CHENNAI: It was routine for Samsiya Begum to wait for her mom to return home late at night. Her mom came back as late as 11 pm, after a long tiring day in the market. Samsiya quickly grabbed her mom’s cell phone, sending messages to her friends for additional notes and to clear her doubts. As her mom was a flower vendor in Chennai, Samsiya had no option, but to wait patiently for the cell phone to arrive, and learn her lessons. “My mother had a mobile phone to contact people for emergencies,” she says. Samsiya had lost her father a few years ago.
Online education in the times of the Covid-19 lockdown wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for many children like Samsiya, a Class 12 student at the Chennai Higher Secondary School in Saidapet. She finally got a smartphone when a campaign ‘Fund My Phone’, crowd-funded by two Class 12 students took off. Not just Samsiya, but many found a saviour in the two good Samaritans — Soundarya Sivakumar and Neha Manivannan, both from MCTM Chidambaram Chettiyar International School in Mylapore.
“During the pandemic, I realised many students do not have access to online education because they couldn’t afford a phone,” states Soundarya. Neha and Soundarya had joined together earlier to donate clothes to the poor. They collected resources from their contacts, relatives, and friends. Its success gave them the nerve to do more.
“Initially, we thought of collecting used phones from people we knew, and distributing them to the needy. But we were not sure if such mobiles would be in working condition. So, we decided to raise money through crowdfunding and buy new phones for students,” Soundarya says, adding she is ecstatic to be a part of this noble cause. “When Soundarya approached me with the idea, I didn’t think twice,” Neha mentions.
The duo had created fliers inviting people to donate to the ‘Fund My Phone’ campaign and posted it on Whatsapp groups and other social media platforms. The response was slow but steady, she says, adding that in six months, 60 people donated, piling up a total of `1.37 lakh.
When the girls approached the Anandham Youth Foundation, an NGO which works in the field of education for the underprivileged, help came their way. It donated `50,000 to the initiative. “With the amount we collected, we were able to buy 25 smartphones for around `7,000 each,” Soundarya says with pride.
Sathya Narayanan, relationship officer of the foundation, tells TNIE seven phones were distributed to students from government and corporation schools studying in Class 10, 11, and 12 in Chennai. The remaining were given to the college students in rural areas who couldn’t afford to buy one. The mobile phones were presented to the school students in Chennai by Health Minister Ma Subramanian at an event in January at the Government Corona Hospital in King Institute, Guindy.