At a slum near the Poonamallee bridge in Chennai underneath the shade of a few trees RAC Chennai Central, RID 3232, has set up a classroom. Every Sunday the place is abuzz with 20 children ardently taking notes and listening to the lessons being taught. “This week they will start learning the names of fruits and vegetables in English, state capitals and addition in math,” says G Keerthi, the club president.
The club, in partnership with Lure for Life, a Chennai-based NGO, has started the Bridge initiative “to improve the learning outcomes of poor and underprivileged children in the slums. These children suffer from disparity and deprivation and are engaged in ragpicking and other menial jobs. Some of them do not go to school regularly and a few are likely to drop out,” says M Lavanya, the club secretary.
Apart from basic education for these children, Rotaractors also conduct special sessions on English speaking, writing and reading, art and craft, exercises and yoga, soft skills, life skills and social awareness.
“We have come a long way from where we started. These kids who don’t want to miss a single class now were once totally uninterested and didn’t even want to be part of this classroom.” Club members had to think of interesting games, rewards, and ideas to keep them engaged. “This is not a regular classroom and there is no compulsion for them to sit here. We had to be on our feet to keep them engaged. It was challenging,” says project chairman S Kokila, adding that “it feels great to see a good number of children showing up regularly for these classes and involve themselves energetically. We can only imagine what they could achieve if they had access to formal schooling.”
The club is also providing them with a basic educational kit and replenishing their pencils and notebooks whenever needed. “We can see the change in their behaviour from the time we started in September 2022. There are no ‘slum kids’ as some people address them. There are only children who happen to live in a slum. They are not different from other children and they learn what you teach them at the same speed a child in a private school would do,” says Kokila.
The club had also organised special programmes for these children on Diwali and Christmas.