‘Irfan Ignition’: When a ‘lesson’ sprang to life

It is not often that a 'subject' from a text book comes alive before students. Save a few television advertisements depicting masters 'soothing' the examination nerves of drowsy students. Students in few schools in the state, though, have precisely walked into that surreal territory. 

Published: 22nd October 2017 12:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd October 2017 07:39 AM   |  A+A-

Irfan Alam intracts with students at the Government Higher Secondary School at Karimba in Palakkad district.

Express News Service

PALAKKAD: It is not often that a 'subject' from a text book comes alive before students. Save a few television advertisements depicting masters 'soothing' the examination nerves of drowsy students. Students in few schools in the state, though, have precisely walked into that surreal territory. 
Irfan Alam, having helped transform the lives of rickshaw pullers in Bihar, had been an admirable character after the Kerala Government included his life and work in the Plus Two English text book. And now, the Patna-based founder of the Samman Foundation and a  winner of the World Bank's Innovation Award, is taking classes for Kerala students on empowerment, motivation and nation building at the invite of various schools.

"We've decided to take Irfan Alam to various schools in every district in Kerala under the campaign Irfan Ignition," said Bejoy, a faculty of St Paul's HSS, Pala."There will be a series of motivational talks titled 'In Search of Confidence and Competence'.The government had included his life in the chapter 'A Three-wheeled Revolution'. The chapter was a reproduction of an interview given by Irfan Alam to Sujata Ramprasad in May 2010 that appeared in India Currents. Irfan had won the Innovation Award for empowering the rickshaw pullers of Bihar. In one year, we plan interactions with students of at least 50 schools." 

The statewide inauguration was performed at the Government HSS, Karimba a week ago. The interaction session with the students extended till noon, with questions seemingly inexhaustible. On the next day, Irfan was at the Sree Ramakrishna Gurukula Vidya Mandir HSS,  Thrissur.

Irfan told Express: “It was all started by a student of the St Paul’s HSS in Pala. After reading the chapter, he visited my Facebook page and invited me to speak at his school. The management of the school was also eager and they made arrangements for me to pay a visit in December last year. Subsequently, select students were taken to Bihar and shown how the lives of rickshaw puller were transformed. It is in this light that I decided to visit Kerala again and work with like-minded organisations.”
He has since returned to Bihar and will be visiting Kerala six more times, each time covering two districts.
“In this manner, he proposed to groom 50 selected students into entrepreneurs so as to bring a change in society,” said T Biju, a teacher at the Karimba school. 

Irfan said youngsters were generally confused and did not know what to take and what to leave.
“Therefore, I decided to reach out to each district of Kerala, identify students and help them in nation building. By 2030, India will be the youngest nation. My parents were illiterate. I was the first generation graduate in my family. I know how good education can provide better health care and a decent living in the process,” he said.

While there are 10 million rickshaw pullers in north India, he said, in Kerala, the project could be replicated on auto drivers. His foundation negotiates with banks and makes available various loans which are channelled under various Central Government schemes and ensures its repayment. “The bank itself was ready to provide the Foundation a nominal fee for our administration expenses. We also arrange for ads on rickshaws, the revenue from which is shared with the rickshaw pullers.

Therefore, the puller who used to take rickshaws on rent and pedal all his life began to own them which changed his life. The rickshaw puller who is in uniform is also trained to be courteous, hand out newspapers to read while riding and sells juice, biscuits and snacks which is an extra income to the puller,” he said, explaining his model of empowerment.An alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad, Irfan believes each venture should be self-sustaining. “The Samman Foundation set up in 2007 with 300 rickshaw pullers, now has 5 lakh members,” he said.

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