Recently, when the SSLC results were announced, you might have spotted more than one elated face, or been witness to a steady stream of tears. But it wasn’t just the students who were on this roller-coaster of emotion - plenty of volunteers from city-based NGO, U&I (founded in January 2011), were just as affected by the exam’s outcome. After all, the organisation, which focuses on an all-round education among underprivileged communities, does have a team that works tirelessly throughout the year to make sure that they can level the playing field for these children. And come summer, you might think that they would take a much-deserved break - but in a heart-warming twist, that’s not the case.
“Most children have so much to do during the summer when they have time off from school and our children shouldn’t have to miss out on that. They come from orphanages, slums, have been rescued from human trafficking or might be mentally challenged. So we have summer camps in April-May for the children we teach,” explains Suchita Isaac, media head of U&I. Making sure they steer clear of mainstream education during these months, the dedicated team of volunteers do everything to ensure that the kids have a great time, all while pocketing useful skills that go beyond the classroom.
While centrally located in the heart of the city next to Ulsoor Lake, U&I has managed to make sure they make a difference across the city, with learning centres in Dairy Circle, KR Puram, Kammanahalli and Dickinson Road. These centres are usually located next to orphanages or government homes for children. In fact, this year, the group has even taken the concept beyond the confines of Bangalore - one camp is even making an impact in an orphanage in Chennai.
This year’s theme is Dazzle, with a tagline that says it all - “Let every child shine”. And shine they do, with the ample opportunities provided by the NGO. “While the rest of the year is purely academic, this is a chance for us to do something different. So this year, we’re focusing on personality development and we also have sessions on arts and crafts as well as music and games. Through all these activities, we teach them about honesty, sportsmanship and just instill a sense of self-confidence,” says Saahas Patil, centre manager, U&I.
A typical day at any of these camps across the city is dotted with plenty to do, from games which involve role play of famous personalities and making human knots, to creating paper bags or participating in a treasure hunt. “What’s amazing is that these volunteers get up at about 7 in the morning to prepare for the day. It’s their vacation too, and they’re choosing to spend it with the children. The best part is that everyone expects something like this to have an impact on just the children. But when you see how involved the volunteers become, and how much the children become a part of their lives, you realise that it’s incredible to see their lives become intertwined,” Isaac tells us. However, being chosen as one of U&I’s volunteer isn’t a walk-in-the-park. Every year, the organisation sees about 1,000 applications pouring in, with many colleges requiring an internship of this nature as part of their coursework. “We filter the applicants and only the really committed ones are chosen,” says Isaac. While enrolling only for one year might seem like the initial plan, a majority of the volunteers stick around for the next couple of years as well. Of the 40 odd volunteers this summer, about 20 worked during the last academic year. And come tomorrow, if you’re not putting on your running shoes to take part in the TCS World 10K run in Bangalore, make sure you push yourself out of bed anyway and head to the sidelines to cheer on those who do, for you will see 150 spirited volunteers running on behalf of U&I. Dates for the applications for the academic year of 2013-2014 will soon be up on the group’s Facebook page. Details: facebook.com/uandi.org.in