There are causes that need your money,and there are causes that need your time. I chose to give my time,” says Pankaj Ghanshani, an IIT Roorkee graduate who works at Amazon Software Development (India) Pvt. Ltd. Like his friend Deeptangan Pant, 24, also an engineer, at Oracle India Pvt. Ltd, 24-year-old Ghanshani volunteers a couple of hours every Saturday, teaching visually impaired children at the Sri Ramana Maharishi Academy for the Blind (SRMAB) in Bangalore to speak English and learn to use computers.
Also Read: Help’s at hand
Both are volunteers with the Pankhudi Foundation in Bangalore which works with SRMAB. Volunteers with the foundation in other cities work towards the education and health of street children and children living in slums. Pankhudi was founded in April 2005 by Shahzad Wakeel, who had then just passed out of IIT Mumbai. The foundation started as an Orkut community comprising young professionals with day jobs who were keen to contribute to society’s well-being. Pankhudi has no employees and every individual associated with it works only as a volunteer.
Most volunteers with the foundation learnt of its existence through friends already working with it, or have chanced upon its website. Volunteers in a particular city are encouraged to keep in touch via group mail or email. If a volunteer shifts to another city where Pankhudi is present, she just has to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and she will be put in touch with local workers.
At SRMAB, I have elected to work with students of classes V and VI and help them brush up their spoken English skills. The methods of teaching are left to the volunteers. They are free to experiment with ways that can make a foreign language part of these children’s everyday lives. Armed with the warning that the younger children are the most difficult to handle, I walk into the class, which has 12 restless children, with another volunteer. We introduce ourselves in Kannada and the quizzing begins—“Miss, nimge Kannada gotta?” (Miss, do you know Kannada?). “Matte, namige yake English hel kodtira? Kannada nal mathadona” (then why teach us English, when we can talk in Kannada?). Smart. So, we set rule No. 1—no talking in Kannada in English class.
After 15 minutes of brushing up the concept of singular and plural with an oral test, we aren’t quite managing to hold the attention of the class. To get the children involved, we ask each child to talk in English for 3 minutes on a topic of his choice. The plan is to correct their language as they speak. Srinath, 12 , takes the lead: “Sachin Tendulkar is born in 1967....” One after another, the boys dole out statistics of cricketers and go back to their seats with supportive claps from their classmates. The secret behind the knowledge, we discover, is endless hours of listening to cricket-related programmes on the radio. After eight speeches on cricket, the three girls in the class get their chance: Pooja wants to talk about her cow and the others about dogs.
Helping hand: Visually impaired children at SRMAB learn how to use computers with the help of techies who volunteer on weekends. Hemant Mishra / Mint
One of the first lessons I learn is that while talking to visually impaired children, emotions have to be delivered by the voice alone, just as a radio jockey does when hosting a show. Also, it took me three classes to figure out that I had to break away from the monotony of teaching the rules of the English language. Instead, I have decided to concentrate on reading simple tales and encouraging the children to talk and narrate stories in their own words.
If you want to volunteer
Volunteers can teach, organize activities for the children, contribute towards the Pankhudi newsletter, or just choose to help during collection drives such as the recent Bihar flood relief drive. Pankhudi invites volunteers in five other cities (Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune and Chennai) to teach and work on health care drives in slums. For those who want to make contributions in kind to SRMAB, the school needs computers, headphones, sports equipment and tape recorders. They can teach or organize activities for the children.
Rs5,000 for this charity can
Provide three meals for a day for all the children at SRMAB (breakfast, Rs1,500; lunch, Rs2,000; and dinner, Rs2,000)
Rs7,800 can sponsor a child for a year at SRMAB. This includes tuition, shelter and clothing
People like us
The Blind Relief Association, Delhi
Money: Rs 4,000 will sponsor a child for a month. Donors can also pay for blank tapes, tape recorders, etc.
Time: The association invites volunteers to read out aloud to children and also record stories and textbooks in an audio format.
National Association of the Blind, Mumbai
Money: Support ‘The Home Bound Programme’ Scheme, which allows the blind to run independent businesses from their homes. The schemes involve the purchase of flour-grinding machines, sewing machines, etc. The cost of these machines varies from Rs5,000 to Rs15,000.
Time: You can get involved in taking classes for the blind.
Esha—People for the Blind
Contribute by getting your business cards Braille-enabled. For a rupee per card you can Braille-emboss your name and contact details on your business card. The embossing is done by visually-impaired workers. For more information,?visit ‘www.braillecards.org’.