Ms. Devi Nachiappan was a volunteer with Deepam for four years. She did her schooling at Vidya Mandir and then did her Undergrad in Economics at Stella Maris College. She is currently pursuing her MBA at ISB, Hyderabad. At Deepam, she won “The Outstanding Volunteer of the Year” award in 2016.
Like many other volunteers she got 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 was all about.
Here she talks about what happened during her first day in Deepam four years back.
“I was very impressed by the manner in which the organisation and its volunteers worked. The focus was on impact. A number of accomplished people were volunteering, but they did not seem to mind sacrificing several hours of their time. The impact of these established a strong connection. I am happy that I got to know such committed people through Deepam. The children are adorable and they get very attached to the volunteers.”
We ask her about handling children in the centers and she narrates this interesting incident.
“On the first day, I was taken aback by the technical Tamil the children spoke. I am a Chennaite myself and I speak good Tamil, but this once when I heard a kid say mukkonam, I was like where did that come from? The children had to draw it out and then it hit me that the kid meant a triangle. Initially I was a little nervous about teaching but the system and the volunteers around ensure that you settle in without any issues. Gradually, I realised that Deepam gave its volunteers sufficient power to bring about relevant changes in teaching methods, curriculum, etc. Responsibilities also increased over the four years that I volunteered with Deepam. You are very accountable even to the children. You need to be prepared to answer a series of questions from them – academically and personally.”
“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 Deepam impact. Usually people who start volunteering get 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 center as a part of my schedule. It is the same with everyone. It’s not just me. That’s the kind of connect the volunteers have with the children.”
Then we talk about how she took over the responsibility of starting a new center.
“After years of volunteering, we realized that the Alwarpet center had plenty of volunteers. We also noticed that the population in the Tamil medium schools was shrinking which in a way was a good problem to solve. So, we decided rather than just impacting a few children with so many volunteers, we can expand and bring more children into this net. That is how the T Nagar Center (MCN Primary School) was started.”
“Tell me about a peak experience/high point in your volunteer position, a time when you felt most active and engaged?”
“Just a few months after we started the MCN center, Abhishek Mundhra and Karthik Padmanabhan who together were the backbone of the center moved out of India. I used to look up to both of them in a big way. Both of them leaving around the same time definitely made it hard. We got a few new volunteers, but they were still figuring out if they wanted to do this at all. It was challenging to not let this turn of events affect the regular functioning of our classes. Normally itself it was very demanding with the children as we had quite a few mischievous kids. Looking back, I am happy that we were able to pull through that part with support from all ends. Of course, both Abhishek and Karthik helped even though they were not physically present. By the same token, if some help was required in the center today, I am sure all three of us would be more than happy to help in whatever way we can.”
She has some interesting anecdotes 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 activities to make it more fun for the children. All the children were cheering for their center volunteers as it was a matter of pride for them. Small things like this really motivate you. You get to know how attached the children are to the volunteers. And that makes a big difference.”
She finally tells us how much she misses Deepam.
“Deepam is something that I benefited immensely from just in terms of the way it inspires you -observing both volunteers and children. It is a gratifying and transformative experience. It is also about 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 and contribute more to the development of the children and the centre.”