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Teaching English the MAD way

Dec 31, 2008

A network of youth volunteers that imparts education to slum children in three cities of India has won the Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur Award for this year. Make A Difference or MAD as it is known now plans to spread its work to 21 more cities.

Pune: They love to call themselves MAD. These 400 volunteers are affiliated to an organisation called Make A Difference to which all these 400. And now, they have an extra reason to feel proud as well.

That’s because it has received the Ashoka Youth Social Entrepreneur Award for 2008, chosen out of 520 entries received from 61 countries across the world. Ashoka is a community of leading social entrepreneurs from around the world who work collectively to transform society and design new ways for people to become more productive, entrepreneurial and globally integrated.

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As an award the organisation was offered $5,000 or an opportunity to make a presentation at the next Youth Venture Summit for young social entrepreneurs to be conducted in the US.

“We have chosen to give a presentation at the Youth Venture Summit because as a service-oriented organisation we don’t require a lot of funds,” says Jithin Nedumala, the NGO’s 22-year-old co-founder. The others who spearheaded the venture included Sujith Varkey and K.K. Kavin.

MAD was started in Kochi to train underprivileged children in the English language. And with that it spread its wings to other cities, bringing joy and hope to the lives of over 1,200 children in Cochin, Chennai and Pune. The volunteers at MAD are trained and given a specially tailored syllabus, which acts as a guide on how to teach English to slum children.

“The aim is to teach them spoken English. This instills a sense of confidence in the children and encourages them to take up different avenues after they pass their 10th grade examinations,” says Madhura Gogte, who heads the MAD unit in Pune which has 140 volunteers reaching out to more than 300 children.

Most of the children who are taught here normally drop out after their 10th grade examinations because of their inability to communicate effectively in English, which, Jithin Nedumala feels, is a must in today’s world.

“We also try and arrange sponsorships for children who are economically backward and who have no financial means to support their education,” he adds.

The idea took shape when a few college students visited a YMCA Boy’s Home in Cochin. “While there, they asked the kids what they wanted on the next visit. The surprise answer was ‘books’. These students realised what was missing in society: quality education. Though the kids there went to schools, their knowledge of the English language was poor, rendering them incapable of adequate future employment. Even though these kids had the potential, they were restricted by the existing infrastructure,” Nedumala states.

After MAD was established, the core team set about preparing and implementing a syllabus. “We partnered with the Teacher Foundation of Bangalore and by the end of the first couple of years, we had evolved a proper syllabus, not to mention the number of the orphanages in which we taught. We also embarked on a Computer Project, making all our orphanages computerised,” Nedumala informs.

Elaborating on how the funding is taken care of, Nedumala states: “We have always managed to meet our overhead costs with the funds gathered by our core team members. Now, we find there is a need to establish a better infrastructure for the future. That is the biggest challenge we face right now.”

Moreover, MAD also has to fit its programmes with the cultural and academic attitude of the city they propose to work in. “Pune, where the student community is active and thriving, welcomed MAD with both hands.

The volunteer turnout for the programme was stupendous. Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, MAD was welcomed by the corporate crowd of Googlers. They were slightly more serious but no less effective,” Nedumala states.

As to how the award will benefit the organisation, Nedumala says, “The award has brought the much needed credibility to our organisation. And credibility has always been something that we have struggled to achieve. Now, people are finally recognising the value and importance of our project and accepting the work we have done.

Moreover, the award has given us a global platform on which to raise awareness about volunteering.” In time to come, MAD wants to spread its wings across 21 cities with a probable volunteer base of 2,000 youth.

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