Transforming compassion into action: Supporting learning through e-volunteering
In these unprecedented times when life has come to a standstill owing to months of lockdown period in the country, people across diverse social classes are withstanding the worst of the social, emotional, and economic slowdown. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been critical in the country’s overall development as the growth momentum across varied sectors remains halted. One of the worst affected is the education sector, which saw sudden closure of all the educational institutes, thus interrupting the learning journey of millions of children across the country. School going children are undoubtedly the most vulnerable of the lot who are lagging not only in their studies amid physical closure of schools but are restricted to limit their social engagements like meeting their friends, teachers, or simply playing outside in the playground. Seizing this moment of the Covid-19 crisis, Learning Links Foundation turned challenges into an opportunity, as it embraced uncertainty and sought to reach out to their most important stakeholders, the students. To make this goal a reality, Learning Links Foundation teamed up with its partner organization, Hinduja Foundation. Together both the organizations charted a path to a shared future by conceptualizing an idea in the form of ‘iCare: Volunteer From Home’ program. Both the organizations mobilized their resources and talents to develop an inclusive, citizen-driven volunteering program built on the pillars of collaboration and compassion.iCare: Volunteer from Home is a unique initiative that offers an opportunity of volunteering where the citizens are given a chance to contribute to society and make a difference in the lives of those who are less privileged and need our support in these uncertain times. In the face of lockdowns and social distancing, the iCare program ensures the safety of all the volunteers as all the activities are conducted on a ‘volunteer from home’ basis, meaning that the volunteers need not leave their homes for conducting the activities. As far as the beneficiaries are concerned, social distancing norms and hygiene standards are adhered to for every activity session that is conducted in large groups. States covered: Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, TelanganaBeneficiaries: Students (grade 4 to 8 level) and their familiesLanguages used: Hindi, Marathi, Odiya, Kannada, Tamil and TeluguThe iCare program was launched with 11 Hinduja Group Companies getting their employees on-board as volunteers for the iCare journey. Learning Links Foundation carried out all the on-field coordination and implementation of session activities. Learning Links Foundation oriented the volunteers and appointed a support group comprising of volunteering coordinators to provide on-field assistance to the volunteers and ensure the smooth execution of the program.The program was conducted across 8 states in the country with 309 volunteers completing more than 1200 hours of volunteering activities. The volunteers interacted with children from government schools and their families and engaged them in a wide range of activities using technology-based online and offline interactive modes. The volunteers had the flexibility to either choose from conducting live audio/video calls through WhatsApp or share a pre-recorded audio/video of the activity of their choice. A multi-lingual interaction approach was encouraged where the volunteers opted for language preferences that children were most comfortable in. Around 1000+ students were impacted through online interaction mode. Children were engaged in diverse activities that focused on helping them learn subject-based content and build important life skills crucial in these challenging times. Efforts were made to address children’s unique needs while building their strengths. Many activities were centred around the theme of Covid-19, which were aimed at generating awareness on preventive measures to be taken during the pandemic. Children were given yoga lessons to motivate them to stay safe, healthy, and fit at home. Also, sessions on story-telling, poetry, communication skills, wellness, and craft kept students interested and gave a boost to their self-esteem and confidence while also nurturing their physical and emotional wellbeing.All the volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure that the beneficiaries were provided a source of engagement and learning during the pandemic lockdown phase. Throughout the iCare journey, the volunteering opportunities proved to be highly satisfying for the employees and incredibly motivating for all the beneficiaries. The contribution of each volunteer has been immensely acknowledged by the children. The parents have expressed gratitude for the sheer enthusiasm shown by the iCare team to support their children’s learning. “I participated in COVID-19 awareness video and Neeranjanmurthy sir from Bharat Financial Inclusion Ltd. told us about the disease and gave information on handwashing, wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing etc. I liked the session very much. It was very informative. I would like to say my thanks to Neeranjanmurthy sir.”Lakshmi, student, grade 7GHS, Tholanawadi, Karnataka “I am grateful for this opportunity. My son is extremely happy and could not stop talking about the session. I want to personally thank each one of the team members for their efforts.”Father of Vinod (student of GUPS Lakhon ka Kheda, Rajasthan)“It was a very satisfying experience for me. I am planning to organize another session, hoping it to be very fruitful for the students.”Anand, volunteerAshok LeylandMore than 90% volunteers have expressed their keenness to pursue volunteering with iCare and if given another opportunity, would like to conduct more activities. This suggests a huge success of this program as it has provided new means of digitally connecting with stakeholders, engaging them in a common cause, and helping them make a positive change in people’s lives. For all the disadvantaged children and their families with limited or no access to technology, the iCare program has indeed become a symbol of hope and joy as their learning journey continues while gaining important life skills to face challenges in these extraordinary times. With the iCare program, the Learning Links Foundation and the Hinduja Foundation endeavours to connect and bring more and more people together who are willing to join the iCare journey and collaborate for a better future. The program offerings include support in terms of digital connect with the children and their families in rural parts of the country, customized content for activities, training sessions to understand grass-root level challenges, and ready at hand committed on-ground support group to ensure guidance at every stage of the program. This program, in all its uniqueness, is sure to guarantee the development of values and commitments while fostering a sense of responsibility and engagement in all the participating stakeholders. For the volunteers, the very act of contribution and giving one’s time and effort is a gesture of immeasurable value and satisfaction. For the students, this program is a source of learning and motivation while developing new knowledge and skills. For the parents and the larger community, it is a sense of relief for them to see their children being active and engaged in productive learning when the schools have shut for an indefinite period.Learning Links Foundation and Hinduja Foundation aspires to bring together and welcome energetic, selfless, and compassionate individuals and groups to join them on this beautiful journey and make this program a greater success.