At the grassroots level

Rupa’s face lights up when she talks about the embroidery classes she takes in Vidhyaniketan School, Jarganahalli, Bengaluru. “I love these classes, I learn a lot here. Ma’am clears all our doubts. She is patient with us even if we ask something too many times. It has made me self-sufficient and, I can earn my own money,’’ she beams. Rupa is a young homemaker who is part of the vocational training for women in this non-profit organisation.

As one walks down the residential lane in Jaraganahalli, one spots a two-storeyed building with a whiteboard that says, ‘‘Sri Vidhyanikethan School.” The building houses an English school for up to class X, and a training centre for women in tailoring and embroidery on the first floor.

This school was founded in 1989 by Nagaraj M, who is also its director, and his wife Susheela S, who is the secretary director.

Nagaraj, who was working in a private school sought voluntary retirement to work towards the benefit of the community and began working at a non-profit organisation. His wife worked with another non-profit organisation that was involved in making soft toys and providing community training. Alongside the couple taught Kannada to the children from nearby slums and later went on to establish Vidhyanikethan School along with Jacintha, from a non-profit society, in a building given by Susheela’s mother. 

Starting small

The school was started with Nagaraj, Susheela and five other women managing the show. It catered to the education of children from nearby slums, in association with voluntary and women’s groups in the surrounding areas. Initially, they had just seven students. Multi-national companies in the city supported the endeavour. The school has been running for 25 years now, and it has started classes VIII, IX and X from the past four years.

The slums in the vicinity of the organisation have a predominantly migrant population, from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and the language barrier was a struggle. “Our focus was on teaching children English at a nominal rate, not more than Rs 500 per year,’’ says Jalaja, documentation head. “We are happy that Vidyanikethan School is providing education to our children at a nominal admission fee compared to other schools. Our children will gain knowledge and become good citizens of the society,” says a parent.

The school follows the activity-based learning(ABL) format, to make concepts easy and interesting for the children. ‘‘I like coming to school because I want to speak English. And, here we learn subjects like Maths, Science and Social Studies. There are many activities like drawing, quiz and fun games. We also enjoyed celebrating birthdays with volunteers,’’ says Sandya E, a student in the school.

Vidhyanikethan often has volunteers from colleges to help them out. “They take spoken English classes, conduct activities such as debates, extempore, essay writing, etc. The corporates in the city, as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR), donate resources and sponsor children in the school,” adds Jalaja.

That said, there is a high drop-out rate, especially for girls. “Initially, it was a challenge. It was not easy, motivating the parents to send their children to school, rather they thought it was better that their children worked as they had many mouths to feed,’’ says Susheela.

In 2002, the organisation formed self-help groups for women living in nearby slums. “We taught the women how to conduct meetings, how to gather around and talk about an agenda, how to write accounts, discuss social issues, and credit management,” Susheela says. 

They are also given loans to set up petty shops and earn a decent living. Microfinance entities provide loans for small-scale entrepreneurship.     

Branching out

The organisation has a training centre on its premises, where women from the low-income backgrounds living in the vicinity are taught embroidery, tailoring, terracotta jewellery making, woollen crafts and so on. “So far, 580 women have been trained and 80% of them are self-employed,” says Jalaja. Mahalakshmi, a trainer at the centre, says, “They are eager to learn and pick up things quickly. The only challenge is that they cannot devote all their time to the classes because of various reasons and familial responsibilities. As a result, we have full attendance only during four months of the training.”  

Vidhyanikethan has also worked with 25 government schools in the area. They have provided support staff for English in these schools and arranged for computer labs, library and teachers for the same. The organisation has also constructed toilets in government schools with the help of corporate donations.“Approximately 3,000 people are benefitting from these sanitary facilities. We also conducted sessions on cleanliness and health issues for the children in these schools,’’ says Jalaja.

Furthermore, it has hostels, in Hosur and Sarjapur, for both girls and boys for the age group of 7-14. It also has many other eco-initiatives in rural parts of the State. For more information about the society, call 08041487965.

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At the grassroots level

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