Students in India unite to strengthen marginalized communities
By Ivin Roby Paul & Meljo Thomas Karakunnel
Bringing together CHRIST University students of various backgrounds and faculties, the "Together We Can" movement promoted by the Centre for Social Action (CSA) believes uniting and involving young people offers an ideal way to sensitize them to the needs of their fellow citizens, especially the poor and marginalized. With the goal of building a more humane and just society, the students participate in community development projects for marginalized communities that address issues related to child rights, socio-economic development of women, youths and farmers, livelihood, and community mobilization.
Helping make lasting change
CSA promotes volunteerism and students who choose to volunteer contribute to be a part of something that creates sustainable change in society as responsible citizens. To realise this, the Centre undertakes various community development initiatives like setting up Self-Help Groups for Women, Child Sponsorship Programme for Education, supporting continuing education, sensitization on environmental issues, early-children care centres and many more. These activities are carried out in collaboration with the United Nations as well as the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan and Social Entrepreneurship Swachata Rural Engagement Cell initiatives of the Government of India. The Centre also conducts exchange programmes with International Universities from the Netherlands, Norway, Hong Kong, Germany and Switzerland and six other institutions in India.
Providing pandemic survival kits
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CSA got involved in multiple relief activities. Distribution of 1,030 survival kits, benefitting 4,500 people in 3 urban slums and 81 villages in Chhattisgarh and Karnataka states. Apart from this, 5,000 masks were distributed in Kainakary, Alleppey district, Kerala, with the support of the local government. The Centre also supplied food to 500 families through ASVAS, an NGO that trains the differently abled. The CSA field facilitators in the villages extended support to local self-government systems like Municipal Corporations, Primary Health Centres, and other local self government bodies by creating awareness about COVID-19 and related relief work.
Help to young in rural areas
Children in the rural areas are the major beneficiaries of the initiatives of CSA. Child-focused community development projects like Pragathi, Unnathi Self Help Group Approach (SHA), Micro-Enterprise and Educational Programme for women and children are some of the initiatives. ‘My husband, a skilled worker, was not in a position to buy some tools to use for his work. Through the Self Help Group, I was able to apply and be recommended for a livelihood loan from the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) displacement project. My husband is now able to take on more work and earn more income for the family. I am very happy for the Financial Assistance provided,’ - Sindhu,* (a beneficiary in the CSA project area).
Growing through work and play
The Activity Centre conducts programmes, under various projects, for the children such as career guidance, skill enhancement workshops, city exposure, sports day and carnival nights. The city exposure programme consists of visits to well-known places in Bangalore city and an understanding of its history and culture. Carnivals and Sports days help to promote the artistic and talents of each child through different competitions and activities conducted by student volunteers. From exploring their abilities on the sports field through track and field events, to tapping into their creativity on paper through painting and art, to exhibiting their potential on stage through dance, theatre and music, the children get opportunities they never knew they could receive in their home environment.
Creatively raising awareness
For creating awareness among the general public on various social issues like child marriage, menstrual hygiene, gender equality, financial literacy, caste discrimination etc. the student volunteers script and perform street plays in different locaclities in the city, college campuses and in the villages under the banner of Drishti, the theatre wing. The volunteers are first sensitised about these issues through extensive research before they begin working on a script.. “Interacting with children in project areas is a surreal experience. When we perform there, the children look up to us with so much respect and affection, and at the same time, you become so aware of your own privilege. CSA changes you as a person, your outlook on life changes,” says Akshay*, the student head of Drishti.
Support and sustainability
The flagship Child Sponsorship Programme helps the University student community to sponsor the educational and developmental needs of a child from any of the CSA Projects for Rs. 4000 (approx. $50) per year. The programme started in 1999, by sponsoring 50 children from the slums of Bengaluru city with the objective to create a sense of responsibility to society among the student community. Currently, the programme is spread across 3 different slum areas in the city, catering to the needs of more than 800 children annually.
The children are also provided a chance to stay and learn at the CHRIST University campus for a brief period. The impact of the programme is reflected in the words of Pavithra,* a seventh grade student, “I have been sponsored for the last six years. I appreciate visiting the Centre because the teachers and volunteers make learning fun and sensible to me. Benefits including school fees, tiffin boxes, books, shoes, and bags have been given to me. My English speaking ability has improved, and I no longer experience stage fright. I am more confident to participate in cultural activities now. I'm grateful to CSA for giving me this wonderful chance to change not just my attitude but also my behaviour.”
Helping God-given talents flourish
Each individual has been given certain talents by God. How they use these talents for the betterment of society is what the Lord mandates. “With the many gifts we are blessed with, we must work to build others, alongside ourselves and use them for the will of God. Through the work we do, we must seek to better the lives of others who are in need. CSA helps me to utilize my talents for this mission,” Mahesh*, a student volunteer observes.
*Names changed to protect identity, under CSA guidelines.