Published: 11th August 2021
How this Chennai student's volunteer group has mentored 1500 people and netted him a Diana Award
We speak to Kavin Vendhan D whose work in peer mentorship, counselling and creating young changemakers won him The Diana Award this year. This is how he managed so much at such a young age
It all started when Kavin Vendhan D was a peer educator for his school when he was in eighth grade, in 2016. While he went on to become an avid public speaker and orator too, it was his stint as an educator that eventually led him to launch S.M.I.L.E.Y India. "The idea of peer education really made me think. I wanted to understand what students need and how we could deliver it," says Kavin. And while he started with peer education, he later improvised and expanded it to encompass mental health counselling and discussion forums for the youngsters to exchange ideas. The 17-year-old's efforts were recognised by people as far as the United Kingdom with Kavin becoming one of the winners of The Diana Award this year.
Speaking about how S.M.I.L.E.Y India works, Kavin says, "We want to empower the youth and bring about social development through them. To bring about that, we have developed a strong peer mentorship programme. Students conduct workshops and sessions to help other students learn non-academic skills that are necessary for life. We hope that this can help develop a stronger youth community in the country," says Kavin. Besides non-academic skills, peer mentors are also helping students become changemakers in their own communities.
Kavin was also part of the Ashoka Young Changemakers in 2019
But that's not all. Kavin asks, "Why can't students be involved in social development?" He adds, "Students have fresh ideas, they are innovative and they have ample time. This can really contribute to rapid development but only if their potential is utilised." To help realise this, Kavin launched virtual discussion sessions every Sunday, where students from 25 institutions across Tamil Nadu debate and discuss societal issues. "We want to get non-religious and non-political solutions to these problems from the youngsters. From the National Education Policy to climate change to the Olympic Games, students have engaged in discussions at these forums," says Kavin. He feels that this idea is what led him to win the award as it created a significant impact among the youth.
Considered the most prestigious for people aged 9 to 25, The Diana Award, named after the late Princess of Wales, Diana, is given to youngsters from across 70 countries for their humanitarian and social work since 1999
The most important of these, however, is the peer counselling sessions, feels Kavin. Deeply impacted by the high suicide rates among students, Kavin knew he wanted to do something about it. "We train student counsellors to help other students who need mental health support. Students from across Tamil Nadu can call the number and speak to their peers as they might be apprehensive to reach out to parents, teachers or any other adult. We believe that a student can best understand what another student is going through," says Kavin, who is a student of Bhavan's Rajaji Vidyashram.
S.M.I.L.E.Y India completely works on a volunteer basis and has around 50 volunteers who are all school students. It has managed to reach at least 1,500 people across Tamil Nadu since its launch in 2019. It was in the same year that Kavin's efforts were recognised by the Ashoka Young Changemakers. So, how does he manage his studies? "I just received my Class XII Board exams results. This is not a full-time activity and I would manage time along with my studies. Since everyone involved is school students, S.M.I.L.E.Y India became an after-school activity," says Kavin. While around 20 people from India received The Diana Award this year, Kavin is the sole winner of the award from Tamil Nadu.