‘Make A Difference’- where it really counts

. by Samarpita Mukherjee Sharma

‘Make A Difference’- where it really counts

Make A Difference is a youth volunteer network, in India, that tries to empower underprivileged children with English language skills and other necessary life skills to help them succeed in life and harness their true potential.

As of now, 900 Make A Difference volunteers teach close to 3500 kids in the Indian cities of Cochin, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Nagpur, Trivandrum, Mangalore, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Vellore, Chandigarh and Chennai.

Team MAD wants to bring about a situation where all children can select a career based on their aspirations and potential rather than on their financial situation. On completion of grade X, these children are ready to take up higher studies or take up employment with good organizations.

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. -Edward Everett Hale

Want to know more? Well we have it all here, directly from the horse’s mouth. YL volunteer Sneha had a chit chat with Sangem Kola of  Make a Difference.

How did it all begin?

Back in 2006, in Cochin, Kerala – a few college students decided to visit an orphanage on one weekend to spend some free time. While leaving the place, they asked the kids what they’d like them to bring next time when they come in. The students’ surprise was evident when the students asked for books to read instead of toys or sweets.

The fact that the children wanted to be educated and wanted to learn was an inspiration to start the organization ‘Make A Difference.’ Jithin C Nedumala, Sujith Abraham Varkey, Gloria Benny, Jithin John and a few more came together and started going to the YMCA boys home to teach the children English. It all started with 20 volunteers in the city of Cochin.

Today MAD is in 19 cities in India.

What was the thought process or motivation behind starting the organization?

These children whom we call orphans, shelterless, underprivileged, etc. are full of potential but they don’t see it in themselves to do something in their life. They’ve always been receivers. Food left over after a party? Send it to an orphanage. Clothes unwearable? Send it to an orphanage. They’ve always been treated as second grade citizens and they remain to feel so all through their life. They have come to believe that everything for them in life will come from others and they should just accept.

Sad. We want them to see the potential that we see. We want them to believe in themselves, to create for themselves.

Given that development and uplifting of the underprivileged can take place through various avenues, why did you choose to focus on the educational sector?

We are students and we have certain ideas about education and its importance in life. We also realize that education opens up a ton of opportunities and we’d like them to lead as normal a life as possible. Education gives you confidence. Education prepares you. Education leads to exploration and utilization of opportunities. That’s why we chose education over anything else.

What does the future look like?

We’ve always been a child-centric organization and we want to remain so. We don’t choose a project and then select children suitable for it. Instead we go the other way round. We view it from the child’s perspective and take up projects that’ll assist them in their development.

- A tie-up with Cambridge University Press for our English project

- A tie-up with Hippocampus and Bookwallah for our library project are already in place.

Our placements project where we can map child’s interest to a profession of their choice while exposing them to as many career opportunities as possible is something we are on already.

For the future, a few of our projects include:

- Mentors project: Wherein one volunteer will be assigned to not more than 2 children and will guide them through their developmental stages as an educated elder sibling.

- Subjects project: To assist the child’s learning in subjects like Mathematics and Science

MAD-Creating-Headlines

Any message you would like to give our magazine’s readers?

Believe. And don’t worry about the magnitude of change your effort can make. Just understand that if it was not for your effort, some life somewhere would have remained untouched.

We are not doing the underprivileged children a favor by helping them. Instead we are doing ourselves a favor by ensuring the safe future of these children in turn resulting in a balanced society.

Don’t crib. You Can and so you Should Make A Difference.

Stories that keep us motivated:

During one of our Career awareness workshops, we’d taken our kids to Indian Naval Base in Cochin and they were excited by the fact that they don’t really have to do PhD’s to enter navy. They just have to study science in their +2! That’s how a few students there ended up taking science after their 10th which is a 1st time in the history of that orphanage. They are in their 12th now and hopefully will make it into the Navy next year

Anand, aged 13  was in 6th standard when his orphanage was adopted under the MAD English program. He had trouble with English as his was a vernacular medium school and there was nobody at the orphanage who could help him.

The children at that orphanage had already spent about an year with MAD when we opened up an opportunity of entering into a national level competition called DFC. Design For Change contest:

http://dfc2010.designforchangecontest.com/india/default.aspx

The children were put into groups and asked to come up with an issue they’d like to find a solution to. Anand’s team zeroed in on Child labour. Mentored by MAD volunteers, the team went to road traffic signals, railway platforms to find street children and convince them to get admitted into a safe place and lead a better life. In 5 days, they managed to convince 14 children habituated to begging to get admitted into NGO/ State-run children homes.

For this, they were given a ‘Special Jury mention’ in the DFC contest and were invited to Ahmedabad to present their project to an audience of eminent educationists, celebrities, students from across the country. It was their 1st travel outside their centre and their 1st public exposure and they totally rocked at it. We would like to attribute it to his innate skills as also the support and guidance he was given all through the year and providing opportunities to explore and go on to get acclaimed for it. His video addressing the DFC audience in his just-learning English skills:

Nandu, is a 12-year old boy who ran away from his house because he thought his parents will never forgive him for a petty mistake he committed. He was brought in by the police to one of the shelter homes and stayed there for 3 years by the time MAD started functioning there. He always said how he doesn’t know the address or contact details of his family when asked by the police or the Orphanage authorities. But after we put him through a life skills workshop, he walked up to one of the MAD volunteers and told them that he’d like to say sorry to his mother and blurted out the phone number. We were all shocked because he always claimed that he was an orphan. We got him connected to his mother and loved witnessing the happy re-union between mother and son. He is in his high school now continuing his studies while staying with his mother.

And the stories go on..

It’s not just the children who are affected in a positive way but also the volunteers (college students). Volunteers are more worried about their students clearing their exams and are always finding ways to improve their teaching and improving the delivery model of education. Responsibility, ownership, leadership skills, administration abilities are all being learnt and exercised by our volunteer base that has an average age of 19 years.

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With critical acclaim ranging from Ashoka Staples Youth Social Entrepreneur Award 2008, Cordes Fellowship 2010, Indiya Shines 2009 and the YouthActionNet Global Fellow 2010 to the prestigious Noble Laureate of Karamveer Puraskar, Make A Difference has truly created a niche for itself. This is an apt example of believing in yourself and wanting to truly make a difference where it counts.

Team MAD is expanding. If you, dear reader, want to make a difference, do apply here:

http://makeadiff.in/blog/jobs-in-make-a-difference/

or volunteer : http://makeadiff.in/blog/contact/

MAD is not in your town ?? Kick start a MAD Cell: http://makeadiff.in/joinmad.html

Photo courtesy: MAD’s facebook page.

Original Article: http://www.asia.youth-leader.org/?p=5293

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About the author

Sneha Das: An engineer by profession, this fun-loving, spirited, enthusiastic & adventurous girl wants to make this world a happy place to live in! In her free time, she likes to paint, dance, read and watch movies. Mail – >  sneha.das.youthleader@gmail.com

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