|A happy picture of Devi with her center kids.|
Ms. Devi Nachiappan was a volunteer in Deepam for four years. She did her schooling at Vidya Mandir, Chennai and then did her Undergrad in Economics at Stella Maris, Chennai. She is currently pursuing her MBA at ISB, Hyderabad. At Deepam, she won “The outstanding volunteer of the year” award in 2016.
Like everyone she came to know about Deepam through word of mouth. After reading an article about Deepam, she decided to visit one of the centres to see what it is all about.
Here she talks about what happened during her first day in Deepam four years back.
“I was very impressed by the way the organisation was and how the volunteers were and how it was so much about the impact and not making a big deal about doing such social things. The one thing I saw is that people were very simple. A lot of accomplished people were volunteering, but they didn’t make a big deal about sacrificing few hours of their time, these things somehow made a strong connection and I am happy that I got to know this network of people through Deepam. The children are adorable and they get much attached. That was the impact I had on the first day.”
We ask her about handling children in the centers and she narrates this interesting incident.
“I was taken aback by the hardcore Tamil the children spoke. I am a Chennaite myself and I speak good Tamil, but this one time when I heard a kid say “mukkonam”, I was like where did that come from? Then the children had to draw it out to make me understand and then it hit me that the kid meant triangle. So, initially I was a little nervous about teaching them but I started volunteering regularly. Slowly I saw the responsibility was also huge as they saw you being a regular volunteer and that is how it all began. And I have been a volunteer for 4 years in Deepam now.”
“Though you are currently busy with your MBA and not in Chennai, it’s clear that you are still in touch with Deepam and you are trying your best to contribute. How do you manage to do this?”
“That is the thing about Deepam. Usually people who start volunteering are really committed to the cause. You can’t see people just quitting for no reason. Even now when I come to Chennai I make it a point to include visiting the centers as a part of my schedule. It is the same with everyone. It’s not just me. That’s the kind of connect we have with the children and the volunteers. Once a janitress who was working in the school wanted to know why I didn’t come the other day. You are very accountable even to the children. They will want to know if you are sick, why you are sick and why didn’t you go to the doctor and all.”
Then we talk about how she took over the responsibility of starting a new center.
“After years of volunteering what happened was that we realized that Alwarpet center had a lot of volunteers. We also noticed that the population in the Tamil medium schools was shrinking which was a good thing actually. So, we decided rather than just impacting a few children with so many volunteers we can expand it a little bit. That is how MCN center started.”
“Tell me about a peak experience/high point in your volunteer position, a time when you felt most active and engaged?”
“At one point what happened was that the two people, Abishek Mundra and Karthik Padmanaban who used to volunteer solidly with the center and sort of be the backbones of the center moved out of India, around the same time just after we started the MCN center. I used to look up to them in a big way. Them leaving was the very hard part for us. We got a few new volunteers, but they were not regular as they were still sort of figuring out if they wanted to do this. It was very hard to ensure if the classes were regularly going on. Normally it was very crazy with the children as they were all super naughty. Of course, both of them helped a lot even when they were not physically present. Even today if something were to happen in the center all three of us are a part of the whatsapp group where we have discussions and we are still part of the center in that way. I am happy that we were able to pull through that part somehow.”
She has some adorable short stories for us.
“On the sports day I remember we volunteers had to do the lemon and spoon race. The sports day was meant for the children, but the volunteers were also made to do a few funny things. We were organizing the event and suddenly we were asked to participate in the race. All the children were cheering for their center volunteers. It was almost like a matter of pride for them. Small things like this really motivate you a lot. You get to know that the children are very much attached to you. And that makes a big difference.”
She finally tells us how much she misses Deepam.
“Deepam is something that I benefited a lot from just in terms of learning the way it inspires you seeing the volunteers and the children. All of that helps you in a big way more than you could ever contribute to the children. And it is also very enjoyable. The children you will get very attached to and a group of volunteers you will love working with. I feel bad for not being able to be there.”