Monday, May 11, 2015

Weekends becoming worthwhile - At Vinoba Niketan

TGIF (Thank-God-Its-Friday) is the mantra on my lips as I go to sleep on Thursday nights. And Friday nights are devoted to balancing the equation between two days on left hand side and friends, movies, shopping, eat-out, and lots of sleep on the right hand side. So when my friend asked me to go for taking classes at Vinoba Niketan as part of ARPAN, on a Saturday, my first reaction was not very pleasant. But he was persistent and I was without genuine excuses. Thus I found myself the next Saturday morning journeying to Vinoba Niketan, with five others from VSSC and LPSC, a little disappointed at having my weekend plans being spoiled. Little did I know that eventually I would cancel my fun-plans to continue to be a part of this journey in the coming months.
About 30 km from Thiruvananthapuram city, on the way to Ponmudi hill range, in the picturesque village of Tholikkode at Aryanad is situated VinobaNiketan. Acclaimed as the spiritual successor of Gandhiji, Vinoba was committed to the upliftment of Harijans and this institute stands a testimony to the same ideals. It was founded by Parivrajika Rajamma (Amma), the spiritual daughter of Vinoba Bhave in the year 1954 and is dedicated to the cause of education for tribal girls. They also have several other programs in the areas of village literacy, khadi promotion and agriculture. The centre shelters around 150 tribal girls from various parts of Kerala and supports their education and overall development. They study in classes from 4th to 12th. Niketan runs an upper primary school for students from class 4th to 6th and the older students go to a government school nearby.
Talking about ARPAN, it is a humble philanthropic initiative of like-minded enthusiasts of IISU, VSSC, LPSC, ISAC, ISTRAC and SHAR, who consider it their obligation to reach out and serve the deprived and the less fortunate. Over the three years of our efforts, we have been able to extend support to about 300 chronically ill patients, around 400 financially needy students and have been instrumental in directing many patients to different agencies for getting further help/consultation and also creating awareness about government aids. ARPAN has been visiting and contributing in its own way to Vinoba Niketan from the beginning of 2013. The volunteers have since then interacted with the children and supplied them with logistical support. The more regular visits and educational support began in the academic year of 2014-15 with a team of volunteers visiting Niketan every week and taking classes in different subjects taught at school.
I have been a part of this team since January, 2015. You enter the gates beneath a huge yellow arch into a world of utmost serenity and calm. Rare trees and plants line the sides of pavements, pretty little flowers welcome you. The day usually starts with meeting Amma. The girls would be ready for their weekly session and welcome us with vigor. It won’t take more than five minutes for them to befriend you. You ask them to sing, and they will sing the best folk songs. You ask them to dance, and the little girls will dance in perfect rhythm. The pure positive energy they radiate, the enthusiasm and liveliness in their every single movement is bound to enrapture you. Belonging to scientific fraternity we usually take classes in Maths, Physics and Chemistry. Help is also given in improving their English and Hindi communication skills. Of late, few family members of the current volunteers have also joined the group in giving support in subjects like Biology and Humanities and thus filling the gap. The idea is not just to follow the school syllabus, but to improve the basics of the children and make them strong in concepts.
The satisfaction you feel when the little ones complete a sentence in English, or solve a problem in math is immense. When you are leaving after the classes they will definitely ask if you will back next week. The innocent smiling faces of the kids when they know there is someone out there who cares about them and will come back for them is just priceless. And while returning I realize that any other plan would have been so worthless in front of those happy faces.
Another attraction to Vinoba Niketan visits is trekking the Chittippararock quite near to it. Lush greenery, breathtaking view and sheer calm await the climber at its peak. More than once have we taken respite from the city buzz by climbing the rock and relaxing at top.
Vinoba Niketan takes care of education only till class 12th. We came to know that many girls are forced to get married after that because of no further support. There are ARPAN volunteers who are sponsoring children going for higher studies after completing their 12th from here and we have also been trying to get more individual sponsoring for meritorious students.

Dear reader, who had the patience to read to this line, this is for you. Man, money, and material – we graciously welcome all three for our future activities. Like I mentioned above, there is a greater need for volunteers who can take classes in non-science subjects. Most importantly we welcome ideas from those who already have experience in educational activities to implement next year. Your contributions may become the reason why a little girl's dreams became true. So if there is some way you think you can better the life of a bunch of kids, then kindly contact: Krishna G N, VSSC,