Bhavani pecks at her tiffin during lunch at college as she and her friends pore over a mock common entrance test (CET) paper. She has most of the answers on her fingertips, but the few she has to ponder over make her nervous. “I have to score well in both the entrance test and my pre-university exam,” says the 17-year-old, who hopes to secure a mechanical engineering seat in her home state of Karnataka next year.
The dream of becoming a mechanical engineer took hold in school when an older cousin opted for the subject. “Before that point, all I knew was that I wanted to support myself,” says Bhavani. But the dream was in danger of remaining unfulfilled when her father died two years ago. “I was very disturbed and could barely concentrate,” she says. She did manage to secure a seat at the NMKRV College for Women, a pre-university college in Bangalore, but her mother, who works as a domestic help earning Rs3,000 a month, threw up her hands, saying she couldn’t afford to pay the college fees. She suggested Bhavani find a job and support the family instead.
Power of two: Parimala Krishnan (right) has been mentoring Bhavani for more than a year. Hemant Mishra / Mint
It was at this point that Youth for Seva entered Bhavani’s life. A relative who worked with the association referred Bhavani and her sisters to it. “I was told that they might help me but I really didn’t believe it could be true,” says Bhavani.
Impressed with her dedication, the foundation decided to sponsor her pre-university education and assigned her a mentor. Youth for Seva is also sponsoring and mentoring the education of Bhavani’s younger sisters, Latha (15) and Ramaya (12).
The NGO, founded in 2007, is now helping 322 children, even organizing regular health check-ups and funding basic medication. It has around 4,000 registered volunteers. “We realized that the youth of India are very keen on doing their bit, especially on weekends,” says Venkatesh Murthy, co-founder, Youth for Seva.
Bhavani certainly shares a special bond with her mentor Parimala Krishnan, who has been visiting her twice a month for over a year now. Krishnan keeps tabs on Bhavani’s college reports and sends out monthly reports to the individual sponsoring her education. That way her sponsor can have the satisfaction of having spent money for a good cause. “Bhavani has always been quiet, but I now see some confidence in her,” says Krishnan, who also works as a spoken English trainer with Youth for Seva. “I enjoy seeing her study hard,” she says.
Bhavani wakes up at 5am, studies, then cooks, rushes to college, goes for her CET coaching classes, which end at 7pm, and is back home by 7.30pm. She then studies until 10pm. “She rarely goes out with her friends for a movie or an ice cream. Sometimes it’s tempting to just give her a treat, but in that way I will be overstepping my role as a mentor,” says Krishnan, who holds Bhavani’s skinny arms and points out that her one concern for her student is that she doesn’t eat properly.
IF YOU WANT TO VOLUNTEER
You can mentor children by visiting and talking to them once or twice a month