This Mumbai NGO empowers children with skills

Amid Covid-19, Salaam Bombay Foundation has trained 3,000 adolescents using technology


Geetanjali Minhas | September 24, 2020 | Mumbai

#philanthropy   #skilling   #education   #Mumbai   #Novel Coronavirus   #Covid-19   #civil society   #Salaam Bombay Foundation  
Chetan Wagh during an online session (Photo courtesy: Salaam Bombay Foundation)
Chetan Wagh during an online session (Photo courtesy: Salaam Bombay Foundation)

When Dharmendra Pandey, a fruit-seller had to leave Mumbai after the imposition of the lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, and return to his village in Uttar Pradesh, he was staring at economic uncertainties ahead. Little did he know that his 16-year-old son, Mahavir, had acquired skills that would come handy for the family to tide over the economic hardships.

When the family reached their newly constructed house in the village, they realized it needed electrical wiring and fixtures done, and the electrician there asked for Rs 20,000 for the job – something they could not have afforded in these times. That was when Mahavir, a student of the Sodawala English Medium School, asked his father to allow him to do the electrical work. He gave the go-ahead, reluctantly. Mahavir then put up switchboards and fans in four rooms and fixed the doorbell. When the proud father spoke to the electric shop owner about his son’s feat, the vendor was surprised and said that he must encourage his son to polish his skills.

"During my 8th and 9th standard vocational training classes in the home appliance course with Salaam Bombay Foundation (SBF), I had already learnt about circuit breakers, fuse boards. I leant how the fuse board trips in case of a short circuit and prevents further damage. At a time when my father lost his source of income, I helped my family save Rs 20,000 because I had learnt the skills,” says Mahavir who is entering Class 10. “If I learn more I will be able to help my family economically and now my father too is keen that I do so.”

His younger brother too has trained under SBF’s mobile repair course and was able to repair their sisters’ mobile phone during the lockdown. With the movement restrictions and social distancing norms in place, the Foundation turned to offering the skilling course online. Mahavir continued to take the online vocational classes, though he had to sit atop the terrace of his village house, as this is the only where he could get internet connectivity.

“For us this is an achievement as when a family is under pressure and children are forced to drop out of school, they get trapped in child labour. Instead, here children have skills, proper part-time jobs, and respect which improves their confidence. More importantly, you have saved one child from dropping out of school,” says Aditi Parikh, vice president, Communication Skills at Schools, SBF that has been working on skills development of adolescents coming from financially challenged homes.   

Chetan Wagh, a student of Sandesh Vidyalaya and Junior College in Vikhroli of Mumbai, who recently cleared the tenth standard, had been part of SBF’s after-school theatre academy, a vocational training programme, since his seventh standard. It was through his mother’s smart phone that Chetan continued his online acting classes from his native village in Jalgaon, where his family migrated during the lockdown. Chetan was guided by his facilitator and coach, Sachin Jadhav who taught him how to download and use apps like Zoom and Google Meet. Initially it was difficult for him to adapt to online lessons, but now Chetan looks forward to receiving weekly calls from his coach to login for workshops and webinars where renowned personalities from Marathi films and theatre give lessons to students. Chetan has also won the first prize in acting. His mother, Dai Wagh, is happy with online training and wants her son to excel in his area of interest.

“The theatre academy has a large number of batches with 20-25 students in each and there are three-four trainers for each batch and we get together with Zoom calls. These online vocational training classes in theatre provide Chetan with life skills development,” says Jadhav.

Rajashree Kadam, vice president, projects (arts and media), SBF, says that children were already familiar with WhatsApp but had to be taught the basics of navigating online sessions, like how to mute the call, how to go on video mode etc. To keep them encouraged and motivated, they had to come back with videos of their own practice. “Online performing arts training is very difficult but we curate our programmes as per children’s aptitude to make learning easy for them and devised our practical training in a compact form for children. Besides the trainers and facilitators, the SBF engages with third-party experts and specialists to give online training,” she says.  

“At the start of the lockdown we knew we had to respond to mental health concerns of children living in crammed 8x10-ft houses with four-five family members. We started with five-minute ‘Happy Minds’ calls to students in Mumbai, Pune and Thane to find out how they were doing and started playing small games over the phone as there was no idea how long the lockdown would go on,” says Gaurav  Arora, vice president, projects (skills  and sports), SBF.
More than 80 facilitators from SBF have so far reached out to over 10,000 students). “As the lockdown kept extending, it became clear that schools were not opening anytime soon. When we wanted to give them digital learning, our survey, ‘Scenario amidst Covid-19: Onground Situations and Possible Solutions’, in April found that about 40%-45% of them had smartphones. It now became a Herculean task to provide the right kind of digital skills training to not only these 45% who had access but also to reach out to the rest. We also came to know that many children were having food issues at home and started to address that,” adds Arora.

It began with pilots projects between April and June through the SBF’s academies of beauty and wellness, mobile and home appliance repair, bakery and confectionary, jewellery and fashion design, media, entertainment, theatre,  sports, robotic and graphic design through which they reached out to 400-450 of their students to find out how comfortably they could connect through Zoom, Microsoft and Google Meet in their home environment and how effectively theoretical learning could be imparted through digital mediums.

“For those who had smartphones without data connectivity as parents were unemployed due to the lockdown and unable to recharge data packs, they were given so they were able to attend 1-2 hour online sessions. We knew that digital training had to translate into application using innovative pedagogy blended with experiential learning and training was aligned for providing a mix of theoretical and practical. As the lockdown started getting severe we started providing students with training kits at home through courier in their native villages so these could be used while attending live sessions or watching the videos,” says Arora.

For those without smartphones, the SBF started reaching out to donors with testimonials and videos of students. Their first donation came from The Rotary Club of Bombay with 160 tablets worth Rs 12.5 lakh which are now being provided to students on rotation basis for three-four months to ensure core training. The tablets also have an inbuilt education app called Diksha developed by the education ministry with class-specific content.

The Foundation has continued with its ongoing online initiatives like conversational English programme through the ‘Enguru’ app and financial literacy programme through ‘Dhangyan’ app. Inspired by watching their children receive training at home, many parents have willingly purchased spare mobile phones for the sole purpose of their training. In some cases online classes have led to the upskilling of parents, siblings and other family members as they too are attending sessions with the adolescents.

Through its Preventive Health Programme specially during Covid-19, the SBF has continued to create online awareness of the ills of tobacco consumption, nutrition, hygiene, importance of physical activity and mental well-being as well as school and community nutrition gardening. Through Zoom, Google and Microsoft platforms, its KHANA (‘knowledge on health and nutrition for adolescents’) project has reached out to more than 13,000-15,000 students from 220 BrihanMumbai municipal corporation (BMC) and government-aided schools. It aims to reach out to 20,000 students by March 2021.

Its other online interventions include a two-day virtual sports quiz competition for over 500 students from municipal and government aided schools of Mumbai at the end of which participating students were given e-certificates. Top 10 students were awarded sports kits based on their respective sport, donated by the family of international volleyball player late Jahangir Shaikh. In mobile photography, the SBF received more than 1,600 photos from children in 16 days and created a photo bank of 351 best photos during this period. In ‘RJ at Home’ students have submitted more than 50 stories, 15 screenplays and other content. Twelve students from the programme got the opportunity to be part of Radio Mirchi’s 98.3 FM, Mirchi Gully Gang initiative, as citizen journalists and 22 articles by them were published in newspapers.

The SBF students are participating in different certificate courses and webinars with industry experts on mobile photography, voice modulation, personality development, storytelling, creative writing, Kathak and other topics, and also get to show their pre-recorded videos of their performances. To uplift the spirits of the patients at the Worli corona quarantine centre, the SBF’s repertory students organized a one-hour pre-recorded video programme. It onground competitions have now been replaced with digital fitness challenges like 50 push-ups, 20 days x 100 skipping and so on. More than 200 children along with their parents were given Zoom sessions on Yoga training along with dance, theatre and voice modulation where in academic year 2020-21 yoga, physical fitness, life skills, assessment and guest lectures will be the SBF’s core strands of sports training. Select students from ninth standard who develop an aptitude in certain skills will be accessing advanced courses in these fields.

The SBF has so far trained more than 3,000 children using online training model since the lockdown through approximately 45 facilitators and trainers. It plans to scale up the programme in other cities and skill 4,000 students during July 2020–March 2021.

“We adapted our modules from in class online and digital module, our facilitators are being continuously trained to deliver online as kids cannot go out. The academies of the SBF are trying to stay relevant during these times with digital vocational training as children in Mumbai are living in tiny spaces and getting frustrated. We are trying to keep them positive and engaged,” says Parekh.

“From the perspective of a delivery model, the programme is not capital intensive. It is asset light and highly portable. The skills development model can be easily replicated and scaled by providing access to those who were earlier left out because of the digital divide. The programme will transform into a hybrid model once the school reopens and we are able to access the school’s space for our training with a percentage of classes being conducted online as well as in the school premises. This will be based on protocol as instructed by the government,” adds Arora.



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