This article would give you an idea of how we started DreamIndia and what our initial activities were. This will help people who want to start such activities in their own localities, but are at a loss as to how to carry them out.
The idea of conducting English classes for the slum children occurred in October 2004 and this was the starting point of what is now a mini movement called DreamIndia. Though initially we did not plan to create such a movement, as new ideas came through, the set-up just kept growing.
We spoke to a bunch of children playing in the playground opposite our house. Though apprehensive in the beginning, when we got down to their level and participated in a few games (marbles, cricket etc) with them, their fear subsided. We then enquired about their background, where they studied, where they lived, about the members of their family and other such relevant questions.
The standard of living of these children was below par and so was the quality of education that they received in the government schools. We decided to try and make a difference in their lives. We asked the children, who were studying in the local government school, if they would be interested in learning English during the weekends and we surprised to receive an enthusiastic response. About 15 children enrolled for the classes. But then?we had to find a place to teach these children. Since we were living in a bachelors' accommodation in a flat, we couldn't afford to disturb the people living nearby by holding the classes in our room. So we had to look for alternatives. Our first target was the premises in the school they were studying in, which was just a km away from our place. We approached the teachers one day and spoke to them about our plan seeking permission to conduct the classes in their premises on Saturdays and Sundays. This evoked a negative response from them. They were not at all interested in what we had to say and quoted various reasons, the major one being the need to ask the principal, who was 'away on an official trip' and who will be 'back only after 2 weeks'.
So after this plan fell flat we were on a constant lookout for a suitable place. There was a tuition center in the ground floor of our flat but the owner flatly refused to part with his room.
There was an old temple in the playground opposite our house, and outside it was a vacant piece of land. Luckily for us, the day we went to enquire about that, the owner, who was the secretary of the society we live in, was offering his prayers in the temple. After hearing our plans, he was quite receptive and asked us to give a written request asking for permission to conduct classes there during weekends and that he would discuss the same with the other members of the society and get back to us within a week with a positive result. We were elated. We thought that this deal was as good as over. But a week and a half passed and when there was still no response, a quick call confirmed that things weren't exactly as rosy as we thought they were. Finally the secretary told us that the people in the society didn't approve of the idea - for reasons best known to them.
We were determined not to let another week pass without finding a place for our purpose. We had already purchased books and pens and even a cloth blackboard, not to mention alphabet charts. Luckily a piece of government land caught our eyes and we found out that it had been left in the care of an elderly person. This person understood our cause and had no problems whatsoever in letting us conduct classes in that place. Thus we solved our biggest hurdle in our way - that of finding a land for conducting the classes. After that, what with the high enthusiasm levels of the students, the rest was easy for us.
This article explains how we started with the concept of the weekly newsletter, the challenges we faced, and how we carried on. Initially the newsletter was just newspaper insert. We used to prepare a soft copy, take a printout at office, and take about 200 copies of the same in a nearby shop. This would be circulated in the Sunday's major English dailies. The whole week would be spent searching for material like articles, case studies etc. The editorial would be prepared on Friday or Saturday after considering all of what happened that week. Finally, on Saturdays, a group of us would sit in the office sorting out stuff to be included and filtering out those which weren't considered good enough. It wasn't as easy as we thought. Arguments regarding what have to be included and what were not used to be very heated. Those four hours that we spent every Saturday for about four weeks were absolute fun. We used to discuss a variety of topics right from slum evictions to President Kalam's vision.
Then at around 4 10 p.m, we would take a printout and pass it around to people to proof read. After about three of four rounds of the same we would finally be convinced that there are not anymore (visible) mistakes and then take one final copy. This would then go to the Xerox shop at about 5 p.m. We would almost take a written guarantee from the shop owner that the copies be ready by the night. At 9 pm he would come to our house to deliver the copies. We would then sit down to do the arduous task of sorting them out and stapling them. Five thirty am - The alarm would wake us up. In the first week, we requested the paper walah to insert a copy each in the newspapers. Every day the following week was sent in awaiting feedback to our e-mail box. But the wait proved very futile as not a single mail came. Barring 3 or 4 sms es from close friends, there was virtually no feedback. This was quite a blow to us. 200 copies in the TOI and Indian Express and not a single person could e-mail or even call up and hence we decided to handover the copies personally. So there we were, at 6 a.m, (the weather was quite chilly in early Jan), one each standing in front of the church, near the newspaper stall and in the long stretch where there were a lot of joggers on Sunday mornings. "Excuse me Sir. I'm sure you have a minute with you. We are a group of people working at SEEPZ. We have started this newsletter called DreamIndia2020. Our aim is to sensitize people around us to the poverty and illiteracy around us. We are doing some social work in this locality. And we believe that this dream of India2020 can be achieved only if all of us work together. Hence we have come out with this weekly. Please go through this and give us your feedback. We have phone numbers and an email id too. You can find them here."
Saying so we will point out to the place where they were. Mostly there will be a nod of the head. Some will say "I don't have time." Some, after a patient hearing would ask us to "repeat that in Hindi." Some encouragingly would say that they would get back that very day and that they owed it to the country. But I guess their memories were too short. None of them responded after that. Overall it was a very disappointing but worthwhile experience. Disappointing because we had wasted four whole weekends and about Rs 1500 over the 4 issues and there was not a single response. Worthwhile because we now know what would work?rather what WILL NOT work. After much cajoling the person among us who suggested this activity in the first place, reluctantly agreed to stop the weekly. In the meantime, one of us, Arif, decided to take this weekly on to the Internet where it would have a wider reach. He found www.freehomepage.com and hosted what was our identity for a very long timehttp://dreamindia2020.co.nr or http://dreamindia2020.freehomepage.com. One amazing thing having such a portal was that we could also post photographs on it unlike in the hard copy. Images always speak louder than words. Starting off modestly, we ramped up our efforts on the web as soon as we stopped the hard copies. Features like People Amongst Us, which featured people around us in the society who were struggling in their lives, were an instant hit. We started this so that all of us could relate to these people and have a feel of the kind of life they were leading.
Thus began our long journey called DreamIndia. The newsletter is still going strong. The number of volunteers has increased from three to more than a hundred. You are into our new website. We have a lot more experiences to share, of which you can hear if you want to, by contacting us. Together we are trying to build a new India, a confident nation whose youth is empowered with education and which will, find its rightful lofty place in this world.