In conversation with the committee members of Tata Sherwood Apartments Owners/Residents Community
Tell me about the philanthropic journey of SEE
It all started on October 24th, 2014 and as an accident. One of the cook who works in a few of our houses collapsed the day before Diwali. His wife called to tell us that he was hospitalized and in serious condition. Doctor’s diagnosed that he had a hole in the intestine and there was pus. The doctors insisted that he be operated immediately. The hospital drew up a cost of 4.5 lakhs INR. As residents of Sherwood, we decided to collectively help him. We sent an email on our Google group asking for funds. Within 4 days, residents of our wonderful community donated close to 4 lakhs INR. We then worked with the hospital to see if they could give a discount in this genuine case and also worked with some local NGOs to raise money. The surgery was done and our cook recovered earlier than anticipated. We were left with a corpus of over 1 lakh INR after the hospital gave us the discount. We realized that instead of going back and returning money to the residents as 3000 INR or 5000 INR, we decided use it for a better purpose. We then evaluated various options we could help our support staff with. The first thing that we thought of, was health insurance especially in the light of recent situation. We were then faced with a challenge, how do we get these people signed up – especially with the paperwork and on the regularity of the payments? What happens if the support employees default or forget to pay the premiums? Collectively we sat together and then we decided that we will use these funds to support the education of the children of our support staff/domestic help at Sherwood. So year 1 (March 2015) with the corpus collected, we sponsored 46 students ranging from nursery to class 10. We felt that education will indirectly help with medical assistance and also improve the standard of living as children at home automatically will influence the parents. The money that was allocated, amounted close to 60 to 100% of the fee based on the class of the student. We had some small administrative snags from the schools on the DDs and cheques, but the committee members focusing on this initiative got everything sorted. By March end, we had made all the payments, it was a great feeling that we were playing a role in shaping the next generation. But when we all got down to thinking that cutting a cheque at the end of the year, may not be the thing that we wanted to associated with. This financial aid does not impact the student directly, but helps the family in the financial budgets. We were also looking at extended and meaningful association with these students. That got us thinking – “how to engage”? We decided to conduct extra classes to these students every Sunday. So we went back to the parents to figure out the “need gap” and how can we work with their children. We got to understand that the parents of these children, expressed their need to have extra classes in English and Maths. We shortlisted about 15 students (class 6 to 10) after speaking to their parents on who needed the extra classes. On speaking to the parents we got to understand, that parents in most cases aren’t educated, we got to understand that these students are sent to nearby school. Most of them attend tuitions which is most commonly held by the class teacher themselves. We decided to not upset the applecart by not asking the parents to stop tuitions as the children needed that, instead we decided to support them in Maths and English (as these were the subjects highlighted by parents). Predominantly all our students are English medium students with the exception of one who is from Kannada medium. We have been working with these 15 students for the last 9 months.
Fees for these 46 students are paid upfront in the beginning of the year. So even if the parent whose child we are supporting is no more part of the Sherwood community, they will not suffer. In terms of extra classes, we will continue to support them through the year. When it comes to the next financial year, the children whose parents are part of the Sherwood community are only eligible for this program.
“We felt that education will indirectly help with medical assistance and also improve the standard of living as children at home automatically will influence the parents.”
“Fees for these 46 students are paid upfront in the beginning of the year. So even if the parent whose child we are supporting is no more part of the Sherwood community, their education will not suffer.”
“The quality of education that we have been hearing and reading about in some of the local schools in Bangalore can be scary. Rote methods are popularly employed.”
“I think the other USP of our program is the attention each student gets. In a classroom, the ratio of teacher to student is 1:50; in tuition its 1:20; while in our extra classes its 1:2. There is a lot of personalization of approach in hearing them out.”
“We have been encouraging all our support staff to come forward and be part of the program. We are also expanding the classes to cover from nursery to class XII. We are also looking at having a teacher on-board who can take some regular classes a few days in a week for classes 4th to 8th. “
“For this academic year we have over 80+ beneficiaries, which is a 100% growth from the previous year. SEEkers raise funds from the community to support these initiatives.”
Can you tell me a little more on the successful CSR programs by SEE?
The quality of education that we have been hearing and reading about in some of the local schools in Bangalore can be scary. Rote methods are popularly employed. With theses 15 students that we are working with, we have seen that they lack the basics or foundation to understand the subjects. This gave us the confidence and drive to push this program along.
What we found extremely interesting is the students being extremely interested to keep coming back for classes every Sunday, despite this being an extra class to their already packed schedules of school, tuitions, play time etc. We guess it has a lot to do with the way of teaching and confidence boost we give these students. We also do many fun classes using storytelling techniques – of reading or talking about themselves, mind games to beat the exam and school pressure on these students.
I think the other USP of our program is the attention each student gets. In a classroom, the ratio of teacher to student is 1:50; in tuition its 1:20; while in our extra classes its 1:2. There is a lot of personalization of approach in hearing them out, responding to what their concerns or queries might be and this in turn gives them the confidence to speak up. It also reassures them, what they speak is heard and responded to. We are 8 of teachers teaching 15 students. We 8 SEEkers come from the most normal urban background and are a mix of home makers, professionals with backgrounds in IT, Marketing and HR. All of us could have had the most regular and humdrum life/Sunday of malls and movies. But have chosen to pay It forward instead, in our own small way. Each class is for 2 hours. Usually one hour of English and math each. The idea is to get them to understand concepts and look at how it can help with their syllabus. For class X students these extra classes are usually one on one. We avoid the rote method completely.
The first success we experienced, which blew us all away, was when a student whose English speaking ability was limited and hardly would open up in class, after attending a few Sundays, is now able to talk English more fluently than his classmates. This is of great joy to the parents that their son is able to converse in English and is now a star among his classmates. This incident gave us hope, that these students were like the plants that needed to be tended carefully. A little encouragement, getting them to understand basics and some tender loving care gets them to bloom beautiful. This gave us the confidence that we were headed in the right direction.
In a recent event, a few months back in March, we had a gathering of all the beneficiaries of year 1 and also of year 2 along with the association and committee members. It must have been a gathering of at least 100 people. A lot of the students whom we coach, came forward to the mic to express their gratitude and value they have gotten from this program. It was heartening to watch, that these children did not suffer from stage fright. They came across as confident. This illuminated the parent’s faces and the joy brimming in their faces.
Another incident – “About 5 months back, a child asked me (one of the teachers) if I will continue this class even after 2 years. I said yeah I will. Then I got curious why is he asking me this? He then told me I will definitely need these classes when I am in class X. I understood the value they see in the extra classes we are taking for them.”
We also let these students access our library which stocks the latest books in fiction, biography and encyclopedia. They love the time they spend at the Sherwood community.
This whole journey has been extremely enjoyable and it’s been fun. The students have enjoyed this as much as we have enjoyed working with them.
Going forward, we are looking at a peer mentoring program. We are still working on creating a symbiotic environment where both the students who are coming for extra classes and our children is fruitful and can get value from each other. They can be peer influencers and learning can be fun.
“Just Do It” is a great propelling force. There is never a right time or a right mix of people or a right cause or an initiative. The challenge that the world throws at you is the only “right” thing. Go ahead grab it with both hands and well…Just Do It. If you want to know how to connect to us, you can contact us through Your Philanthropy Story.