In September 2017, after our house got flooded by Hurricane Irma, I quickly realized that my plans to attend the World Youth Championship in Uruguay were over. I remember being very disappointed. However, as our friends helped us recover over the next several weeks, that disappointment gradually gave way to relief and finally gratitude. When the news on TV laid bare the extent of human misery that Irma had left in her wake, I realized how lucky we were in comparison. It was then that I decided that I had to help – and my gut told me the best way would be through chess. By November, I had started my first GoFundMe campaign, Chess for Charity, and all the money that I raised went directly to the Red Cross. While reaching the initial goal of $500 was gratifying, this experiment also made me realize that I could do more.
So, last year, when my dad mentioned his trip to Parikrma’s schools, I thought about my GoFundMe experiment once again.
I have been a chess player for more than a decade now. Chess has been an essential part of my life, teaching me to think ahead, be resilient in defeat and calm under pressure. It has also brought me quite a bit of success. I was awarded the lifelong title of National Master a year back – a title that is given to less than half a percent of all junior chess players – and I have represented the United States in international competitions. Last year, I was honored to be one of the five recipients of the Scholar-Chessplayer award from the United States Chess Federation, for excellence in academics and in chess.
I have been teaching chess locally to players young and old for several years now. I began teaching chess because I wanted others to experience the same thrill I felt when I played the game the first time. It is immensely satisfying to see the happy faces of the children as they come to appreciate the joys of the game that has given me so much over the years. But much more importantly, I always find myself learning from my students. I now realize that the best prizes come not from winning but from connecting with the person on the other side of the board. When I teach chess, I become a better player – and a better person.
So, in many ways, chess has been an important influence in my life and I firmly believe that it can be so for many other children like me. The goals and philosophy of Parikrma have always inspired me – and I asked my father whether I could do anything to help Parikrma start a chess coaching club within the school.
As far as games go, the capital investments required for chess are modest – all one needs are a few chess sets along with some eager learners. What is more important is to have a good coach – someone who can instill the joys of the game among the students and inspire them to learn and experiment more in their free time (for example, I can attribute much of my progress in chess due to my coach). So, in order to start the chess club, Parikrma would need a regular chess coach – and for that, we needed funds.
Again, my gut told me that the fundraising had to be through chess. I already knew the template of GoFundMe, but this time my goal was higher: I had to raise around $1000.
You make progress in chess in two ways – through coaching, when you learn about new techniques and through playing, when you get to utilize those techniques in actual games. I offered my services in both ways – I could play games with interested players or coach them online. In return, I asked the players to contribute to my GoFundMe campaign for a chess club at Parikrma schools.
Over the next several months, I played with many players and coached many others, mostly during the night or weekends. The players contributed generously and finally, one day, I reached my goal: over $1000 had been contributed to my campaign. Thankfully, I reached my goal before I became too involved in my college applications (I will be starting college from Fall 2019), so everything worked out in the end.
2019-01-03 Vasant Chari
Nervous new students and proud parents sit in rows and are welcomed by the inspirational dean. We are at a world-class university, with a strong reputation and great outcomes for alumni. A final polite request was given to parents: please avoid WhatsApping your children - and emailing professors - during classes. Give students their independence and trust the faculty.
Our student’s mother was not in the audience. She would have loved to be there, but she spoke no English. Though she was multi-lingual, as almost all Parikrma parents are, Kannada, Urdu and Tamil just don’t make the cut at top universities. Single, not having been to school herself, and working every hour of the day to provide for her son, our student’s mother had - for the last 13 years - placed her trust, and her son’s education, in the hands of a truly inspirational set of teachers at Parikrma Humanity Foundation. She hasn't been alone: since 2003, Parikrma has provided K-12 English-medium education, two meals a day, and much much more to 1700 children from Bangalore’s poorest slums and orphanages.
Whilst sat in that lecture hall, I was struck profoundly by two things. First, the sheer monstrosity of the task that Parikrma has set itself. 12 years of a high-quality education is only the first baby step on the journey to equality. Every other student’s parent will call regularly to hold the faculty to account, instantly provide that new textbook their child needs - and will have spent the last 12 years giving their child countless lessons in how to walk with confidence, how to sound intelligent when you don't know what you are talking about, and what music, cricket, food and theatre to talk about to ‘fit in’. I doubt that any other nervous student in the hall had said goodbye to their mother before sunrise, battled through crowds of people to change buses at the Majestic bus terminus and filled up on a 10 rupee dosa before arriving.
My second realisation brought an optimistic tear to my eye. Unlike any other student in that hall, our Parikrma alumni had the most wonderful support network, made up of 6 generations of alumni, huge supportive communities, tireless teachers, inspiring mentors and generous donors. I had spent a year working with this enormous Parikrma community.
Parikrma understands that no one succeeds in a vacuum - though, of course, many will claim to. ‘Education for all’ starts with providing everyone with people they can rely on. Everyone needs someone to talk to in times of need, as well as people they themselves can help out. At Parikrma, teachers are more than the conduits of facts; they are Akkas (big sisters), Annas (big brothers), mentors, friends and problem solvers. Never have I seen such a large group of people so dedicated to the growth of a child. A set of paragraphs will not do this organisation justice. What can assert is that, in tirelessly helping one child at a time, Parikrma is a shining example of ground-up emancipatory education.
Vasant Chari lives in the UK and is half Indian. He spent a year working with Parikrma to develop the way students were mentored and gained exposure to the outside world.
2018-03-14 Dennis and Shirley
We feel we live in a world that is getting more and more materialistic. Sometimes, we catch ourselves as well, wanting the newest iPhone even though the old one still works, that beautiful dress, a new watch and so on. Being able to afford this till a certain level, makes us wonder ‘what is next’, another fancy outfit or an expensive car? Is that our purpose in life? To work and afford a good life where we basically want more and more?
We have gained and practiced our expertise in the commercial world. After working years for agencies, I started my own company 7 years ago as an online consultant. I love to interact with people: how can you connect people online (marketing & usability) fulfilling the companies and consumer’s needs. Dennis is an account manager for a large enterprise in the mobility sector - focusing on the best possible solution for his customers’ need while keeping the company’s profit in mind. We both love the personal/connecting aspect in our jobs. Beside the commercial projects, I also worked on a few projects with social contribution. This gave an extra dimension and made me decide to take action in fulfilling my dream I had nourished for several years: Stepping out of the commercial world for a period and serve a bigger purpose.
We had the luck of being able to study and develop and build an expertise, earn money and live a good life. Now we wanted to work for the greater good for a period of time by sharing our knowledge with those who do not have this right at hand.
Where to start?! There are so many foundations, big and small all over the world. We started selecting based on our interest in type of charity and countries. Researching and talking about this we came in contact with several agencies and foundations. We found a lot of mediation agencies asked a lot of money. Also most projects that the agencies offered seemed more production work, but we liked to share knowledge and do something that can continue after we leave. Luckily, an old colleague of Shirley, Harrie Vollaard, became enthusiastic after hearing our plans and brought us in direct contact with two beautiful foundations where our expertise and ambitions seem to match. He visited these foundations himself a few years ago.
After a few (skype) calls we were able to join both projects. In a few weeks we had to organize everything back home and were ready to start.
Parikrma Humanity Foundation
After our project in Nepal we started at Parikrma. The mission of Parikrma is to unleash the potential of under-served children by providing them with equal opportunities and make them valuable contributing members of our society. In Sanskrit the word Parikrma means a circle. At Parikrma they call this 'The circle of life'. They support every child from 5 years to 25 years until they can actively contribute to society, through education, community development and mentoring. They do this with the motto ‘Love, Explore, Excel’.
At Parikrma, we helped both at the office and in the schools. Upfront, we created a volunteer plan together with Parikrma, which we updated during our introduction. Dennis focused on Fund Raising and developing marketing content and I with the online marketing strategy.
At the school we coached in the junior college and the younger grades. We gave Business Studies to junior college, for which we developed a program. Besides the Business Studies we gave remedial Math, English and Physical Exercise to grade 2-5. Totally different from our main expertise, but we liked to experience working with older and younger kids. We found out that the remedials are already effective when giving attention. The kids are very insecure. Taking time to help with the theory by giving exercises and just make them feel safe to make mistakes showed direct results. Really rewarding and definitely priceless if you come into school and the remedial kids run every day to you asking if we will take a class.
The advantage we found in the work we did for Parikrama is having direct connection with the kids, students and the community. You realize every second of the day for whom you are here, seeing direct results and getting so much love in return.
Also, meeting and working with Shukla Bose, the founder of Parikrma has been a privilege. Hearing and seeing her talk about the vision, mission and the kids with so much passion, really makes you want to help too and be part of the Parikrma family. And it is truly a family: open and warm, appreciating your help and happy to help you in any way and meet your ambitions within the organization.
It was absolutely beautiful to experience how Parikrma not only focuses on education itself, but everything around it. From a 21st Century education perspective preparing kids for the real world, not just focusing on theory but problem solving, learn to collaborate eg by organizing events with private and government schools. They have social workers visiting family, a girl hostel for girls that are at risk, classes for parents like computer classes, financing, helping parents with alcohol addiction, and so much more.
Living in Bangalore, India as a volunteer felt more difficult than our previous volunteer project in Patan, Nepal. Being a volunteer without any income we had a low maximum daily budget. In Nepal there was not much luxury right at hand. And if you do not have access to it, you don’t miss it that much. Living in Bangalore was more difficult. There is a huge contrast between rich and poor. From high end shopping centers to wooden houses/tents in the dust. To a non-comparable extent we experienced living poor in the sense that it is really difficult if you are confronted with luxury (like fancy restaurants, clothing stores, gadgets) and not being able to afford it. Then again this is the materialistic part where we wanted to get away from, but having it in your surroundings makes you want to have it too. But it is absolutely amazing to experience and truly admirable that the people that have the least seem to share the most. This is what we especially found out visiting the community. People live in tiny houses with often 1 small room and open small kitchen, where 6 people live and sleep. These were the people offering us food, sweets, tea, even though they hardly had anything themselves.
Although India initially would not have been our first choice of countries to visit, we are now very happy that we did volunteer here. Yes it is dusty and dirty, but it has some beautiful sites and the people are very friendly and open. If not for this project we might have never visited India and still be biased.
Volunteering in a developing country is a rewarding, priceless experience we recommend everyone, who is not afraid of going back to basic for a while. Besides seeing the country in your spare time, this is the best way to experience another culture. It really puts you back on the ground, making you conscious of things that are normal for us but so far away for people here. Although you know there are people out there that live in poverty, experiencing the poverty from closely really makes you appreciate what we have. It makes you want to share with the people who do not have this. Doesn’t everyone deserve a bed, electricity, drinking water, a safe home, equal rights, but most of all: being loved?!
Dennis & Shirley
2018-01-25 Swara Ramaswamy
The Parikrma Humanity Foundation in India is dedicated to serving underprivileged children. They have established four schools at different locations, offering K-12 education for 1,300 children from 53 slums and 5 orphanages. In addition, they provide 3 nutritious meals for their children, healthcare, and social programs. Parikrma’s goal is to lower the dropout rate for high schoolers in India. They want to provide the poorest of slums in India with equal opportunities for success. This foundation is one of many that have started recently in countries where education isn’t readily available to everyone. This goal is common throughout many areas of the world, and the initiative of providing every child with equal education is quickly being implemented everywhere. After being introduced to the mission of Parikrma, I decided to implement my knowledge and experience to contribute to this cause in any way I could. Over the years, I have made steps towards providing ways to help these kids further their education. While on my trip to India this past summer and during the fall of 2013, I had the chance to spend time with the children while volunteering at Parikrma. During the time that I was there, I came to realize the hardships that these children go through in their daily lives. Each child’s background, home life, and family situations were different and difficult to imagine. Despite these troubles, each and every child was eager to learn and grasp every opportunity to expand their knowledge. Through the experiences I had with these children, I understand the value of education, and how people from every corner of the world deserve the best chance at a bright future that they can have.
In the June of 2013, I conducted a book drive at my school for the school in Bangalore, where over 200 slightly used books were donated for this school. I organized a school supply drive as well, where we were able to provide school supplies to over 300 children. In the next few months, I started video call sessions with the 3rd and 4th grade children in India via Google Hangouts. I provide them with exposure to things that these kids would otherwise not learn. In one-hour sessions, I give these children insight to many different subjects, such as famous people, famous holidays, and interesting information about the U.S.A. Some of my classmates had an interest in working with the kids as well. I took the opportunity to have these classmates participate in the video calls along with me, so I could provide an enriching experience, and expose them to different perspectives and different interests. The children from Parikrma learned a lot of new information about many important people, like Rosa Parks, Barack Obama and George Washington. After learning a little about someone new to them, the students talked about an acclaimed person that they already knew about. As a result, I learned quite a lot about Mahatma Gandhi and Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Peace prize winner in 2014 along with Malala Yousafzai. The students put together a museum about all the new people that they had learned about. In the museum, the kids created a myriad of interesting posters and diagrams about people like Helen Keller, Martin Luther King Jr, and Abraham Lincoln. I received many photos and videos updating me on their progress with this museum.
Along with providing new forms of learning for these children, I was also recognized as one of the regional winners by the Kohl’s Cares Scholarship Program, and received a $1,000 scholarship from the program, because of the work I had done with the children from Parikrma. Over the course of the four years that I have been working with these children, I am glad that I have not only been able to provide them with new knowledge, but that I have learned much from them as well. These kids have truly opened my eyes to the value of higher learning, human kindness, and what it means to be a good citizen. The stories of the children from the Parikrma Humanity Foundation should impact decisions about providing education to every child. I am sure that the future of our world will be positively affected by the bright minds of these children, and their contributions will have been made possible by the education that they were able to receive. As Nelson Mandela has famously stated, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Our priority for children everywhere must be to provide them with the highest level of education, so that we can groom the bright minds of the world into powerful new leaders of the future.
Swara is a 15 year old sophomore at Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough, New Jersey. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her work with the Parikrma Humanity Foundation is what inspired her to write this article for Hillsborough Newsletter