I've recently become quite interested in the non-profit sector's work in combating the crushing poverty here in India. My aunt suggested I check out an old friend of her's school. So my wife and I spent some time with the principal, my aunt's friend, and toured the school. Sikhya is a non-profit school providing a high quality education and nurturing environment exclusively to slum dwellers and other extremely poor children for free.
While the government offers an almost free education, the quality is significantly below that of the education offered at myriad private schools. Many of the government school's are grossly underfunded and mismanaged. There are an amazing number of stories about teachers that never show up to class, standardized test scores that are simply manufactured, or the answers are distributed to the kids by corrupt principals ahead of time so school incompetence cannot be effectively measured. I'll save chatting in more depth about the public schools, as, despite all of this, there has been some improvement the past few years in Punjab, in part due to private money from the west arriving most often in the form of NRI (Non-Resident Indians) money given directly to school projects.
Sikhya strives to match the standards of the elite private schools in the city. Sikhya also provides a nurturing and loving environment for these kids who come from extremely difficult backgrounds. All schoolwork is performed in school; this is because, according to the school teachers I chatted with, it is simply impractical for the kids to do work at home -- most do not have electricity in the slums and many are required to work long hours. Another challenge is abuse; many kids are abused at home, and tragically, there simply is not an effective social service system in India which can help. Despite all these difficulties, it is obvious from the photos below, that the kids are thriving.
The computer labs are quite extensive at Sikhya, complete with broadband Internet connectivity.
When Slumdog Millionaire came out, many friends of mine asked me if the slums are really like that in India. I said, well yeah, in fact, they're even worse. Its tough to convey just how stinking hot it is here on the big screen, not to mention, how stinking stinky it can be. I also hear from friends and family traveling or living here that everyone is corrupt, and there's not much anyone can do. This is patently false, Sikhya school was set up by one man who simply wanted to do some good.
There is no doubt corruption is rampant in India, but it is also true that everywhere you look there are examples of honest, caring locals striving to improve the situation.
We were so inspired with the Sikhya school that we started volunteering a few days a week. Our first assignment was to paint murals. The school is broken into 5 groups, one for each of the basic "elements," which according to eastern philosophy and religions, are the base materials from which the universe is made.
It costs 200 US$ to educate one child for one year at Sikhya. The school can arrange for you to sponsor a specific child, or children, and track their progress through school and life.
My favorite part of working on the murals was meeting the curious kids wandering about.
If you wish to donate to Sikhya school, please drop an email to: email@example.com and mention you are friends of Deep and Ameen. Unfortunately they don't have PayPal set up, but you can either wire money to the school's bank or send some along with a relative visiting India.
Drop me a note if you are interested in setting up a letter writing exchange with students of a particular grade.
Drop me a note if you have any trouble donating or volunteering.