As a part of an empowering initiative in Vellore, a group of girls from underprivileged backgrounds, some of whom are orphans, started their own crowdfunding pages to raise money for college education. The girls live in a children’s home, have given their Class 12 exams, and are confident about starting the next chapters of their lives with a sense of dignity and ownership.
The Hope House, a children’s home in Tamil Nadu has been helping underprivileged girls pursue and complete their education since 2005.
Started by three non-resident Indians, Ruby Nakka, Manoah Mohanraj and Thomas Mathew, it is a registered charitable trust. They grant admission to girls from weak financial backgrounds – either orphans or those with guardians who are unable to look after them. These students then live at Hope House, are admitted into government schools, receive tuitions, participate in other informal lessons, are admitted in colleges, and finally move out after they are 18 years old and are capable of gaining employment.
As a part of its Educational Assistance Programme, Hope House also funds the girls’ college education after helping them decide what they want to study. But recently, the model behind the programme changed to something that is now helping them in more ways than one:
“All these years, we have been paying these children for their college admissions. And it was going fine, but I somehow developed this uncomfortable feeling that children always look up to me as someone who doles out money. They were lacking the sense of dignity and did not look at themselves as worthy individuals. I wanted to change that. I wanted to do something so that they would take pride in going to college and taking care of their own expenses. That was when I came up with the idea of a platform where the students would raise money for their education,” says Ruby.
After finishing Class 10, children of Hope House join a leadership development programme in which they learn how to use computers and the Internet. “Many friends and well wishers come to visit us. They meet the girls, become friends with them, exchange email IDs and this way the girls tend to develop a network of friends over the two years after Class 10,” says Ruby. So he launched a common website in partnership with GiveIndia, a fundraising platform. The website has links to the crowdfunding pages of six students who were told to raise money with the help of their network of friends. Ruby named the it the College Education Challenge.
While they were unsure about it at first, the students gained confidence after donations started coming in.
Ruby’s only role in the process was to set up the page and guide the girls. They decided the content for their respective pages themselves, approved the final write-ups, and wrote emails to their friends and well-wishers. Ruby also introduced them to Facebook, which helped in networking.
Between June 1 and July 31, the girls raised Rs. 3,35,753 through their online pages, and Rs. 1,43,770 through offline donations.
“With this fundraising, we learnt to value and respect money, and also to work hard for it. I liked the idea a lot. It has made more responsible,” says Radhika, one of the students at Hope House.
Ruby was living in the US when the thought of relocating back to India struck him. Having spent his childhood in a children’s home from Class 5 till his graduation, Ruby knew how the place had influenced his life. “It was the generosity of people that bought me to where I am today. And it would be unfair of me to not think of such children again when I am in a position to provide,” he says. He moved to India in 2006, Thomas relocated in 2009, and Manoah coordinates from the US. They have a team of 21 people and are working with 23 girls at present. Once the students reach Class 10, they receive counselling about the different fields of education they can take up, like science, engineering, arts, humanities and more. Based on their preferences, the team then guides them with college options, fees, etc.
“Some of these girls come from families where the father is alcoholic, or mother is living with HIV AIDS and they are not able to support their children. Our basic approach here is to think on lines of what I would want in the Hope House, if my child had to live here. And we work with this thought in mind,” concludes Ruby.
Find their crowdfunding pages here.
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