July 03, 2012

Children as Agents of Change: one Bangalore Activist’s Vision

8-year olds reviewing vocabulary at Jayanagar School

It is certainly unusual to walk away from a high paying and extremely prestigious job to form an NGO, particularly when you are one of the highest paid female corporate heads in India. Yet, in 1997, that is just what Shukla Bose did. Ms. Bose, known as Shukla, is a former CEO who has set up four high-quality schools for slum children in Bangalore. She and the Parikrma Humanity Foundation specialize in making the undoable the done. From 1974 onwards, Shukla ran a multi-national leisure company in Southeast Asia and India, racking up awards; she was voted Woman of the Year twice as well as Best Woman Entrepreneur. In 1997 Shukla left this high-salaried and prestigious position to work in the non-profit center and then came up with her own strategy to address the dire situation of Bangalore’s poorest children.

Parikrma Humanity Foundation, formed by Shukla and her team in 2000, offers a new future to 1,091 children, served by the four top-notch schools Parikrma has established on the edge of slum areas. The boys and girls, who come from three orphanages and 26 different communities, are chosen without regard to caste, creed or religion, and may not attend unless their parents’ income is less than RS 750 a month.

Shukla Bose

When Shukla decided to create her own school, she drew on earlier connections and quickly assembled a team of professionals. “At that time we literally walked the slums,” she recalls. “I learned the names of 850 children. Each child needs to feel important and known by its name. The kids told me about their locale – whether there was a school, a medical care facility anywhere nearby, et cetera.” The best school, she felt, would offer a secular environment, one in which people felt free and equal. Thus she looked for locations that were not dominated by a single religion, so as to avoid getting tangled up in long-standing tensions. “My dream was of having a crisp white building in the middle of the slum to stand as both an inspirational and aspirational place. However, it was not a realistic goal.  When it is directly in that space, it is generally used for anti-social activities at night; one school security guard cannot keep fourteen hoodlums away and then the news will report that the school grounds are being used for crime and so forth…thereby undermining the whole purpose of the school’s existence.”

Shukla was very driven. In April of 2000, three grades opened on the rooftop of a building, the only place they could locate. Just a few months and many sleepless nights later, Shukla and her team secured a dedicated building, hired and trained a large staff of teachers, and greeted 165 students on the first day of Kormangala School. This kind of timeline is truly an anomaly. Shukla remembers that they “cut through amazing amounts of bureaucracy.” Owing to the generosity of sponsors, Parikrma eventually opened three more schools in Jayanagar, Sahakaranagar, and Yeshwantpur. TNT India Private Limited, Levi Strauss and Company, Yahoo! Employee Fund India, Adobe Systems, and Saraswati Memorial Trust committed funds to ensure the schools’ foundation and ongoing success. While Shukla’s reputation as a results-oriented leader allowed her to attract large donations from company heads, that is not the whole story. Companies invested their money and volunteer hours also because her model was innovative and forward thinking. What was so new? Shukla insisted on building a high-quality school for these underprivileged children. For example, leaders came to events such as Parikrma’s sporting days and found them no different from the grand events of their own young lives. In this way the donors saw themselves in the schoolchildren and felt reassured that their money was providing excellent education rather than a mere crumb of hope.

I have been lucky enough to spend time at all four Parikrma schools, leading English writing workshops with teachers and teaching creative writing to students in classes VI-VIII. The school environment is impressive, and several unique features stand out: 1. the 360-degree development program, offering three meals a day, comprehensive healthcare, and even family healthcare, 2. the 12-day intensive retreat for new teachers to foster assertiveness and leadership capabilities, and 3. the school’s maintenance of an even sex ratio between boys and girls, thereby demonstrating the equal importance of education to both groups. The school will not accept a boy if the girls in the family are not simultaneously sent to school. Shukla’s dedication to a new outcome for a neglected group of people in Bangalore is changing the workforce and giving proof that quality education breaks the cycle of poverty. Speaking with Shukla by phone recently, she stated, “Our philosophy is based on the idea that children are change agents.  It may happen only slowly, but the kids take home the ideas they get, and their smaller siblings learn what behaviors are acceptable and rewarding.” She told me that while their parents may not know what human rights are, let alone women’s rights, they see a new spirit in their children. “42 children have gone on to college now, and some have been accepted in the prestigious National Law School of Bangalore, but the biggest achievement is the paradigm shift they are enacting.” They are the first in their circle to share the joy of learning – not as a means to an end – but as an end in its own right.

1 comment to Children as Agents of Change: one Bangalore Activist’s Vision

  • Hey There Ultraviolet,
    Thanks, on a related note, As most of us are aware that the pathetic conditions, and their lifestyles they are being lead. A slum is a heavily populated urban informal settlement.
    I’ll be back to read more next time
    Kondeti Vijay Satyanand

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