Published: 22nd January 2020
How Karthik Pallam is using Telangana's youth for social change through weekend volunteering!
Schools are considered temples of learning and who said they have to look dull? The Hyderabad-based NGO We Can Make A Change not just paints government schools but also renovates them
Imagine this: Walking into a class with dull and dreary classrooms in a school where electricity is scarce, and drinkable water even more so. Could these factors also be a contributor to the dropout rate in government-run schools? Among many other reasons, the lack of facilities most certainly keeps students away from schools.
The very first pothole they filled was near Cyber Towers in HITEC City
Even Karthik Pallam's school days were clouded by problems such as these. No proper chairs to sit on and lack of infrastructure made his days as a student of Government Primary School, Venkatraopet in Rajanna Sircilla district of Telangana inconvenient. "I clearly recall how, during the rainy season, we used to get holidays because our school was just not equipped to deal with rains," rues the 29-year-old. Today, Karthik Pallam is already well-known in the city of Hyderabad, thanks to his NGO We Can Make A Change, which he started in 2017 and registered in 2018. They are known to fill potholes, and they have filled as many as 295 to date with the help of their 400 volunteers. Another major initiative of theirs in the education sector is renovating government schools which was why we reached out to Karthik.
A volunteer at work | (Pic: RVK Rao)
When the saga began
After receiving appreciation for all their work, including repairing bus stops, from KT Rama Rao, better known as KTR, Minister of MA&UD, Industries and IT&C, the young and dynamic District Collector of Rajanna Sircilla district, Devarakonda Krishna Bhaskar suggested that the NGO look into fixing other public spaces as well, like schools. "That's when we thought of taking up a school, renovating it as a proof of concept which the other organisations can draw inspiration from," says Karthik. The very first school they targetted was an Anganwadi school in Jillella village in Rajanna Sircilla district.
Karthik pursued his BTech from Guru Nanak Institute of Technology (GNIT) and has worked in Bengaluru as well
They visited the school to factor in all that they would need to do and were ready to take on the project. "When it comes to painting, we did not simply want to paint the walls, we discussed the designs with the teachers and encouraged them to contribute whatever they can, even water or chairs, so that they feel like contributors. This was also done to build ownership towards the school among them," the youngster who works as a Software Engineer with Deloitte explains. They even consulted with a local artist who guided them through the process — removing and cleaning the first layer of dust and old paint from the walls which took up to four to five hours for each wall, then applying the background colour and over four to five days, painting the walls with different themes. For the Anganwadi school, the walls were adorned with various cartoon characters while for the pre-primary school, themes like the solar system, saving water, traffic rules and different animals were painted on the walls. They also cleaned and set up a proper eating area and decked it with benches and developed a garden too.
Walls painted by the NGO | (Pic: RVK Rao)
They improved the electricity connection, made a water sump and built a boundary wall, and hence, the initiative which was supposed to cost Rs 80,000 went up to Rs 2 lakh because the school started requesting more help. "The funds were gathered from our team that includes lawyers, businessmen and techies. We encourage people to participate in our initiatives two to three times and join us as members. It is only then that we accept donations because our goal is not to increase the number of volunteers, we want to increase volunteer participation," says Karthik and adds, "As a result of our hard work, the collector took 10 Anganwadi schools directly under his wing."
They also spot fix bus stops, taking a leaf out of the book of The Ugly Indian, a Bengaluru-based NGO that beautifies urban spaces
More the merrier
With We Can Make A Change's second project, Mandal Parishad Primary School (MPPS) Gopal Nagar Primary School, they achieved another target. They renovated it and today, the school has 100 per cent attendance. They also renovated MPPS Nehru Nagar Primary School and provided sports kits and notebooks to a government school in Mahbubnagar district. Their latest project is the government school in Chikkadpally, Hyderabad, which they started about two months back. "This one, the volunteers have taken charge completely," says Karthik. They also added doors to washrooms, renovated the bathrooms and painted the walls.
Getting the material ready | (Pic: RVK Rao)
There is a reason why Karthik advocates the cause of teacher involvement in the renovation process. "We want to encourage them to start contributing to the school without waiting for an NGO to help out. They can even contribute by starting meaningful conversations with the students," he says. They themselves, in 2018, conducted sessions on career goals and women's hygiene in Rajanna Sircilla district and grew a Miyawaki forest (a method of afforestation in limited spaces) with 800 trees in the district in a space provided by a polytechnic college. They conduct food drives and are active when it comes to emergency blood donation as well. In the near future, We Can Make A Change wants to take up a government school in Attapur and in the future, intends to guide and mentor other NGOs so that they can also help them in their long term goal — to bring about a change in the society, for the better.
Even if one sets out to do the right thing, they are certainly bound to encounter problems. These are the problems that team We Can Make A Change faced while renovating schools:
- Anganwadi School: They had to take help from local labourers for constructing the boundary walls and they even consulted a professional artist before painting the walls of the school
- MPPS Gopal Nagar Primary School: When they started painting the walls, it started raining heavily which ruined their work. They had to paint all over again
- MPPS Nehru Nagar Primary School: Deciding what to paint took a long time and discussions with team and teachers went on for quite some time
- Government school in Hyderabad: Four professional painters volunteered to paint this school over nine weekends
Travel to contribute
Not just weekend farming, which was encouraged in Mahesh Babu's movie Bharat Ane Nenu, We Can Make A Change is into weekend volunteering. And as most of the schools they have taken up are in Rajanna Sircilla district, Karthik informs us that he encouraged a different batch of six to seven volunteers each time to visit and participate in renovating the school. "I started the NGO because I knew that I alone can't bring about the changes I wanted to see. Hence, I inspired friends to join and slowly, the circle grew. Now, they even travel on weekends to volunteer," explains Karthik
Scenes from the government school in Chikkadpally
For more on them, check out wecanmakeachange.in