My name is Keerthi Gaddam, I am a student of FLAME University, Pune. My family stays in Bangalore and I come to Bangalore every summer. I volunteered at Parikrma Humanity Foundation for 6 weeks. During my time at Parikrma I was given various jobs. I made charts for teachers, made resource packs, made profiles for the UKG children, and taught children.
I enjoyed every second working with Parikrma. I was initially only going to do 30 days but I got so attached to the kids that I continued to work until I had to leave back to Pune. One of the most beautiful things about Parikrma is that they try to make the school environment more like a second home for the children. The teachers aren’t referred to as ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ but as ‘akkas’ and ‘annas’.
Parikrma kids are so full of love; simply being around them fills your heart. Many times, as soon as I enter a class, I have kids yelling “Akka, sit next to me!” from three different directions. One of the kids in 1st grade would always come running to me, give me a hug and kiss my hand every time he saw me. The kids in UKG hold my hand and surround me as soon as I sit down next to them.
When I was working on the student profiles for UKG, I had to interview them about their likes and dislikes, and their goals in life. You would think- what would a six-year-old know? But they do know! They have such big personalities, though still blossoming. I had to take pictures of students to attach with their profiles. I would take out four students out at a time and take their pictures. They got so stiff and awkward around the camera that I would have to slowly make them feel comfortable and then resort to tickling them, running away, and quickly taking a picture before that beautiful smile disappeared. Eventually other kids would help me, they would tickle their friends as soon as I said “GO!” and ran out of the picture as soon as I said “Run!” They kept laughing and sometimes made the craziest poses. It was the highlight of my 6 weeks there.
The satisfaction I felt as the three students in 8th grade went from being bottom of the class to the top as I taught them, was amazing. I bonded so incredibly with those three girls; they will forever be in my heart. I strongly believe they will reach a high place in life.
On my last day working for Parikrma, I was asked to come to the dining room where the kids handed me a Thank-you card and said a prayer on my behalf before eating. A lot of the students found out last minute I was leaving. The 6th graders ran around crazily trying to make something for me to remember by. They made this beautiful little bracelet and tied it around my hand just before I left. I will forever cherish this little gift they made for me.
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