Published: 10th August 2020
This B'luru NGO is helping millions of at-risk kids Dream a Dream. Here's how
The Bengaluru-based organisation started in 1999 and a decade into the process, they realised that the kids need a mentor, an adult to look up to
You may call Vishal Talreja a dreamer but he was definitely not the only one. The John Lennon references aside, when Vishal decided to work towards helping at-risk kids 20 years back it was an inspired idea from the time he spent with children in institutional care systems as a volunteer. Now he runs a non-profit organisation — Dream a Dream Foundation — with his wife Suchetha Bhat, which helps millions of children from vulnerable backgrounds develop life skills using art as a medium. Their latest campaign — #WhatIf — to rethink education, has also gained global popularity.
The Bengaluru-based organisation started in 1999 and a decade into the process, they realised that the kids need a mentor, an adult to look up to. "One key element that creates a transformative experience in a child's life and acts as a stable influence is the presence of a caring empathetic adults. These kids had no one. We, thus decide to get teachers, community workers and volunteers involved and started a programme called the teacher development programme which has got 10,000 teachers involved across India now. From 2016, we also started working with state governments to integrate life skill approaches and teacher training in the public education system. This has helped us reach three million children in seven states across India," said Vishal whose motive to work harder comes from those of his students or trainee who pass out and build a good life for themselves and even come back to help.
Dream a Dream has four flagship projects — the After School Life Skills Programme, Career Connect, Teacher Development and Volunteer Engagement. While the After School programme uses sports and arts as a medium to develop life skills in kids, Career Connect helps children from the age of 14 years to 19 make the most of adulthood with training in communication skills, money management, career guidance and provide access to internships, scholarships, vocational training and jobs. The foundation has also been the anchor non-profit for the Delhi Government's Happiness Curriculum launched a couple of years ago. "It was the first time that the school calendar was changed to incorporate a life skill-based education inside the regular school day of a child. Around 18,000 teachers were involved and we trained the entire cadre of happiness coordinators in Delhi," said Suchetha, the CEO of the foundation. Suchetha joined the organisation in 2010 after living the corporate life for nine years. "I was volunteering when I started mentoring a girl in her 10th grade and we built a connection for over a year. Then she failed her boards and dropped out. She started working as a parking attendant at a mall and then eventually ran away from home. I still don't know where she is. This made me realise how misplaced our notions of success were," she added.
The COVID-19 had taken every one of us by surprise and lives came to a standstill — all at once. But the Dream a Dream team bounced back soon and came up with the #WhatIf campaign. "We saw, in between the relief work and reacting to the crisis that content was going online at a speed like never before and everything was about quick fixes. The crisis was not just health and finance but everything around us — from anxiety over COVID-19, misinformation and gender impact along with the learning loss. The idea behind the #WhatIf campaign was to use the crisis as an opportunity to take a pause and use this time to truly reimagine the system so that we are not giving knee-jerk responses to our children but truly operating compassionately and reimagining the future of education in general and in particular for those from the marginalised communities," said Suchetha. The call to reimagine the response and offer a more equitable way forward for children has gone global with 20 organisation from Turkey and Latin American countries joining in.
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