothly, at least to our satisfaction.
A small break was created due to exams and vacation. When we approached the Secretary of Bala Mandir orphanage to restart the classes, we were asked to submit a report about how the children benefitted from our classes. This was an eye opener; we didn’t have an answer, and hence we were unable to resume our classes there. About the same time, the Pudupettai NGO refused to share their premises for our classes. It was these experiences that spurred us to turn an informal group into an organisation with a scalable model of measuring the progress of children.
2007 dawned; we were still a bunch of young people wanting to do ‘something,’ yet having done nothing. Our interaction with the children enlightened us on the glaring deficiencies in the system and the wants of these children. Most children wanted to learn better English and master the computer, something they hadn’t ever touched before. Science and Mathematics came a close second in their wish-list.
Driven to do our bit, we continued to meet at least once a month at Gandhi Mandapam to discuss our work. The numbers started dwindling and one such meeting stretched into a garage conversation between Ayyanar, Hari Shankar and myself. Amazingly we realised that by putting together unused resources lying at each others’ homes, we had one working computer! Thus ‘Kanini’ was born.
The wisdom from our past experiences made us wait until we had a complete plan before we even sought permission at Anbu Karangal to start ‘Kanini’ in March 2007. After sometime, Vivek pitched in and gave us his only computer and soon we had three computers to teach the children at Anbu Karangal. By August 2007, Vaishnavi joined Bhumi and started Kanini at our second centre, SOS Village, Tambaram, along with Purnendu. In January 2008, we began the Career Counseling programme (now Dronacharya & Ekalvya), with Prakash and Mallieswaran helping us consolidate as we got into quite a few things quickly. At the same time, Lakshmi, Mini and a few others began teaching English at Anbu Karangal. After a few classes we realised that without a proper syllabus and goals, we would only end up repeating our mistakes. In our pursuit for a scalable fun model of teaching English, we partnered with Make A Difference (MAD), Cochin, in March 2008.
In June 2008, when over 200 new members joined us, we expanded our programmes to 6 centres. We considered it the greatest confirmation of our methods when, in August 2008, we were welcomed back into Bala Mandir after having sought their consent to start Kanini and later MAD.
In December 2008, we initiated ‘Joy to the World’ connecting children with employees of several MNCs, fulfilling their simple wishes. In February 2009, we began ‘Little Einsteins’ to improve their conceptual understanding of Mathematics and Science. We added 500 members to our roster in 2008, our initiatives benefiting 759 children from 10 centres that year.
The need to provide an opportunity for children at orphanages to exhibit their talents led to an idea in March 2009, blossoming into Siragugal in Novemeber 2009. The second edition of Siragugal was held in July 2010. 100+ volunteers working day and night with monetary contribution from over 2,000 donors resulted in a memorable science, art and cultural talent carnival for 915 children from 37 children’s homes. We added 720 members to our roster in 2009, our initiatives benefiting over 1500 children.
And thus, small stumbling steps turned into giant leaps. Numerous people have helped us and continue to guide us along the way. We would like to specifically thank
- Soundarya Srinivasan – for walking our first steps with us.
- Mrs. Maya Gaitonde, Secretary of Bala Mandir – for making us understand that we cannot waste the time of these children by doing ‘something’ just because we were volunteering.
- Anurag Shrivatsava – for giving us a purpose
- Ch. Gyanaranjan Samal – for shaping our ideology
- Jithin C Nedumala and the MAD, Cochin team – for pushing us to think beyond
Now Bhumi is four years old, having 1,800 members with over 290 volunteers actively contributing at 15 centres working with over 1,000 children, keeping the Bhumi flame ablaze. We understand that there’s much more work to be done and there’s a long way to go, changing today to change tomorrow…