Education today is monumentally ineffective. We are giving young minds cut flowers, while we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. Around 90% of educational institutes including top ones don’t really focus on personality development and soft skills. Most of the institutes are all about completing syllabus, marks or most famous, getting into IITs.
Rajesh Mummaneni, a 4th year engineering student, had stage fear problem in college. In fact, so many people around us have soft skills problem. They feel very shy to talk to any new people, they have stage fear, they get panicked if someone asks them to speak on something. He founded Saakshar Organisation which is focused on changing lives of hundreds of underprivileged children whom he thought might also have the same problem. Now, he shares his journey with us.
1. How the idea of Saakshar came to your mind?
I’ve had stage fear problem in the college.
When I was in my first year, I had Just A Minute session in the English lab. Even though I thoroughly know the topic, I failed to speak on the topic before the whole class.
I thought I should improve myself and improved by using plentiful resources on the internet.
After a certain time period, I learned how to socialize with others, how to network with others and so on.
Later on, I went on doing multiple internships in startups over various verticals to implement my learnings and to learn more.
Suddenly, a thought came into my mind that, if a person like me who has got a very good education right from the childhood (Although, I came from a very rural and humble background) faces these kinds of problems, what about the situations of students in Government Schools.
This thought literally brought nightmares to me.
The failure of not able to speak up before the whole class actually drove me to start Saakshar.My failure experience drove me to start Saakshar and to help children achieve communication skills along with soft skills and basic arithmetic.
2. How was it after you started Saakshar?
I actually went to Government Schools, students and talked to many schools in my network and off my network to know the current state of the system.So, I came back and actually connected the dots of what could be done.Also, there are many youths in the country who want to give back to their communities.But they don’t how to start, where to start and whom to lean on and get support from.After interconnecting these two, I’ve got the idea why shouldn’t we do take up volunteering sessions on Saturdays on Basic Arithmetic and Communication Skills by including the youth.Our operations could be explained in a single line as “Give 2 hours a week for an academic year, educate and transform a class”.
3. What troubles did you face in your journey?
It’s the ones where the most entrepreneurs have. We have had good volunteer base from the beginning due to the seminars I gave in the classes.But, we didn’t have people to do take up this work like me. i.e go to college/work, come back and start working on Saakshar. In fact, I have had long hours working alone trying to strategize what should be done in the initial days.
We started our pilot in 5 schools (249 children) of Andhra Pradesh and the results have been really really inspiring.
We have seen a tremendous change in children, they have become very active in the classroom and their engagement levels have been improved.In May, there are 3 more people joined to work with me.
Some other problems include our volunteers used to have some extra classes on Saturdays, it used to become tough to handle classes if all the volunteers are not present.
At the end of the last academic year, as this model is working I wanted to scale this to as many schools as I can to reach out to more children in the country.
We have built our communities in Navi Mumbai, New Delhi, Hyderabad, Guwahati, and Pune.
4. How do you measure your output since you teach only on weekends that too for two hours?
We don’t teach their syllabus on Saturdays. Instead, we teach communication skills, life skills and basic arithmetic to them which means we will complement in mathematics and English areas apart from what teacher. Also, we are doing many programs to instill the will to learn in children which are not being completely provided by Government schools or teachers. Some of those programs are Makeover of schools, Donation camps, Fulfill a wish. The answer to your question we are doing much beyond those 2 hours on Saturdays by reducing the burden on parents by donation camps; instilling the willingness to learn in children by doing the makeover of schools and much beyond. We take care and coordinate with teachers to make sure that all the resources are properly utilized.
5. How do you manage operations in other cities and how many active volunteers are there in those cities?
As of now, we have 80 active volunteers.
All the things are done via Whatsapp. We have Whatsapp groups for every city
and we plan the things in the groups.
6. How do you manage the expenses of Saakshar?
We rely on donations. We run on a very cost-effective model. Although, we did a crowdfunding in college once.
7. I heard about different projects under Saakshar. What are those?
Yes, we have different programs.
1.Happy Learning Project: If you visit some government schools in India, you will realize that while they do provide basic amenities, but they do not have an environment that can motivate students or instill in them the willingness to learn. We wanted to transform those dull walls into interactive learning environments. So, we came up with a makeover by preparing colorful educational charts that inculcate the zeal of learning in them. So, we began ‘Happy Learning’ Project !! In the classrooms, children are having a great time. They are learning from colorful educational charts on the walls at their own pace according to their interests.
2.Fulfill A Wish: Remember the happiness you felt as a kid when your wishes get fulfilled. More than the contentment of receiving things it’s the assurance of being cared for that’s more satisfying. Behind the scenes:- Fulfill A Wish Program is carried out in Gajularega Government Primary School to bring smiles on children’s faces and to make them dream more in life. Why Fulfill A Wish? At Saakshar, we drive children to dream and wish. We motivate them by promising to fulfill their one wish. This program encourages children whose parents find it difficult to cater to their wishes. With every wish fulfilled the child develops a positive outlook towards life and the wish giver is instilled with utmost content through the simple act of giving.
3.Career Counseling & Course Options After 10th: Finally the 10th exams will be over and the results will be out in a couple of months. Now you stand in the Robert Frost’s ‘crossroads’. What will you do next? Will you take the road less traveled or go for the one trodden by many? For the first time in your life, you’ll have to face a question that might haunt you all your life, “What are you going to do after this”? This question will pop-up from time to time, whenever you reach an important milestone in your life. Every student has a unique set of skills, strengths, and weaknesses and hence it’s very important to take unique decision for every student. Don’t be afraid of seeking guidance, a right guidance can simplify these choices for you. Nowadays, you can approach career counseling where the counselors help you take a decision based on your unique profile. We as a mentor help you understand these choices and put ahead of the career path of various options available to you.
Behind the scenes:- “Career Counseling and Course Options After 10th Class” session is carried out in Gajularega Special Government Primary School for making an informed choice. We included probable courses or streams that the individual can pursue, the necessary entrance exams (if applicable) and the cutoffs for the same, the eligibility for specific courses.
4.Summer Computing Camp: Summer Computing Camp is an extensive, interactive, hands-on and fun program that aims to inspire the innovators of tomorrow by supporting the study of computer science. It’s our mission to empower the next generation of coders, engineers, and innovators.
8. What is the future of Saakshar?
I want to work in the social sector more at the grassroots levels.
I’ll continue what I’m doing at the present in future too. I actually want to make this as a movement. i.e everyone should come forward voluntarily for giving back to their communities.
9. Final Question! Do you think you are able to inspire others with your work?
I think I can motivate people with my work.How I’m saying this is I’ve actually seen people joining as a volunteer by seeing the work I do and the vision I have.