Brightening the future for Bangalore's shelter children

Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager
Bangalore, 13 August 2015

For children in shelter homes around India, inequality comes in many forms. They are often poor, vulnerable, and without traditional support systems. Life in the institutions can be challenging, even in the best of circumstances. In a well-run home, only three caregivers may oversee 40 children, leaving little opportunity for individual attention or mentorship. In Bangalore, Make a Difference (MAD) believes that providing role models and better educational opportunities is key to leveling the inequities that would eventually lead these children into lives of poverty. Their solution is simple and unique: find young leaders who can lead them toward a better future.

MAD has been running its program in Bangalore since 2009 and now has five centers for over 600 children with more than 550 volunteers — in just this one city. The organization has also spread to cities big and small throughout the country, exemplifying the massive need for uplifting the most ostracized youth as well as the urge for more privileged young people to make a marked difference. The organization carefully selects and trains its youth leaders, who then teach, conduct awareness-raising activities, or employ mentorship programs.

Rizwan Tayabali, CEO of MAD, believes that the model is one that is replicable beyond India, and that young leaders have "great potential to fundamentally make a difference to outcomes for children on a systemic level."

MAD supports three focused programs, starting with "Ed Support". The program partners "high potential" young people with a class of five students from the institutions to support them in targeted subjects: math, science, and English. The young people not only act as tutors but also as role models near to them in age.

Another program, called "Discover," focuses more on building dreams and aspirations for the at-risk kids by exposing them to new careers, skills, and ideas. The opportunities here are endless but also potentially life-altering. Students may go on field visits or visit professionals in their places of work or in workshops. These are connections that happen naturally in environments where young people are exposed to positive role models, but are much more difficult for children who grow up in different circumstances.

The third program run by MAD solidifies new directions: it focuses on children who are of age to leave the shelter and helps them to map out a career path in sync with their interests. These soon-to-be-graduates get paired with a volunteer — or as MAD calls her/him, a "wingman" — who acts as a guide during the entire process toward living fully on their own.

MAD has shown that the pathway out of poverty doesn't have to be technology-driven or require a massive investment. Often what vulnerable, institutionalized children need is someone to look up to and guide them. They need the inspiration to dream and the confidence to bring those dreams into reality. MAD's mentors provide more than building blocks along the way; they potentially set up a brighter future for thousands and thousands of youth all over India.

Photo credit: Anil kumar B Bhatt

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