Shalini Ilanahai, Alamelu Kathiresan and Sanjana Rajaram began teaching at the Corporation Girls Higher Secondary School in Nungambakkam almost two years ago, but quickly realised they wanted their students to apply their skillsets learnt in the classroom outside in the real world.
Using crowd funding and volunteers, they rented out a space and created the ‘Vidiyal’ community centre in the area, where not just students from the school, but kids from Dharmapuram, Jayalakshmipuram and Pushpa Nagar also attended their sessions. Now in less than six months, the 50 kids or so have taken on a vow to reduce alcoholism in the area – starting from their homes.
“E-literacy, art and writing were the three main skills we focussed on imparting to the kids. Soon, they had an idea of how to create a magazine, use MS Word and Excel, and dabble in mandala art. Our ‘Be The Change Project’ was aimed at allowing the kids to express themselves through their skills to bring about change. They settled upon the debate of alcoholism in the area – and how to reduce it,” explains Shalini, who is from Chennai.
First, the teenagers took a door-to-door survey in the surrounding areas, visiting homes and talking to the parents. “They realised that there were three reasons for the alcohol intake – mental and physical stress, and peer pressure. To help their fathers cope with this, the children taught finger painting, mandala art and meditation to them. They wrote letters asking the dads not to associate themselves with a list of people they consider are bad influences, along with small gifts. Some even came up with their own board games for their dads to play – with promises from them to take them to the park if they win. They spread awareness on the ill-effects of alcohol, created emotional healing strategies and reflection diaries,” says Shalini, who mentored the kids through the project along with her two TFI fellows as well as other volunteers and former TFI alumni.
The children showcased all their work on the final day of the project, with their proud parents also visiting the Vidiyal community centre. Next up, with a year of funding left, the three girls are now planning to rope in more volunteers and make the project sustainable.