Encouraging children in slums to dream big... and finding the resources for it, calls for some corporate wizardry. Parikrma, a Bangalore-based NGO, appears adept at it.

Aditi De

I want to be a soldier. But my father wants me to be a doctor," says 11-year-old Selvakumar in his blue-and-green uniform, as he makes his way to the school fish pond where a blue lotus is in bloom. "When I'm older, I'll know what I really want to be."

The bright-eyed boy has been in school for about two years. His parents are cobblers in a slum. His self-confidence today stems from the fact that he's at one of Bangalore's three Parikrma Humanity Foundation Centres for Learning. Based at Koramangala, Jayanagar and Sahakaranagar, these are based on an e2e or end-to-end pragmatic business model.

Launched in April 2003 as a non-profit NGO, Parikrma attempts to "unleash the potential of underserved children" among the 15 lakh population in Bangalore's 800-plus slums. The city has an estimated 1.1 lakh street children. Parikrma partners with other NGOs in areas of healthcare, nutrition and family care, but its core competency is imparting quality education.

Currently serving two orphanages and 26 slum communities, Parikrma's 305 girls and 315 boys between five and 14 are drawn from households with an average of five people and a monthly income of about Rs 750. Preference is given to orphaned or abandoned children, especially those below six. Girl children are given priority, so are school-age siblings. At Parikrma, there is no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, colour or religion.

"All our children are agents of social change. They will leave our ICSE schools empowered. We'll take them to college or professional courses. We'll place them in jobs. We hope to break poverty cycles and transform communities through these children," explains Parikrma's founder-CEO, Shukla Bose, former Indian managing director of Resort Condominiums International, chosen as the national Woman Entrepreneur for 1995. "We'd like our children to look at their communities with love and respect, yet recognise that this is not necessarily the only way in life."

To begin with, Parikrma has encouraged its children to be unafraid to dream. Today, Manipur-born Zamzei Thouthang, 11, has set his sights on emulating Ronaldo on the football field or becoming a software engineer. Naveen Muniraju, 10, could be a future ecologist, for he insists that all food waste should be consigned to a compost pit. Mohita Gunashekar, 5, would love to write children's stories once she's old enough. Jancy Mary David, 7, hopes to teach English one day.

As for Karthik Selvamani, 10, the Std. 5 student dazzled the Crossword audience during a Parikrma enacted story at a recent book launch. For his fox pundit was both quirky and brilliant. During holidays, he works at a cycle repair shop to earn enough for food. Within a year, he has progressed from introducing himself in English to addressing a group of journalists on Indian unity. His dream? To confirm for himself media reports of life on Mars!

Parikrma marketing head Vivek Raju says, "Our teachers are, in many ways, surrogate parents. They know details about every child in class."

Drawing on their corporate background, the Parikrma business model makes sound sense. On how Levi's agreed to a two-year MoU on the Sahakaranagar centre, Raju says, "We are one of the two social programmes they fund, the larger grantee. Like us, Levi's was interested in the community, youth and women's empowerment. We got them to extend their interest to education. They liked the holistic way we affected a child's life. Besides the school, they now fund development across the 26 Bangalore communities we work with."

UK-based Royal Resorts thought likewise, when it sponsored the Koramangala centre, where the children have rendered their dreams pictorially on the outer walls. Dell pitched in with state-of-the-art computer labs for the Koramangala and Jayanagar schools. The software company, Technology Learning Information, sponsors a classroom, while its staff volunteers time to mentor the children.

Yahoo! is sponsoring another school at Nandini Layout, slated to open next year. Until then, its 39 first-time learners are being schooled at Jayanagar. Sindhoor Pangal, voicing why the Yahoo! Employee Foundation India (YEFI) chose this option, says, "While YEFI has the passion and the means to help, Parikrma has the experience and the expertise to do so. We want to empower these children with the quality of education that will one day make them our co-workers."

To Kalpana Singh, Parikrma's academic head, education is about widening horizons. So, at least Rs 15,000 will be spent on each child annually. Including visits to the theatre and concerts, to museums and scientific centres, even participation in inter-school sports meets. Regular health check-ups and psychological aid are assured. De-addiction of select parents, vocational training for older siblings, and three nutritious meals a day are programmed in.

In October 2003, Parikrma signed an MoU with the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike to help 12 of the corporation's poorest performing schools. After five months of intensive, post-school Class 10 tutorials by retired government teachers, who were set new goals, the pass percentage among 875 students zoomed from nine to 31 per cent. In 2004-05, a similar MoU impacted 4,783 students from Classes 8-10.

Says Raju, "Those who invest in Parikrma are actually investing in a child's future. As a sustainable model, we'd like to create a franchise. ING Vysya has given us a fund with which to market our programme. Last year, at a free concert they sponsored, 7,000 executives attended and over 4,000 committed half a day's salary to us. This year, the funds will allow us to reach 5,000 more. Thus, we're creating a sustainable flow of inputs."

Star TV has offered free screening of two powerful Parikrma shorts, funded by an anonymous donor.

As Shukla points out, "In organisations we think big and long-term. Why can't we do the same in the social sector?"

For more information, visit www.parikrmafoundation.org

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 12, 2005)
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