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Making learning fun for the underprivileged

CHENNAI: Sneha Nair has been photographing children for close to three years now. And if there’s something she has wanted to do as much as clicking kids, it is to make them dance. The perfect opportunity arrived a few months ago when Sneha’s former teacher Kamla Ramamurti roped her into Project Chetna, a programme by Chennai NGO Sethu Foundation that works towards learning, health, hygiene and nutrition of underprivileged children living around Teynampet, T Nagar and Nandanam.
“I did a session online with simple steps that most kids could do. And they sent me back dance videos from their practice which I compiled into one big video and sent back to them,” says Sneha. “This has brought me such joy.”
Sneha is one of the 14 volunteers from different walks of life, including teachers, artists and professionals who have been spending a few hours every week for the past five months to make learning and life fun for children from the city’s slums.
In February, as part of Project Chetna, its core team – Kamla Ramamurti, former headmistress in charge, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Janaki Kannan, former IT professional and lead volunteer, and the NGO’s managing director C J Sethulakshmi – started pooling in volunteers to engage with disadvantaged primary school kids and train them in extracurricular activities, reading and general cleanliness. However, the pandemic brought about an unexpected change of plans, following which the programmes had to be reconceptualised virtually.
“When we started, the idea was to get the children to the centre on Saturdays to learn with us. But after the pandemic, a skilled team from IIT-Madras-based non-profit organisation, Involve, who use technology to help children in rural communities, helped us provide digital training to our children,” says Sethulakshmi.
As part of the initiative, 75 primary school children with access to smartphones in the city get short exercises such as puzzles, Sudoku, sing-alongs and dance videos on WhatsApp every Friday, along with a short homework they have one week to finish. The children are divided into groups of 30, and further groups of eight, which are mentored by teachers and volunteers. Most recently, as part of Daan Utsav, the team also opened a library at the centre, for which close to 200 books and toys have been provided by Round Table members and students of the Akshar Arbol International School in the city. “Most of our children are government school students who have not had classes for a while. We want to keep them motivated and also help them adapt to the digital medium,” says Janaki.
While Fridays are reserved for worksheets and WhatsApp homework, Wednesdays have become a favourite weekday for the kids, as they get to learn dance, music, art, craft and fun science lessons. “The whole idea of getting trained in extracurricular activities after school is usually restricted to children from better off homes. This is the gap we wished to bridge,” says Kamla.