Every evening between 4-6 pm, up to a 1000 children around the country in various orphanages, shelter homes and slum clusters gather around small screens and pay rapt attention to the day's lesson in dance, theatre, taekwondo, or even more esoteric interests like robotics.
If Delhi-based Avneesh Chhabra and Passion Guru have their way, that pool of talent and its hope for a better future will vastly expand over the coming months. Passion Guru is a free platform (launched May 2020) offering online passion-based classes for NGO kids and less-fortunate teens across India; it is also coming out with an app, perhaps the first-of-itskind in the country, after Diwali.
It provides free mentoring to kids aged 8-16 via online classes along with the certificates even provide certification after the course completes. "The genesis for the idea happened two years ago, when as part of the regular social work I do, I asked some kids at an NGO what they want to be when they grew up and got the usual answers of doctor, engineer, or lawyer. But when I asked them what they’re passionate about, they lit up and started talking about dance and music and acting," recalls Chhabra.
Believing that even today, and especially for those in constrained circumstances, kids are pressured to concentrate on academics and pursue 'safe careers' to get ahead in life, Chabbra wanted to provide an alternative to disadvantaged kids who are interested in creative or more specialised fields.
"We started offline in 2018 and were going around to various NGO shelters, and holding lessons for more and more kids at more and more places. Then the pandemic stuck and everything ground to a halt. It took us a couple of months but we completely overhauled our operations and figured out a way to keep engaged with the kids," says the founder of Passion Guru, currently being used in 20 NGOs across 12 states.
"Obviously, these places operate on shoestring budgets, and each facility will have access to one smart phone, or rarely, a tablet. So we had to design the lessons in such a way that the entire class can see and hear the mentors," says Chabbra. More practical costs also have to be considered.
As Chabbra notes, "We have a fund for data recharges for the devices in all the different NGO’s we’ve associated with so that there’s no excuse to miss lessons, for. We are also starting a campaign in a couple of days for the festive season, for people to donate their old phones and tablets so that the kids have more access to lessons."
He adds, "In the interests of transparency, we’ll get the kids to click selfies with the device sent in or send personalised letters of thanks," he says, while adding, "While the facilities might have a device or two which the kids can share, we also want to engage disadvantaged kids who live with their families but are passionate about learning a particular art form, so we want to be able to provide devices for everyone."
For a cause
While the facilities might have a device or two which the kids can share, we also want to engage disadvantaged kids who live with their families but are passionate about learning a particular art form.