Informal tuitions by Pune-based couple Medha and Ram Deshpande expanded to take the form of a full-fledged NGO, Akshar Sangeet Foundation, that enables self-reliance through education. A glimpse at the vision and mission of this foundation.
Many things bind Medha and Ram Deshpande together; college times, engineering, the love of teaching, and a passion for music. Alongside their jobs and work experience of over 30 years, both of them share the founding vision of the Akshar Sangeet Foundation.
Medha says, “I was very fond of trees and farming and wanted to own a farmhouse. So we acquired a farmland and built a small house there. The caretaker couple who helped maintain the farm had two children in the third and fifth grades. Both the children were keen to learn more, however, the parents were illiterate. So we started interacting with the children and teaching them. In time, children with similar backgrounds started visiting us on weekends. And within a year, the weekend visits constituted almost 50 children from class 3 to 10.”
The couple took this a step ahead. Says Medha, “We did competency mapping and started collaborating with the regular school of these children to find out key requirements and improvement potential. We started teaching them English, Maths, Value Education and Personality Development.”
These have been the main cornerstones for the last 10 years. The duo aimed at helping children reach their potential. However, during the pandemic, Ram and Medha realised that they needed to go beyond just reaching their potential. So they re-aligned their vision to creating “Self Reliance through Education”.
The pandemic changed it all
Until the Covid pandemic, the weekend classes remained a private affair. Medha tells us, “We were using our own funds as it was manageable on our own. However, we realized that after the 10th standard, we needed to move kids to hostels for professional courses such as nursing, industrial and domestic skill-based training, engineering diploma courses, and software training.
“Ram is passionate about singing. We started conducting various musical shows, making an appeal to support these kids. Ram and his team of musicians give us access to various groups and donors come up and support us. Ram does not expect any remuneration from his musical passion, but to ensure that the quality of the program is professional, we pay minimum charges to some of the artists whose livelihood depends on music. Last year 10 students were totally funded by Akshar Sangeet Foundation. This year the total number is likely to go up to 14,” she says with joy and pride.
The impact is seen at a personal level and also at the performance levels of the students. Medha says, “The students are smarter, better human beings and are keen to do something in their life. Earlier, we had dropouts from school at an early stage. However, now almost all of them are studying post 10th standard and most of them are on the way to becoming self-reliant. Girls are at the forefront of this movement and are being treated as equals to the male children by the parents now.” That in itself, is a huge milestone in the thread of Indian society.
Along with social impact, there is an academic impact too as more students are opting for higher education after grade 10.
Older students are getting exposure and can achieve greater heights than they or their parents ever aspired to. Medha says with a hint of expectation and a knowing smile, “We hope to see many more success stories in the future. This also has a cascading effect on the peers and their relatives from different villages. Potentially, we can further support and share our experiences for many such similar initiatives.
Giving back: financially and otherwise
The Akshar Sangeet Alumni is growing. Many students come back and spend time with younger children. Many others help spread the foundation’s mission. Then there are donations as well.
“As of now, we are allowed to accept donations in Indian Rupees and only from those who have a valid PAN card in India.“ Perhaps you have someone back in India who could donate to spreading self-reliance?
Or perhaps encourage Akshar Sangeet Foundation’s musical shows at various places in India and abroad. For more information, visit www.aksharsangeet.com
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