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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Her work with the Parikrma Humanity Foundation is what inspired her to write this article for Hillsborough Newsletter
2017-11-18 Balaji Ramani
Why do people volunteer? This question was constantly on my mind until I began volunteering. At the end of the day, everything boils down to happiness. It may be in our selfish interests to help others and feel a sense of gratification, but as social beings, we want to be connected. I enjoy volunteering—the fact that I am helping others makes me feel good.
In 2016, I came to know about a NetApp Volunteer Time Off (VTO) activity with Parikrma Foundation that was being organized by a teammate. I joined the VTO event, and we went to Koramangala Parikrma school. It was a day-long program where we organized games and learning experiences for the kids. There we met the Parikrma Foundation event coordinator, Vasant Chari. His energy was contagious. He shared that they were looking for mentors outside of the VTO program, too. I signed up to participate at the Jayanagar branch. Every other Saturday, I went there and mentored kids. During one of my weekend mentoring sessions, Vasant mentioned that he would be visiting NetApp with the 11th graders for an on-campus VTO event.
When the students from Parikrma Foundation visited NetApp, I happily joined as a volunteer. That day, I came to know that the kids would be developing a computer game using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scratch programming environment, a free educational programming language that was developed by the university. The idea was that the students would develop an educational game using Scratch programming, which would then be used by 5th grade students at Parikrma Foundation.
When I first met these kids, they were highly enthusiastic. With most of them entering a corporate building for the first time, they were absolutely thrilled to be at NetApp. When I interacted with them during the lunch break, they had lots of questions and also spoke about their dreams and ambitions. That hooked me on to the program—the energy of the kids was palpable, and I couldn’t resist it.
When we were done for the day, I found out that this particular VTO activity would extend through the year, with monthly visits by the students to the NetApp campus. Knowing that, I told myself that I would be there for the following sessions too.
Since then, I have attended nearly every session. During these sessions, I have gotten to know the kids better.
Their interest and determination is something that many of us can absorb. Even when some students fell behind other groups, they would start over and quickly catch up. Regardless of the challenge, they didn’t give up. They believed they could accomplish the task at hand and were unwavering in doing so.
My wife, Vani, and I have always been interested in helping kids pursue an education. If they drop out of school, it’s very hard for them to get back on their feet. If they complete schooling and have a thirst for learning, they have a better chance of success. We have always thought about getting involved in government schools and this was a great opportunity. It was a no-brainer for me to get associated with Parikrma Foundation. I have also started the conversation with Parikrma Foundation to determine how I can serve as a mentor beyond the VTO program. It’s really the fact that education is critical—that’s what is driving me.
How Does NetApp VTO Encourage Employees?
The fact that we have a VTO program is unique. As a company NetApp could have said here are your five days, go figure out how you want to use these. Instead, we have a dedicated team working towards creating the VTO experience and organizing activities. It’s the feeling of doing something nice that people walk away with. In all my interactions with fellow colleagues, not one of them has told me that this is not something they enjoyed.
Looking at the struggles these kids go through helps us realize how privileged we are. We need to be grateful for everything we have. Even though one may not initially see how impactful a few hours with these kids can be, I believe it is extremely purposeful. The kids ask for the volunteers by name. Even a few hours spent with them leaves an impression and to me that’s very meaningful. This is our way of giving back to society. This is a way for us to step back and see how fortunate we are and do something meaningful for others.