Teach India 2009

Today, on a sultry Saturday morning in New Delhi, I attended an induction session organized by the Times of India as part of its Teach India initiative. I was, I think, the first one to arrive. For quite a while,  I have been searching for a cause to align myself with, and helping to educate underprivileged children struck me as an endeavour worth my time. If nothing else, I looked forward to an avenue of escape from a life that had become supersaturated with corporate angst and urban self-preoccupation, and to channelling my energy towards something outside of myself.

Representatives from three of the many partner NGOs enlisted in Teach India ran the induction and described their organizations’ missions: Katha, Prayas, and Butterflies. The audience comprised about 60 to 80 attendees, all would-be volunteers. After the NGOs outlined their activities, we each had to decide which NGO we wanted to work with and then sign up with them.

There was one heckler in the audience who cross-questioned the representative from Butterflies, an NGO for street children, suggesting that the organization had nothing valuable to offer either children or volunteers and alleging that it was just exploiting educated people in the name of charity.  Her demeanour was loud and abrasive, but others in the room gallantly came to the NGO’s defence, including a former UNICEF staff member. The theme of the response seemed to be, “Ask not what your NGO can do for you, ask what you can do for your NGO.” That was a good moment.

It didn’t take me too long to decide that I wanted to sign up with Katha, which is also a respected non-profit publishing house known for its collections of Indian short stories translated from regional languages into English. Katha runs 96 schools for underprivileged children across Delhi as well as 50 early childhood development centres for children aged 2-8 that eventually mainstream the children into MCD schools and offer continuing support and remedial programs. At their Lab School in Govinpuri, they conduct not only reading programmes and IT courses for young children, but also house a social work institute that aims to create awareness on political, legal and social issues affecting children.  They also run a reading programme, vocational schools, and a “school on wheels” for street children.

Next on the agenda is an induction with Katha, at which time volunteers can explore the different programmes in more detail and decide which one they want to get involved with. Stay tuned.