There are millions of people as a testimony to this statement and I’m just one of them. Inspired by organisations like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bono’s ONE Campaign and my own sister who had already started volunteering for Altius, I started cultivating the desire in me too. But I was too busy doing fancy things like getting a degree in Aerospace Engineering, representing my University at NASA and getting medals in sports. I simply did not bother paying any attention to what my heart really wanted. I was merely doing what the society wanted me to do. Living the linear curve described by Sir Ken Robinson (if you haven’t already watched his TED talk on how schools kill creativity, now is the time!) Soon after graduating, I started working as a Project Associate (something all Engg. graduates now do). Long story short, I was unhappy and had a burning desire to do more.
It is easy to convince yourself to do something you don’t really like but difficult to follow your passion. Despite the pressure from the society (luckily less from my parents and more from relatives of relatives of relatives), I quit and met Mr. Krithivasan (Let’s call him KV sir) and Mrs. Rajeswari Krithivasan (Raji ma’am). Now he, back then had long hair tied into a ponytail and she was uber cool and funny who single-handedly was creating voluminous content in the form of lectures, games and activities for primary classes and I being impressed thought ‘wow, this is amazing!’. But what came next was what made me instantly decide that I have to work in this organisation. They gave me a tour of the facility they had just started at Sree Karpagavalli Vidyalaya (SKV) in Mylapore and started talking about what inspired them to putting all their energy in these projects in the first place. Just like in the movie Jerry Mcguire, they had me at “using technology as a tool…”! I was and still am kind of a tech geek and this excited me so much. Now, I just didn’t have to teach but I could do it in the coolest way! Now, I’m going to tell you all a story and this story of mine will give you the highlights of my journey in three sections.
These sections namely FACILITATING & KIDS, STRUCTURED CLASSROOM MODEL and MANAGEMENT talk about the parts of this work that have most inspired me and I feel is definitely worth sharing with the world! Yes, I know you are wondering what vague titles for the sections.. but do read on!
FACILITATING & KIDS
This undoubtedly is the best part about volunteering! The Foundation helps and provides support to kids from the underprivileged parts of the society. Their aim is to enable access to technology and related tools to these kids, so they can have equal opportunities as their richer counterparts.
I spent the first few months observing classes that were facilitated by Anand Sir. I use the word “facilitated” carefully because this is one of the motto of Altius, we are here to facilitate learning to the kids, not teach them in the traditional way (which is nothing but merely stuffing info into their heads). The kids here come from some of the worst circumstances in the society but bundles of joy nevertheless. They are perfect reminders of how to tread in life happily despite all odds.
One of the things that moved me the most is the fact that these kids now know how to use a computer properly and can even send emails. YES! Just imagine the joy I feel, when I receive an email all the way here in England from an ex-student and that too in proper English (Unfortunately, I’m not physically a part of their projects as I moved out of the country and provide online support now). These kids learnt in Tamil medium all their lives and almost no English. Now after having passed out from the school, we are still friends and exchange emails in English. They also know how to attach photos as well. I cannot express in words what kind of joy this brings to me (*victorious BG music*). Each child has so much of depth in character and it was an absolute delight to know each one of them personally and seeing their faces light up each time they come to class. Nothing will bring us greater joy than watch these individuals climb one step up the ladder and do something different from what their parents do.
STRUCTURED CLASSROOM MODEL
By my second year with the Foundation, I was a full-time facilitator and handled 3 grades. This meant hard work! Because unlike a lecture where one would address 30 kids, this job meant giving individual attention to every child in batches of 15 each. Let’s do the math..
15 x 2 batches every class = 30 x 3 grades = 90 kids overall everyday.
Now, giving individual attention to 90 kids with different needs at different levels of learning was not an easy task and tested me! It was because of this period of commotion that we learnt the harder way that we had to make some changes to accommodate for these challenges, which will be faced in other schools with the same set-up too. Solution was, we started training school teachers to start facilitating. Yes, the same government employed teachers unlearnt and relearnt and are now amazing facilitators. This made everyone’s lives easier, there were now 3 facilitators for 15 kids, which meant just 5 kids/facilitator in a session and it was a win-win for both the kids and us. This trial-and-error method helped us create a wonderful Structured Classroom (CR) Model. These structured models are definitely one of Altius’ greatest assets. This doesn’t in any way mean they protect their rules as the holy grail and want us to stick to it, the best part about working with the Foundation is their flexibility and openness to ideas. They are always open to changes and ready to adopt new ways as long as it helps. This is what my next section is going to be about..
MANAGEMENT & TEAM
You have some of the smartest minds leading the organisation who show complete trust in their volunteers (people who have studied the success of Finnish schools and system know why just trusting others to do their job instead of pushing always works and these guys are no different). This organisation has all it takes for being an encouraging place for young minds to grow while on the job. What else do you call a good workplace? I’ve been with them for 3 years now and I’ve seen them grow from 5 volunteers to almost 20+ now, all of whom are very smart and multi-talented people. The team is an excellent mix of individuals from different walks of life. Each one of them are super good at what they do and contribute great value to the organisation.
The management functions in an efficient way by identifying the best talents of individual volunteers and giving them the job that they can create most value to. In my own experience, I merely signed up for facilitating but ended up learning illustrative tools from Adobe creative cloud and started writing content for the Altius website and beyond. This is just one of the many things I learnt on my job. Tapping into an individual’s talent reserve is not an easy task and the people at Altius seem to do it with great ease, this definitely speaks a lot about their clarity and efficiency as a management.
My best wishes to the team and I can’t wait to see it grow as one of the best NGOs creating efficient, workable solutions for problems faced in the fields of Education for the underprivileged.