The Spirit of Volunteering at ManipalMarch 12, 2019
The third semester of MBBS infamously dubbed the ‘honeymoon semester’ saw us religiously forced by friends, family and faculty to take a ‘breather’ (also apparently the ‘only’ breather in a medico’s life) to explore the amazing opportunities that this world had to present. So, I was on a spree to find something that’d help me live up to their first world expectations and also have some fun along the way. I started with being more active in VSO, volunteering for at least one project every week.
13th November 2017; back from another monotonous day. I was pointlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed when a message popped up on the VSO WhatsApp Group, asking for volunteers who could help foreign exchange students with some English-Kannada translation. Well, to be honest, it is a boon to be able to speak the local language in Manipal, and that can make you the MVP for many reasons. Long story short, my friend Ashwin and I signed up for it. We were told to report in front of the Syndicate Bank at 12:30 PM on a few select dates. The first day, I actually went with an impression of having to probably deal with a lot of people and paperwork!
But when we reached there, Amy and Meghan (the exchange students) took us to the school hiding in the shadows of the huge Syndicate Building and the hustle of Tiger Circle – ‘The Academy Primary School’
It is a government aided Kannada medium school, where the exchange students were doing their volunteer work prescribed by their program. The children made bookmarks that day. And I fall short of words to explain the energy that filled the classroom that day. They’d shame the atomic bomb! I wondered how that thatched roof could handle such an explosion on a daily basis! It was the first time I beheld the beautiful personification of ‘chaos’. And in subsequent visits, I realized that whatever quality I’m imparting to their lives was near insignificant to the value being added to mine. To the extent that I silently mourned my loss of school/childhood experience having gone through pompous private school education.
There is no time for impertinent introduction at the Academy School. Your entire past and future becomes irrelevant. As long as you’re there, you are ‘Anna/Akka’ to 100 students and you’re there to entertain and have fun with them. For those who don’t consider themselves funny, they’ll find something to poke fun at and entertain themselves! They are a package of an absolute and inexhaustible bliss.
Once the exchange students left for the US, we were asked to submit a project report in which we pitched the idea of making the school visit a regular project. We wanted the whole of Manipal to see the powerhouse we had in our backyard and help us contribute to its cause. Our enthusiasm elicited a positive response and Voila! Here we are today.
Winter really adds charm to our lives. Although the seasonal variation in Manipal is restricted to long and monotonous summers followed by cold and exhausting exams, winter still found its way into my heart and with it brought the spirit of Christmas! We named the project ‘Akshara’ (meaning ‘Letter’ in Kannada) and our first official project was Christmas celebrations with the kids.
From there Akshara took off like a missile with huge number of volunteers, some turning up unregistered, and many complaining about not getting a chance to. Our record till date, for fastest fill up of registrations on the website is 5 minutes, which is quite impressive for a project held on weekdays in the scorching afternoon sun during the precious lunch break.
We conducted ‘Chiguru’, a 9 day summer camp for the students where we introduced the students to a whole new style of learning. Each session comprised a pre-test followed by a teaching period of 20mins. This was followed by a cocurricular and an extracurricular activity associated with the said topic/theme of the day. Lastly, we had a post test/assessment. Our problem statement was their inadequate English grammar and vocabulary skills prescribed by their syllabus. Although we made a humble difference, the knowledge and experience we gained through the camp was precious. We made a detailed report including personalized graphs for the growth of each student. Many students received their first ever summer camp experience and hence, their inquisitive attitude breathed life into the camp.
We used the information gained through the camp to design our future events at Akshara. Most of our visits concentrated on English spelling, grammar and vocabulary. We clubbed them with games like hangman, word building, spelling bee, general quiz and so on. As party of ‘daan utsav’, we curated a toy room in the school with items ranging from soft toys to 160 piece jigsaw puzzle.
The brunt of the syllabus and the ever increasing stress of exams, kept us from coordinating for a significant part of the year end. However, this new-year with a new set of coordinators, we are looking forward to a better performance. Our latest initiative being the ‘Akshara Module’. In this we intend to focus on one class in the school (4th standard) and provide them with a structured framework of events to enrich their minds with what we deem beneficial for their learning. Each event comprises a pre and post test and with an extensive feedback from facility and volunteers. Our main aim is to try and bridge the gap we see between these students and those in private schools, studying state board prescribed syllabus.
Our projects and initiatives have only been able to find this level of success due to the enormous support of our faculty coordinators, the school authorities and of course the VSO family. However, Akshara lives on the patronage of the innocent, warm and welcoming smiles which greet us at every visit. Their unconditional love draws us to their classrooms every week. All our efforts in the past year have but only been an effort to do justice to and give back to those children, the bliss they add to our lives!
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