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7 months

17-YO’s Unique Volunteering Model Has Transformed the Lives of 4600 Underprivileged Kids

Gurugram-based Taarush Grover established 'Volanity' to teach music, art and life skills to underprivileged children across Delhi’s NGOs through a unique model of volunteering.

17-YO’s Unique Volunteering Model Has Transformed the Lives of 4600 Underprivileged Kids

Sandeep Diwakar a student at ‘NeeV’ — a learning centre in Gurugram that empowers underprivileged children — thoroughly enjoys his time here. The yoga, sports and English classes conducted at the centre offer him a chance to polish his skills while mingling with like-minded kids.

But the 15-year-old recalls subtle changes he witnessed over the past few months in the curriculum. “We now learn about topics like empathy and self-confidence too,” he shares.

He adds, “I have learnt how to analyse, react and handle situations. My favourite lesson was when we were asked to pinpoint our strengths and weaknesses.” Joining Sandeep is his classmate Priya Singh who shares that she loves the classes on self-awareness.

These sessions are a part of the curriculum on social-emotional learning (SEL) designed by Taarush Grover, a 17-year-old student at Gurugram’s Shri Ram School-Aravali. His initiative ‘Volanity’ launched in 2021 is a step towards structuring the volunteering space in Delhi while also integrating holistic education into it.

Growing up, Taarush was influenced by the whole new world of learning that lay beyond the confines of academics. His grandfather is to thank. As the latter spent a lot of his time teaching kids in Dhatir, Faridabad, Taarush would accompany him, watch and learn.

The topics taught were seldom things you’d find in books. It was here that the Delhi boy’s fondness for life lessons took root. It hasn’t left since that day.

However, it was the pandemic that provoked tangible action.

Taarush has been volunteering at NGOs across Delhi ever since he was ten
Taarush has been volunteering at NGOs across Delhi ever since he was ten, Picture source: Taarush

A way to give back

As Taarush vividly recalls, the virtual learning model brought numerous changes in the education landscape. He would often watch fascinated as his mum, a special-needs educator, took her online classes. But he began noticing gaps.

“What intrigued me was that the kids only had teachers for math, science and English. What about art, music and other curricula?”

The intent to do something for the children was stymied by the fact that he himself was in school. “I felt helpless.” But, wanting to still make a difference, however small, Taarush began volunteering his time at NGOs across the national capital. Here he taught kids arts and crafts.

These experiences served as a springboard for his soon-to-be-launched idea, Volanity.

As Taarush interacted with peer volunteers he was exposed to gaps in the system. “I came to the understanding that the whole volunteering process is very heavy. First, a volunteer must figure out where they wish to give their time, what they wish to teach, and the policies that are in place for them to do so. But even after this, many volunteers do not receive the promised certificates. In most cases, the application process is redundant and the feedback process long drawn.”

“I wanted to get concrete data on why the volunteer conversion rate (the number of students who volunteer as opposed to those who wish to) was so low,” he adds. “So, I spent the next several months speaking to 47 NGO school founders and directors, 117 NGO school students, and 49 university volunteers to understand the issues that plagued the volunteering process.”

He was shocked to conclude that out of 100 high schoolers looking to volunteer, only 14 go ahead with it. Volanity, he hoped, would bring a change in this mindset.

A life beyond academics

The crux of Volanity is a strict policy list. The requirement is to implement a mandatory recording of all volunteer-taught sessions, upload these sessions to a database, ensure the presence of an NGO representative during each volunteer session, and maintain a rigorous feedback system.

There are 250 volunteers who are part of Volanity's network
There are 250 volunteers who are part of Volanity’s network, Picture source: Taarush

Today, 4,600 high school students are being impacted across 18 NGOs across Delhi. These include Harmony House, Saath Saath Foundation, Sanshil Foundation and Pragati Max School.

The energy of the students at these centres is commendable, says Aaradhita Dey (17) who has been teaching dance to the children at Pragati Max School for over a year. “I was able to connect with so many students over Bollywood beats, and it has truly transformed me as a dancer and an empathetic individual.”

The students enjoy learning about topics such as empathy, self confidence, discipline
The students enjoy learning about topics such as empathy, self-confidence, discipline, etc, Picture source: Taarush

Post class, she sometimes gets talking to the children, and these conversations are life-changing, she notes. “They come from underprivileged backgrounds, and it is extremely moving to me how they can channel their energies into such beautiful coordinated dances.”

One of her students Saumya from Class 5 says she has a hard time choosing between dance and art. She loves both. “I love the colour-mixing process in art and have used it to make so many colourful leaf paintings.”

While Taarush celebrated the success of this model, his mind was already brewing with ideas for his next venture. He recognised the importance of equipping children with skills that would shape them into well-rounded individuals, enabling them to succeed in various aspects of life. Thus, the concept of the social-emotional learning division of Volanity was born, aiming to merge the practical and theoretical aspects of education.

However, he understood that he couldn’t solely depend on high school students to lead this division forward. “A certain level of maturity is needed to teach these topics,” he says. This gave him the idea of approaching undergraduate students for the same. And Shoolini University — a private research university in Himachal Pradesh, was more than glad to partner with Volanity.

Dean of Student Welfare, Poonam Nanda has always believed that life skills are extremely critical for the youth. “Millions of us feel bad about the underprivileged not getting adequate attention and education. How many of us do anything about it?” she asks adding that through Taarush’s project, students get an opportunity to interact with these kids and make a genuine effort to support them.

Taarush is a recipient of the Diana Award that recognises the positive contributions by young people
Taarush is a recipient of the Diana Award which recognises the positive contributions of young people, Picture source: Taarush

The initiative has been transformative for the 250 undergraduate students of the university who volunteer their time to teach life skills — ranging from self-awareness, social awareness, and responsible decision-making — to the children. These topics are a part of the 450 questions, 150 case studies, and 50 lectures part of the curriculum.

Each volunteer gets a credit for 14 hours devoted to teaching. These credits are then added to their scores. For Shruti (18), one of the volunteers, these sessions help her learn a lot, even while she imparts knowledge to the kids. “During classes sometimes, the students come up with answers that I wouldn’t have been able to myself. With every session, I am learning a new perspective,” she shares.

The sessions are fun, often giving the students real-life situations where they need to ideate the best possible way of tackling it. Mampi, a Class 9 student, found the last class a lot of fun. “We had to think of ourselves as the character and give our opinion on the different questions. My creativity and thinking skills have improved a lot.”

Meanwhile, Taarush stands proud that Volanity is performing much better than its predecessor models with a higher volunteer conversion rate. “Of course, there is scope for growth. We will get there,” he says.

But everyone who has met the boy, including Dean Poonam says there is a “rare dedication and resilience” that makes him stand out. “If we can replicate the likes of this boy, our nation is in safe hands,” adds the Dean.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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