Why do we study hard, chase a fancy degree and go out of our way to get a boost to our resume? All for a decent job and a settled life.
While some of us are fortunate enough to get the desired educational qualifications, there are some less privileged ones who are forced to drop out of schools due to various personal and financial restrictions. India has a high dropout rate of 40 percent at the elementary level. (Source)
So, what happens after these children drop out of the school? Either they continue to live their lives in poverty like their families, or they get some job which can barely provide them their daily bread and butter. In this competitive world, where even getting a 99 percent score in your examinations cannot guarantee a good job, these children are already out of the race.
While many people would just ignore these hard facts and go ahead with their lives, this team of IT professionals decided to take the matter in their hands and bring a change in the situation.
What started as a CSR activity in a corporate company soon became a movement that empowered hundreds of school dropouts and helped them get decent jobs. This team moves from place to place training school dropouts, and has managed to place over 450 students in various sectors including retail, BPOs etc.
“It all started when the concept was launched by our company as a CSR activity, but after the company went public they discontinued the project. But, I and some other colleagues of mine wanted to take the initiative forward so five of us got together and started this initiative called Lifedream,” says Tharun Kumar, one of the trustees of Lifedream.
What do they do?
Lifedream’s mission is to address the needs of youth and empower them to get suitable jobs. They approach the youth aged between 18-28 years who belong to low income groups, have inadequate skills, family indebtedness, irregular employment and other such restrictions.
They teach English, computer skills, environmental care, communication skills and other basic things to the students. All this is done free of cost. They approach them through brochures, pamphlets and advertisements.
They start the training with bonding sessions with both the teachers and the students as these people are not team players and they haven’t worked or studied in such an environment before.
“We start by teaching them to work with the team and bond with each other because once they are placed they’ll have to work with the entire team and follow the supervisor,” says Tharun.
After completion of a three months’ long training, these students are placed at various organizations according to their skills. Lifedream has recorded 85 percent placements but sooner or later every student gets placed.
Lifedream focuses on women empowerment, hence they have a 9:1 girl-to-boy ratio in the classroom. Currently the team is working towards empowerment and training of Muslim women in Nagwada.
How does the model work?
Lifedream follows a lean model which means optimizing the available resources without spending money on them. They call it a “win-win” ecosystem where schools give space for free, volunteers give their time and skills, friends give their used computers and move their current charity payments to Lifedream.
They get free advertising and website design from Sunflower Sutra, legal advice from IndusGD, environment training from various environment consulting firms including Paradigm, Clean n Green and K.P. Plastics. They get constant help and guidance from various IIM Bangalore professors and many social workers have joined the cause just to spread awareness and strengthen the initiative.
They start in a place by distributing pamphlets door-to-door, doing word-of-mouth publicity with the help of rickshaw drivers, maids etc. Their full time teachers then screen the candidates. The students are selected after a few rounds of interviews with the candidates and their parents.
The applicant has to be minimum 8th pass and at least 18 years of age. The focus is on girl students and every batch has 90 percent female students. The classes start with fun games and activities to engage the students. By the end of three months, majority of the students get placed in various BPOs and the retail sector.
“We aspire to reach out to 1 million students. We call it Ullalu, which is a metaphor based on the the village where we started,” Tharun says.
Lifedream has managed to successfully place 450 students so far. They conduct social audits after three weeks of placement of the students where they check the progress and efficiency of the students.
They also check the family’s economic progress before the course and after two months of employment. The organization also helps these students to enhance their self confidence. The course is free but the students are asked to address the environmental issues in and around their locality. They are also asked to engage 5 other people in solving the environmental problems. The team calls it the “Environmental Gurudakshina“.
“I was shocked to learn that some of the students came into the Life Dream program with low self-confidence. Today, they have blossomed into outgoing and determined young adults, ready to take on the world! I left feeling energized by the positivity in these young adults. I was so thrilled to be able to meet this remarkable group of people,” says Karen Moxley, a visitor to Ullalu.
“The biggest challenge was to convince the drop outs, especially females. We had to go to their houses and convince the families,” Tharun says.
Another issue was to generate team spirit among students as they aren’t used to working in a group. “Apart from this, getting the right volunteers, managing the FREE ecosystem, fund raising, etc. are some of the challenges that we constantly have to deal with,” says Tharun.
“The biggest lesson that I have learnt is that there is no greater joy than the joy of helping others. You don’t have to go out of your way to bring a change. You can do small things and you never know how that small step will be converted into a big movement,” Tharun says.
How you can help Lifedream?
You can be a volunteer and help them expand their trainings to other areas. You can give out space for their classes, donate them your old computers, some money or just simply spread the word about the organization.
You can visit their website for more details.
You can also go and meet the team at Lifedream Foundation Trust, 53/2, Laughing Waters, Ramagondanahalli, Bangalore.