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The Tao Of Shuffled Addresses

A foundation for underprivileged children brings light into the lives of some brainy little ones

The Tao Of Shuffled Addresses
The Tao Of Shuffled Addresses
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Life has a habit of taking you to places you never thought you’d ever go to. A school, for example—a fine, some may even say elite, school. Or perhaps a home. Different from your real one, located in plusher environs, though without your loving parents. Like it has happened to Rinky. From a crammed slum in Surat to a comfortable home and school in Ahmedabad, Rinky is in destiny’s arms right now. Seven years old, fluent in her diction, topper of her class. Far from securing 97 per cent, most thought she would barely pass her class I exams. She has sprung a surprise. Today, if you ask her, she will recite a flawless Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, perhaps much better than she would a poem in her native tongue, Oriya. Things have changed.

And not only for her. There are 30 other children in this home away from home run by Visamo Kids Foundation, set up by Calorex Foundation, a non-profit trust working in the field of education and human development. Visamo in its original avatar was a temporary shelter that accommodated Ahmedabad’s well-heeled residents after they were rendered homeless by the 2001 earthquake.

The objective is to give intelligent underprivileged children the opportunity to develop their talents. Intelligent is the operative word here. In fact, the kids were chosen by NGOs working for children on the basis of an IQ test the foundation conducted with the help of experts. They are not orphans or homeless. They come from poor families, their parents do menial jobs. Only those children whose parents agree to send them over to the home are considered for admission. And the parents are allowed to visit them only on holidays.

The 30 children at the home are from Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Surendranagar and Sabarkantha. They are not only given all the facilities available to any middle-class family, but also taught basic manners, etiquette and facts about hygiene and sanitation, not to forget the world-conquering dash of personality development.

"Given their modest background, you can imagine how raw they are when they come here. We have to start from scratch," says Visamo administrator Bela Mehta. The children are put through a four-month initiation programme before being admitted to top city schools like dps (yes, it’s not a solely Delhi entity), Eklavya, Anand Niketan, St Kabir and Tulip (Rinky’s alma mater). Besides basic education, the kids are taught computers at the home to ensure they aren’t scared of it at school.

It works. If fluent English is by which you measure it, the confidence of Suresh Dantani, son of a textile mill worker, is amazing. A class IV student at Anand Niketan School, he announces eagerly: "I want to be a colonel when I grow up." When asked to spell colonel, he does it correctly, with ease. Parents who come to visit their children cannot believe their eyes. Or ears. As seven-year-old Pooja snuggles up to him, her visiting father, Ranacharya Tevar, expresses bafflement, excitement, pride, all in a sentence. "I had never thought she would grow up quite like this, angrezi bolti hai (she speaks English)."

How long can the children stay at Visamo? Says the low-profile Manjula Pooja Shroff, the woman behind the project, "We will educate them till the 12th grade. But by the time they reach the 10th we will teach them various skills. This is not to say that we will not try to provide them higher education." The more talented children will be given the opportunity to continue with their studies, others will be helped to find suitable jobs.

Visamo completed one year this August. It plans to have its own complex in two years’ time that can accommodate around 400 children—a spacious address, indeed. The present one is: Calorex Foundation, near Railway Crossing, Bopal, Ahmedabad. E-mail: visamokids@calorexschools.org.

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