Sunday, April 19, 2009

AIM for Seva Home brings the best out of these students!

This is an article published in "The Hindu"
Sruthi Krishnan
It provides holistic education to the needy free of cost

BRIDGING THE GAP: Students at the Swami Dayananda AIM for Seva Students Home at Kadalur in Kancheepuram district.

CHENNAI: At the sound of a shrill whistle 22 pairs of feet scamper to stand in four lines. With the short burst of the next whistle, the children lay flat on their backs. After what seemed like three seconds of relaxation, the next beep sees legs lifted off the ground forming a sharp L-shape. The legs stand poised in the air, waiting for the next call, which lets them relax again.

“It is called Sarvangasan,” explains N. Bhupalan. At 6 a.m. everyday, this is one of the yogic exercises performed by children at the Swami Dayananda AIM for Seva Students’ Home in Kadalur village in Kancheepuram district. Bhupalan studies in the ninth standard in a school eight km away from the hostel. He goes there in a van with other children.

Two years ago, his life was quite different. Bhupalan hails from a family of nine at Palaverkadu. His father is a fisherman. “I used to keep roaming and whenever we felt like, my friends and I used to run away to the seashore,” he recalls. When his mother found out about the hostel where facilities were provided free of cost, she decided to send him there.

Hopes kindled
“I cried for a month or so, because I wanted to go back,” says Bhupalan. “But then I began to like it here. They counsel me, teach me yoga and also teach me how to pronounce English properly.” He is sure he will become the Collector of Kancheepuram district. “I’ll make sure all children come to the Home.”

It is the routine and the discipline of the hostel that he likes the most. Bhupalan’s day starts at 5.30 a.m. and is filled with studies, play and school. Nutritious meals, three times a day, yoga and extra-curricular activities such as sports and music are a daily feature. It is a far cry from the life he was used to.
Other children in the Home have similar stories to tell. They say that they would have dropped out of school and started working in the unorganised sector if they had not come to the Home.

The high drop-out rate, almost 60 per cent in tribal and rural areas, prompted Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a Vedanta scholar, to start the All India Movement for Seva (AIM for Seva), says Sheela Balaji, secretary of the organisation. “Children were not going to school for a lot of reasons. The question was how we could help these children.”

Gains in popularity
By setting up the Student Homes near schools, the organisation found a way. It was difficult convincing parents to send their children to the Homes at first, says Ms. Balaji. “They were concerned about safety.” Slowly and steadily, seeing the transformation in children, the parents were convinced. From basic hygiene to academics and value education, the children were provided a holistic education free of cost. Today, parents approach the organisation to enrol their wards.
Starting with a Student Home in 2001, today AIM For Seva runs 60 such Homes in 14 states across the country. In addition, the organisation is involved in running schools and healthcare centres. The entire operation is run on voluntary donations, says Ms.Balaji. It costs Rs.1,250 a student per month and so the annual expenses on 3,000 students comes to Rs.4.5 crore. “The local communities also participate, once they know how much it benefits the children.”
The aim of the organisation is to bridge the urban-rural divide, says Ms.Balaji, adding that they own the land on which the Homes are built. “There is a sense of permanence… We are here for the long haul,” she adds.

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