Vidya Poshak (VP) is housed in a two storied building with rooms neatly designated for different purposes such as mentor rooms, book banks, meetings, etc. Everything is organized and neatly structured, clearly illustrating that this is an organization with a purpose and clarity of their means of achieving their goals.
“Many students want to study, but they are economically challenged. They have a meritorious mark sheet but they drop out because they cannot afford the fees,” says Mr. Venkatesh who heads Vidya Poshak’s Dharwad center. Nurture Merit which is the flagship program of VP has been designed to meet this particular need where economically challenged students are identified and sponsored. These students approach VP through word of mouth awareness or advertisements in the newspaper. “It’s usually word of mouth since we have been serving since 2001”, says Venkatesh. More than 5000 applications reach Vidya Poshak every year, out of which 1000 are shortlisted and 500 new students are selected.
Once these students are shortlisted based on their merit, house visits are done by the volunteers who confirm their financial status. “People who earn below 50-60k per year are usually selected provided they are meritorious. The usual cut off is 85% for Arts and 75% for Science students.” Home visits include a thorough scrutiny of their economic status which is evaluated using micro details like kind of roof of their houses, where is it located, electricity availability, type of land, daily wages etc.
Manjula, who is studying B.com 2nd year, lives with her younger sister, father and mother. Her house and roof was made up of thin aluminum sheets and consisted of a hall cum kitchen and sleeping room with mud flooring. They have a few cows and buffaloes. Her father says that these domestic animals belong to someone else and is taken on rent; half his revenue goes for their rent. Manjula had heard about Vidya Poshak through her friend and she immediately applied for the same. A bright student, who converses fluently in English although she went to a Kannada medium school, she says, “Thanks to Vidya Poshak, their scholarship has helped me with my English skills and I could call and talk to them in case of doubts.”
The volunteers are mostly professors, some students, and teachers. They too apply through word-of-mouth and after an interaction they are selected. When asked how they assess the commitment levels of the applicants, Mr. Girish, the training head says, “We usually know within a month if they are committed, because we do not pay anything and it’s pro bono. People who want to serve without expecting anything stay, others leave.” VP takes pride in giving 600 volunteers across Karnataka a chance to serve and experience the joy of giving.
Vidya Poshak not only helps their beneficiaries with the financial and book needs; it focuses on the overall holistic development of the child.
“When students move from Vernacular Medium to English medium for their PUC, they undergo an inferiority complex. They are not able to talk eye to eye, low on confidence because they cannot converse in English with their fellow peers etc. We have observed a very steep decline in their marks from 10th to PUC. When we started asking students, we have observed that they need some hand holding to be done for tackling this problem. To address that need of the hour we decided to conduct camps for these students, where we focus on the positive development of the child, career counseling, skills etc which are usually absent in the formal schooling nowadays”. This is done through a 9 day residential camp where students are allowed to speak only in English. Each student is assigned a mentor to help them interact and open up.
In order to assist in career counseling, scientific methodologies such are used. To quote, “We use Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, where in there are 85 questions. We do not directly question the child but do it in an interactive way. This theory has been researched and accepted worldwide and so far it helped many is making right choice from our organization too. The beneficiaries are happy and many have succeeded in their chosen fields.”
This is exemplified by Vittal Martare, who is pursuing his articleship in accounts at Dharwad and comes from a very backward family. His parents work in fields all day and hardly earn anything. He came across Vidya Poshak few years back and has been sponsored since his 10th class. He says, “It gave me a direction. I now study and also earn 2,000 Rs per month in my articleship. My English was so dull; I was hardly enthusiastic about studies. Looking at my condition, I almost gave up. I was about to fall when Vidya Poshak lifted me up. More than money they also gave me emotional support; I know that I can call them at any time and speak about anything. Although they are my mentors they did allow that informal bond with them which always encouraged me to aim higher.”
When asked about what he wants to do in future to which he smiles “I want to work for the social sector.” “Another volunteer for Vidya Poshak,” laughs and adds Sanjeev the program coordinator.
“This is how volunteers come- word of mouth or experience.. Some students who received the scholarship are now working for Tata Hitachi. A girl named Kavita has motivated her friends to open a joint account and contribute how much ever they can in that every month. Through that they help with books and other needs to people amongst them,” says Sanjeev.
When asked about why expansion plans, I Venkatesh said, “When people approach us saying we want to work with you, we have asked them to open a NGO themselves which serves the needy in their area. We hand hold and support them with the help of TCS, Wipro and other donors for first two years. They become independent and after the experience start serving themselves. We help with registering and also always are available for support.”