Bringing change....one child at a time
It all started when Shivoo Koteshwar and Smitha Hemmigae met at IIM-Bengaluru’s alumni leadership conclave in 2015.“The conclave had a panel discussion with tech czars Azim Premji and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw. They spoke about the culture of philanthropy in India and the significance of individual contributions. When we were introduced to each other, we discovered that we shared quite a few common views. Both of us were of the opinion that a lot of people who happen to be involved in giving back to their communities do not get the recognition they deserve. So, we decided to launch a platform to write about such unsung personalities and shed light on their social work,” they recall.In Jan 2016, the duo floated a website ‘Your Philanthropy Story’ to celebrate philanthropic heroes. A few months later, this collaboration led to the formation of Belakoo Trust when Shivoo visited his farmland at Hangrapura and found that children in the village did not have access to basic educational opportunities.Shivoo and Smitha set out to research enablement programs in this field and found that the alumni of The Parikrama Humanity Foundation, Bangalore, regularly came back to interact with and inspire the current students. The model was hugely successful because it not only helped children relate better to their learning experiences but also inspired them and gave them hope for a better future when they saw first hand, their seniors from similar backgrounds as them, do so well in life. This understanding led Shivoo and Smitha to conceptualize the idea of building a supplemental education center to address the issues in Hangrapura. Shivoo’s farmland seemed like the most convenient place. The duo pooled in Rs.80lakh from their personal savings to construct the center. With the infrastructure in place, the two then mobilized a group of volunteer teachers with the same values and commitment levels who could connect with the kids in their local language and motivate them.Thus began Belakoo Trust and the first class was held on July 30, 2017 in the name of Srinivasan Spoken English Class with an overwhelming attendance of 35 students. The journey had begun! Three years and 53 classes later, the current student count stands at 108 with every class being sponsored by some of our very generous and like-minded partners and donors.
Breaking into any ecosystem disrupts it’s natural way of functioning. It was no different in the small, quaint village of Hangrapura. A bunch of young city-folk wanting to engage with children did raise a lot of eyebrows.“Gaining trust – of the children and their parents – was most important for us as we were in this with a long-term vision,” – says Shivoo.The first two classes had children in great attendance. Interestingly, the third class saw ZERO attendance from the students. Upon speaking to some children, members of Belakoo Trust learned that the village council had reservations about the intention of the “classes” being conducted. Shivoo and Smitha realized that the first step in making Belakoo sustainable was to earn the trust of the entire village. They laid down in front of the village council and the parents their blueprint of what they saw Belakoo Trust to be.“Transparency is absolutely key. Turned out that the village had an excellent PTA system in place. We invited four parents to visit the classes we were conducting. They were able to see first hand, our practices, our methodology and our volunteers. Over the next couple of classes they realized how the children were benefiting from this approach to teaching. There has been no looking back after that” – reminisces Smitha.