There are moments in our lives when we stop to think about the things we see that are wrong. Be it the litter on the streets, the encroached sidewalks, the way the traffic moves, or rather halts, to children being forced in to child labor and many such instances. Acknowledging or speaking about these circumstances isn’t enough.
How does one get to the point where they are assured to be given a fair chance at work regardless of the background they come from? Are slum children less talented or not as smart as the children going to private schools? No, they are not. They are simply not given the right opportunities to enhance their abilities. With a strong guiding force, the untapped talent in these kids can be brought out to show that they are no less.
Of the 1.3 billion in India, Mumbai is home to 2.1 million of which 41.1% live in slums First generation learners from urban slums receive poor quality education. In addition they are exposed to petty crime, violence, drugs & alcohol abuse. In absence of access to concerned, educated adults as role models and proper guidance they are at risk of growing into adults without the necessary skill sets to generate sustainable livelihood.
American author and storyteller, Garrison Keillor, once said “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted”, and rightly so.
Founded in Mumbai in 2012 by Anubha Sharma and Beenaa Advani, Angel Xpress Foundation (AXF) is a 12 A & 80 G certified not-for-profit organisation engaged in empowering underprivileged and underserved slum dwelling children through education, mentoring, values and life skills lessons, and career guidance.
The AXF Free Learning Center Program propagates the idea of adoption of volunteerism as a lifestyle choice among the socially conscious educated citizens. Affluent educated housewives are recruited and trained to set up a community service program in a public space like a shaded garden or a community hall in their neighborhood. Core teams are identified from among the volunteer groups and provided leadership training and guidance for handling local operations at every Free Learning Center.
And so upon hearing about this, my journey as a volunteer to teach at Angel Xpress Foundation began. Initially, I was not really sure what to expect and what was expected of me. I knew a gist of the wonderful work that Angel Xpress did and was eager to participate. I volunteered to teach English to underprivileged children who came to the Goregaon East Centre. What started off as my contribution towards a better society turned into a wonderful experience that has changed my life! I am richer emotionally, mentally and feel contented like I have lived a useful life.
Armed with curricular inputs from the AXF team, volunteers come together at a pre-appointed hour daily to meet their assigned groups of first generation learners to impart a lesson through fun and interactive activities thus rekindling interest and desire to learn.
To be able to make a difference even in one child’s life and is a job well done. I have been able to interact with so many children and each one of them has left an impression in my heart. To see the young children grow into confident, mature and informed individuals makes the hours I put in there worthwhile. I see myself as a mentor to these less privileged children who have the ambition and the will to succeed despite the lives they live. Some come from broken families, some from poor homes and many from less fortunate backgrounds. Despite their backgrounds, they each come to the center to learn and improve their circumstances. They know and understand that education and qualification is the ticket to a brighter future. To be able to aid in their quest for this bright future is indeed a wonderful feeling.
Concerns about rising inequality in India have been flagged off by the World Bank, IMF & ADB. Currently India ranks 132 out of 152 countries in reducing inequality. 70% of India’s 1.3 billion population deals with various levels of deprivation owing to a skewed economic growth and inadequate government policies. Basic amenities of education, nutrition and healthcare are required to be delivered to this population, to end the cycle of poverty.
What started as a small project with 18 children in 2012, and a vision to start a global movement that will employ education as a tool to help address socio-economic inequities, and create responsible, aware and conscious citizens, today supports 1900 slum children at 17 locations across the city via a 500 strong volunteer team.
Over 4 lakh children from the slums of Mumbai go to BMC schools and an even larger number are sent by their parents to aided schools in the hope that their children will have a better future than theirs. Unfortunately reports show that almost 80% of these children are at near illiteracy level even after 4 to 5 years of schooling. Besides poor instructions in schools, the problem also lies in the fact that the backbone of education is missing at home.
Over 400,000 residents of Mumbai comprise educated housewives, with capacity to do more than manage households. A conservatively estimated conversion of 1% to volunteerism, assuming each mentor 5 children, implies a potential impact of 20,000 lives just in Mumbai city through the idea. At a national level, the idea can potentially impact over a million children every year.
At Angel Xpress Foundation, they are working at creating something that is not just helping thousands of children but is also giving an opportunity to hundreds of fortunate adults to not just give back, but also to receive from that gesture, far more than what they give.
All this is possible by creating efficiency in the system. Using available public spaces and utilizing wasted resources.
The children’s enthusiasm and excitement is truly infectious. In the one year that I have taught at Angel Xpress’s Goregaon East Centre, the children have somewhere ceased to be students and become an extended part of my life. Their curiosity, attention to detail and small gestures make my hours with them so wonderful. On one or two occasions when I missed a class, the children got upset and angry because they missed me. They are observant and don’t forget to compliment me when I make an extra effort to dress up and look good. I strongly believe that children are like wet cement, and I hope to make the right impression on them.