Volunteer Den – Sriram Sampath

BHUMI – A treasure trove of ideas and perspectives

I have volunteered with Bhumi for 4 years and 7 months in total. This was undoubtedly one of the best phases of my life. I became more open-minded, patient and socially conscious over the course of and post my volunteering stint. I learnt so much from the children, my fellow volunteers, and Mini Jain, Dr Prahalathan & Vaishnavi, who were my mentors at various stages. I learnt how to run an entire project, thanks to my mentors, and this has proved very beneficial in all aspects of my life.

One of the best things about Bhumi is the heterogeneity of the volunteer group. It is always wonderful to observe and learn from people who are from diverse backgrounds and mind-sets. This results in an abundance of ideas and perspectives.

Bhumi is my alma mater

The optimism, passion and positivity I hold within me today, the respect that I get from people around me, I credit it to Bhumi. Bhumi is my alma mater.

 My current work is not that different from what I did in Bhumi. Though the organization and methods are different, I am still trying to optimize teaching and learning in some way. Once again, I owe it to Bhumi for instilling the immense passion in the education sector.

Bhumi taught me that acceptance is a virtue

My first teaching session for Bhumi was a disaster; I made a fool of myself. That is when one of the kids magnanimously said: “Anna, don’t worry. We will try to follow what you are trying to explain. Relax!” Acceptance is a virtue that I learnt from my first batch of kids. This session could have ended my volunteering journey had the kids reacted otherwise! However, I realized that there was so much to learn from the kids if only we are ready to play the game for long!

Why Bhumi sessions became my first priority

It was a Sunday and I was at Avvai Home, one of the first centers where I started my volunteering. We wanted to start our Bhumi sessions when we saw the kids lined up to receive sweets and other goodies from a family that had come to spend a day with the kids. For some reason, the kids were not too happy with what was happening. I asked one of them “why are you looking dull? They are distributing goodies so I don’t see a reason why you should be dull.” The kid replied, “These people really don’t know what we want. We want love and affection, we want people to spend time with us, and we want to learn from them”. The kid’s answer was a jolt to my assumptions. Just by celebrating birthdays or distributing goodies, one does not win a child’s heart. I decided to be regular for all my future sessions. Bhumi sessions became my first priority. I have no idea whether my teaching had an impact on them, but by being with them, I was able to build trust that went a long way. Children get inspired and learn a lot not just through Bhumi’s educational projects, but also by interacting and observing the volunteers. For this to happen, it is imperative that volunteers turn up for as many sessions as possible.  

A phase of constant learning and growth – volunteering for Little Einsteins

I volunteered for the Little Einsteins programme. The project was in its early days in late 2009 and I was lucky to have been through the thick and thin of this project.  From the verge of being scrapped, we grew from 10 volunteers to more than 300+ volunteers across 6 cities in a span of 5 years. We learnt a lot over these 5 years, learning from on-field experiences from some of the reputed NGO’s teaching Math & Science, revising our curriculum constantly to ensure we were delivering the best to our knowledge, conducting volunteer training workshops, bringing in new modes of assessment such as the Math Carnival. Our struggles and little successes taught us a great deal, and a message that I strongly hold to my heart is never give up and continue to learn and put your learning into action through pilot programmes. Any project is at maximum risk when it is idle. After all, change is the only constant.

 Making games educational

I currently work as the Head of Product Analytics for an educational technology company called Skidos Labs, mainly targeted at kids 4-11 years old. You could say that we are the Netflix of casual games. We, as a company, are “making games educational”, instead of “making educational games”. For example, we can make an educational version of Candy Crush! This means that kids can choose from multiple contexts and learn adaptively within our environment. My work typically involves curriculum design, educational feature development and predominantly analytics for all key functions of the company: marketing, learning content, game/product engagement, and financials.

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