Students petered out of a row of Churchgate colleges, horsing around in the blazing sun. Like students everywhere, they were pushing ‘n’ shoving each other, using unprintable names that go as endearments these days and crowding at the eat out kiosks opposite the colleges ordering sandwiches, burgers, quaffing down cold drinks and Aarey’s popular Energee drink.
A workshop in progress. Pics/Bipin Kokate
It was a business-as-usual scene outside city colleges, which are now thinning out of students thanks to the summer holidays. On the fifth floor of HR College, it was serious business though. A group of Rotaracters were busy blurring the lines between ‘municipal’ and ‘private’ education through a programme called Echo.
Giving municipal students a voice and a choice
Echo is an arm of an initiative called ‘Bhavishya-yaan’ by the Rotary Club of Bombay the oldest in the city. Bhavishya-yaan has adopted five municipal schools. Through Echo, Rotaracters from HR College were conducting a personality development programme that would help municipal school students blend in with those that had the advantage of private education.
Students engage in confidence-building measures
Two way project
From gender sensitization, where experts spoke to municipal school students, addressed questions and dispelled myths to personality contests that shored up confidence, the personality development programme, going by the name of Echo, was multi-pronged, designed to bring out different strengths amongst the students.
For the students, by the students
Said one of the Echo organizers, Aryaman Shah, “The Echo was basically an attempt to close some gap between public and private school and college students. It was also an attempt to help those from less privileged backgrounds in their social and conversational skills.”
What the HR College students found was that the municipal students had talent and ambition. “What they lacked was a platform to showcase these,” they said. The Echo was formed to provide them with just that.
The learning was a two-way process, though. The students from private institutions and more privileged backgrounds visited the slums at Cuffe Parade, where they got a first hand look at municipal students’ living conditions, and came away learning as much from them as the municipal students learnt from the programme.
It was enlightenment time for HR college Rotaract students. “The difference between our living conditions and theirs (not so privileged) hit us hard,” explained the group of Aashna Patel, Param Gala, Keesha Keshkamat and Riva Shah. The HR Rotaracters added, “It was then that we realized just how fortunate we are.
The cluster of tenements in those slums told their own story. We were taken aback at the challenges they faced with reference to sanitation and water. All the homes had one prized asset, a water container tied to the outside of homes, chained actually, so that nobody could take it away.
We also were surprised that they had to pay Rs 600 a month to use toilet facilities which were quite a distance away from their home,” they explained. It was introspection time for those who take such necessities for granted.
For the municipal school students the big plus was that, “The Rotaracters never spoke ‘down’ to us. We felt we were one, they called us 'bhai' and 'didi'’ and we felt really good,” was the common sentiment.
For Tanu Singh, from Murti Nagar in Cuffe Parade, student of Colaba Municipal School, the overall experience was, “very good and very different from what we do routinely at school. I think I learnt a lot, most of all, earlier I used to be hesitant about speaking out in public, but this was a huge boost to my confidence.”
Tanu is a tenth standard SSC student who wants to become a bank manager (in fact, bank manager was one of the coveted and aspired to professions) in the future. For the rather gung-ho Gopal Giri of Worli Seaface, who studies in the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar school at Jamboree Maidan, “This was for those who are talented in different fields.
It was good that we learnt so much. You know, I felt like I was interacting with my people from home, students were so open and friendly. What we learn inside the classroom is bookish, text book knowledge, but here we truly opened our minds,” said Giri who wanted to be an engineer and was going to do a course in computer software.
For Sandeep H (15) from the same school, it was also the “family atmosphere” that did it “I benefitted immensely, lost my fears and felt ‘ekdum’ free' said Sandeep using Hinglish to emote.
Satyam K from Colaba Municipal Secondary School stated that, “I lost my fears and learnt the value of teamwork. There was a game which we had to play where we were blindfolded. I enjoyed that the most." Most of all, Satyam stated that he was struck by the humility of the private college youngsters.
“I was never made to feel lesser or that they are talking down to me in any way, we were all treated equally,” said Satyam who was inspired by the Bank of Baroda bank manager M K Chary, “He had once given us a speech on the value of education because he also came from humble roots like me and today, see where he is.”
Manjari Shirodkar (15) from G K Marg Municipal School, was philosophical. She said, “You have to make your way in life, make your own path. Life is like a wave, there are swells and there are ebbs and you have to negotiate those,” this is what the workshops taught her.
A game where they were blindfolded and had to go over and underneath tables brought the message home. “Ultimately, we have to make our path alone.” This aspiring teacher also liked a talk which focused on how success would not come to one, but one has to go after success.
The HR College also had a couple of students from municipal schools who were studying there. There was Sunil Panda from Colaba Municipal School, an FYJC, HR College student who wanted to be a Chartered Accountant (CA) eventually. Though he came from a Hindi speaking background he stated, “My English speaking skills have improved here,” and with that, “I have renewed confidence.”
Rashna Cooper and Freyaz Shroff of Rotary Club of Bombay, explained, "This was not a take-take experience, this is one of give ‘n' take. It was designed to bring one out of one’s own ivory tower and see things for what they are. We are also extremely involved with the project, that is why we are here present even as the workshops are on, we are looking at things first-hand."
Anjali M (18) from Colaba Municipal School also a student of HR College said, “I feel good being in this College and I am pursuing my ambition of working in a bank, being a manager one day, with vigour.”
One could almost feel the positive vibes that Echo had brought about. There was that line here, between the more privileged and those that do not have that much materially. Yet, the stars that shone in the municipal students’ eyes were as bright as those who have the advantage of a private education, a wider world view, better language and all the polish that comes with being better off.
It was not the differences but the similarities that struck one the most, though. Young energy, a sense of fun, drive, ambition and talent, zeal and zest. The HR College was a simmering cauldron of those impressive qualities when one put the municipal and private education students together.
The personality development contest was a small but effective initiative of bridging the gap between two classes of society. As for divisions? It had no place here. That is just what is taught in Mathematics class.
The not-so-fortunate have the zeal and zest to do something big in life. Many of the big names that are today worthy of emulation, come from ordinary backgrounds. Every person gets that one big life-changing opportunity.
The Rotaract Club of HR College Echo division held a project in collaboration with The Rotary Club of Bombay. It stemmed from the Rotary's 'Bhavishyayaan' programme. The four-day personality development programme comprised a range of speaker sessions, confidence-building activities and grooming for 50 municipal school students.
The finale gave the students a day in the limelight with ramp walk, being up on stage and battling it out for the title of Mr. and Miss Echo and an opportunity to showcase what they had learnt in the three days at Echo.