This Woman Quit Her Job so 1000s of Kids Don’t Quit Their Schools – Or Their Dreams

This Woman Quit Her Job so 1000s of Kids Don’t Quit Their Schools – Or Their Dreams

This is the story of thousands of kids studying in government schools in Bengaluru. The first-generation school-goers. The children of migrant and daily wage labourers who were empowered with wings to soar to their dreams, by city-based NGO, Dream School Foundation.

Nusrat was a bright-eyed 15-year-old when she first met Maitreyee, the founder of Dream School Foundation, a Bengaluru-based NGO.

The young girl was one among the many students who had walked up to her, seeking support for her dreams, and Maitreyee fondly remembers how she spoke animatedly about wanting to become a chef.

Nusrat was the oldest amongst her four siblings. Her mother passed away when she was 7, and soon after, her father left them with his aged parents and disappeared from their lives. He would go on to marry for the second time and have a whole other family.

The rejection simmered in the young girl’s heart, but never stopped her from fighting with every challenge life threw at her.

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“Most people who knew her pressured her to become a breadwinner and support the family. But she wanted to study. We wanted to help her,” says Maitreyee.

With DSF’s support, she moved on to complete her B.Com degree. While the cost of doing a hotel management course in a good college was difficult to fund, DSF ensured that the young girl found a mentor in a city-based café owner.

Apart from studying, she also learned the ropes of baking and running a café, while earning additional income through college.

Today Nusrat is one step closer to her dream. While working for a bank and shouldering the financial responsibility of her entire family, she is also saving funds to open her own café in a few years!

This isn’t just Nusrat’s story. This is the story of thousands of kids studying in government schools in Bengaluru. The first-generation school-goers; the children of migrant and daily wage labourers — all of whom were empowered with wings to soar to their dreams, by city-based NGO, Dream School Foundation.

Apart from improving the state of education in government schools, their various programmes over the years have helped transform the lives of more than 10,000 less-privileged kids.

The Better India is getting together with Dream School Foundation to launch #ProjectDreamSchool, a campaign meant to sponsor the education of 32 children associated with DSF and studying in government, semi government-aided and private schools in Bengaluru. Join us in helping raise funds to support the education of these students. Donate here. 

Trading a Successful Career For Social Work

Maitreyee was born and brought up in Pune. After completing her Masters in Computer Science from Pune University in 1988-89, she worked in the IT sector for close to a decade. Despite having a high flying career where she worked with top multinational software development firms in India and abroad, Maitreyee always knew that she wanted to work in the social development sector.

The first chance to pursue this nagging passion came during the extended maternity leave she took after the birth of her first child.

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Founder Maitreyee Kumar

Her desire for social change and interest in child development urged her to volunteer with CRY (Child Rights and You). Her work at the organisation’s resource generation and volunteer management divisions was so impressive that she was offered a full-time post, and she worked with CRY for almost a decade, before quitting in 2004 to kickstart her own NGO, Dream School Foundation.

“During my stint with CRY, I had the incredible opportunity of interacting with kids from various disadvantaged backgrounds, and because of this experience, various realities manifested themselves to me. While the efforts that most NGOs put in to get these kids into the public education system are admirable, many think that their role stops once the kid is enrolled. However, we realised that enrollment was only the first stage. The biggest challenge was to retain them in school. Also, as unfortunate as it is, we witnessed how the quality of education in govt schools was deteriorating and wanted to change that. And so together with some like-minded individuals, we started this transformative journey through DSF.”


Join #ProjectDreamSchool, an initiative by The Better India to sponsor the education of 32 children studying in government, semi government-aided and private schools in Bengaluru. Join us in helping raise funds to support the education of these students.

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Initial stages of DSF

When DSF first began, its focus was clear. They wanted to undertake holistic development for government schools.

The team worked closely with the management of government schools in the city to understand the issues and challenges. From improving enrollment and retention to providing infrastructure support with toilet and classroom construction, they identified problems and executed various solutions.

They also worked primarily to improve the learning levels of the kids by providing teaching aids, capacity building activities, conducting spoken English classes, holding study sessions like fundamentals of math, experiential science etc.

To motivate students even further, they encouraged parents to take an active interest in the progress of the children as well.

“While we understood that most parents who had never gone to school would not be able to help the kids academically, they could create a conducive atmosphere at home and ensure their kid are motivated to stay in school and study well.”

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Happy Faces

Until two years ago, DSF was working on the holistic development of close to 40 schools scattered across their city where their strong volunteer network would take responsibilities of the government schools in their locality.

In the last two years, they have streamlined their processes and expanded their scope of work. They now cater to 20 government schools in three clusters, namely Yeshwanthpur, RT Nagar and Old Airport Road.

“We now work with students end-to-end, right from primary school to getting them to the livelihood stage.”

Some of the programmes that they run to ensure the following are:

Headstart

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Twinkled-eyed kids with big dreams studying in govt schools

“Around 2009, we started witnessing a steady trend in the government schools we worked with. Many of these kids, especially girls, started dropping out of school when the time to make the transition from primary school to high school, i.e., Class 7 to 8 happened. This is a critical time for a student because if they have to continue to study, they need to go through the enrollment process again. A lot of times when parents aren’t motivated about their kids doing well or don’t see the true value of education, they let their children drop out, and these kids, who are between the ages of 11-13 start working with the parents or babysitting their siblings at home.”

This was the time when Maitreyee and her team also realised that one of the core reasons was the lack of influential success stories that came out of government schools. Besides, when parents saw that kids who had graduated from government schools were struggling with employment, they lost hope in education, to change their lives.

“We had parents saying, ‘Teen saal mein kya hi padh lega? Agar kaam nahi mila toh wahi karega woh uska anpad baap karta hai. Waqt kyun barbad karein?’” (How much will he learn in three more years. If he doesn’t find work, he will be just as miserable as his illiterate father and have to work the same job. Why waste time?)

Therefore, the HeadStart programme focuses on the issue of dropouts at the high school stage and works closely with the students and their teachers to ensure that the student continues until Class 10. The programme provides financial assistance, academic coaching and mentoring support to the kids.

“Many times there are kids who are academically bright and want to move to semi government-aided or private schools. But their financial resources are limited. So we help them get into better schools, financially support them and monitor their progress for the next three years until they complete class 10.”

Often, kids who may be doing well in government schools, lag when they make the transition to a private school, due to the advanced levels of learning.

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Helping kids stay in school

“We have had cases where kids lose motivation and self-esteem, can’t cope with their peers. To help them overcome these issues, we handhold them through the process with our educational centres at our education and development centres established at Yashwant Nagar, RT Nagar and Malleshwaram. After school, students spend two hours at these centres. Apart from remedial classes, the centre also focuses on their overall personality growth by providing life skills, communication skills, spoken English, computer education, exposure visits to corporates, and working with volunteers from all walks of life and different ethnicities.”

The mental health of the kids considering their difficult and complex family backgrounds is also given priority. They are counselled, given tips to battle stress, anxiety and develop most positively.

TenPlus

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Kids at Dream School Foundation

“In our first batch, more than 85 per cent kids from the Headstart programme scored a first-class, and when they approached us seeking financial help to go to college, we had to find a way to support them,” says Maitreyee.

And so the Ten Plus programme was started. It is an extension of the HeadStart programme and strives to prioritise the most vulnerable groups like orphans, kids with single parents, kids from broken or complex families, differently-abled kids, among others, and enrols them to higher education streams of their interest.

They undergo aptitude tests to understand their areas of interests, receive scholarships and are given structured high impact academic coaching and mentoring by DSF.

Under their programme LEAP, DSF empowers and equips educated and semi-educated youth with skills to find and sustain employment opportunities.

Today, hundreds of their students are pursuing graduation in different streams. Many of them are pursuing engineering, while 15 of them are studying medicine.

“The most fulfilling experience for us is when the kids get placed in good companies. Their starting salary is what their parents earn in months combined or even annually, and consequently, they are helping their families crawl out of abysmal poverty.”

One such success story is that of Hariharan, their office helper’s son. Right from the time he was in Class 6, he had been visiting DSF’s educational centre. Keen to learn English, he picked up the language at DSF Spoken English Class and eventually started attending advanced study sessions for higher classes.

After clearing Class 10 with flying colours he opted for the science stream. He wanted to pursue medicine, but in Class 12, his scores didn’t make him eligible. DSF encouraged him to pursue engineering instead. But he was adamant about taking a break year and giving the NEET again. At a time, when nobody seemed to back his decision, the youngster worked hard and earned a rank in the entrance exam. He is currently studying in a medical college and will complete his degree next year.

Highlighting the transformational journeys of other kids who study at the educational centre, DSF’s Programme Manager, Meena Shankar says,

“At our centres, each child is different, and their takeaways from the journey here have been different. Most of them have tremendously grown as individuals, others have done well academically, and all of them have found the platform to showcase their potential and talent. This has boosted their confidence. They do not hesitate to ask questions. And going against the grain of rote-learning, their learning is experiential and understanding-based. When we first started working with the kids, we were shocked to find out that kids in Class 8 were struggling with basic concepts taught in primary school like division and multiplication. And as a result, were performing poorly in higher classes. We used various teaching aids and workbooks to strengthen their basic concepts. Now, they are coping well in their current classes. The feedback from parents has also been encouraging.”

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Learning for a bright future

14-year-old Roshan who is studying in Class eight at GKMPS, Matadahalli, Bengaluru is part of DSF’s HeadStart Programme. He has been part of DSF’s various programmes since Class five.

Shedding light on his journey with DSF, he says, “I was only a year old when my father, who worked as a painter, passed away, and my mother abandoned me. I live with my grandparents. My grandmother, who is 63, worked hard as a school helper and domestic help to raise me. DSF has played a very instrumental role in my journey. I struggled with basic Math and also reading and writing in English and Kannada. I may not be an exceptional student, but I have drastically improved thanks to DSF.”

As we near the end of the interview, I ask Roshan about his dreams. “I want to become a collector, and help people like me who struggle with basic needs–food, clothing, shelter, healthcare and education.”

Roshan is one among the 30 kids you can support financially to reach Class 10.


Join #ProjectDreamSchool, an initiative by The Better India to sponsor the education of 32 children studying in government, semi government-aided and private schools in Bengaluru. Join us in helping raise funds to support the education of these students.

Unable to view the above button? Click here


*The names of the minors have been changed to protect their identities

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