The activities of one institution (Ashwini Charitable Trust, Bangalore) struck my mind while we were going through the list to decide where to go for this year’s Day of Service, as their philosophy seemed very close to what I have been considering for some time.
The key to uplifiting weaker sections of society lies in providing their children with good education that enables them to utilize other affirmative actions like reservation. Without this support, reservation leads to the development of a section with mediocre competencies and a collective inferiority complex (this, incidentally, is a major argument put forth by those that oppose job reservations for backward sections) which works to their detriment and prevents their growth in a globalized system which does not provide job reservations.
Providing such education should aim at developing competencies that would enable these children to grow up as professionals and match those who come from the middle classes and above. At the least, the support should grow them into responsible individuals devoid of social backwardness, who would understand the value of education and would strive to provide it to their children – this would be the quantum leap that these sections require to leverage the constitutional and legislative infrastructure provided to them (by Article 46 for SC/STs, for example) to attain equal rights and opportunities.
ACT selects bright and hard-working children from families in slums around Ulsoor in Bangalore, and provides them with full support for their education (school uniforms, books, fees). It provides life-skills training and guidance to these children till they finish their studies and find employment. Since these children come from families where the parents are usually illiterate, ACT counsels the parents (especially mothers) on the importance of hygiene etc., and encourages them to open savings bank accounts for their children. More information on its activities are available at its web site: http://www.ashwini-trust.org/.
Our team reached Ashwini by noon, armed with some books that we wanted to contribute to their library, some science experiment kits procured from Visweshwaraya Museum (the kits and the booklets that come with them are really good) and my fully manual SLR camera. After an introductory talk on Ashwini that I missed, the children were grouped based on their ages. Some of us explained the science experiments to the younger children from primary classes. We conducted a demo of an SLR camera (with lenses of different focal lengths) followed by a hands-on session where each of the children took one photograph each. We also demo-ed our laptops – we connected two laptops together and explained how computers and computer networking helps in enabling new services and technologies in various domains.
We wound up by 6pm, and the children waved us off with warm smiles. In my mind, I kept commending ACT for the work it has done – the children are all very well-mannered, and some of them were very confident when discussing their questions and ideas with us. They also spoke good English – this was one of my concerns as I set about, as I cannot speak Kannada yet.
I wanted to talk to the volunteers who were present at ACT when we were there, but we were kept so busy by the activities that I did not manage that. I promised the children that I would develop and give them the photographs that they took – I guess it also gives me the opportunity to visit ACT again and see how I can contribute to the wonderful work that they are doing.
(Thanks so much to Jayesh and Raghs who co-ordinated with ACT and arranged the trip. Our team consisted of Jayesh, Raghs, Viditha, Nagaraj, Namit, Girish, Naidu, Mahesh, Rajesh, Koti, Arun, Nisha (she took a day off to join our Cisco team), and my little Safdar who made many new friends today).