It’s just another Saturday afternoon, and the hall is buzzing with activities and children’s chatter. A kid approaches an eighteen year old anna and requests him to teach him how to solve a jigsaw puzzle. The anna obliges. When he returns to the Adyar Cancer Institute next Saturday, he is pleasantly surprised to see the kid ready with a two hundred piece scrambled puzzle. Hours later, the kid looks at the jigsaw puzzle he has just finished solving with the anna’s help – a priceless moment, evidenced by the wide smiles on both faces.
The eighteen year old is one of the approximately three hundred volunteers for the National Service Scheme, IIT Madras. For this band of volunteers, such moments are no rarity.
NSS has been an important harbinger of change, ever since its inception forty years ago. Every year, about one-third of all undergraduate freshmen enroll for NSS as a part of their academic curriculum. While the association for most students may be for one year, the memories are surely ingrained in their minds for a lifetime. Thanks to the revamp in the NSS structure brought about two years ago, there is now more constraint-free space, not just for the first years, but for everyone to do their bit for society.
The 2012-2013 academic year witnessed an incredible number of projects undertaken by NSS. These projects can be broadly categorized into four types – Teaching, Neighbourhood Development, Content Generation and Scientific Projects.
Among the myriad NSS projects are many which have evolved as a result of collaboration between NSS and local NGOs like Sevalaya, the Madras Society for Protection of Children and many more. The project representatives and volunteers involved in these projects frequent schools run by these NGOs and spend quality time with the children, teaching them various subjects and playing fun games. Other projects include teaching Maths and English to 8th and 9th standard students in GHSS, Velachery, teaching the children of domestic workers in the IIT campus, and imparting basic English communication and computer skills to the security guards on campus. One of the most successful projects is the education blog; begun only last year, it has a good following even in countries like the US.
It is an important truth that merely being literate does not make one educated. Through neighbourhood development projects, NSS takes steps to fulfill its motto ‘Education through Salvation’. A remarkable project in this regard is ‘Jeevan’, wherein children of 10-15 years of age are made aware about the ill effects of drugs and alcoholism. In the project ‘Bring a Smile’, volunteers spend Saturday afternoons in the Adyar Cancer Institute, interacting and playing with the child patients.
Content generation projects have been instrumental in opening new avenues of learning to children. There have been many innovative projects to present science to children in fun and interesting ways – for example, the Science Magazine. Science experiments from NCERT textbooks are also demonstrated in video content projects, for children from 6th to 10th standard. Other noteworthy projects include science toys (based on Aravind Gupta Toys), a Vedic Maths magazine (presently in Kannada and Telugu), audio content generation for blind children, collaboration with Avanti Fellows and translation of Wikipedia articles to regional languages, namely, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Malayalam. The success of the translation project is reflected in the fact that one of the translated articles is one of the most visited Wikipedia articles worldwide.
While projects are undertaken by people in NSS team, one needn’t be directly involved to experience the satisfaction of doing one’s bit for society. Collection drives like DOS (Dal, Oil, Sugar) collection in the residential zone, newspaper and cloth collection in the hostel zone and one-sided-paper collection in the academic zone are regularly organized, with the collected items being donated to NGOs. Apart from this, NSS also conducts lectures and movie screenings, which are attended by NSS volunteers and other enthusiastic people from the Institute. In the last one year, there have been brilliant lectures by eminent people like Vijay Menon, Ranjit Daniels, and Professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala (of the EE Department, IITM). Al Gore’s documentary ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth’ was also screened to sensitize people about the issue of global warming.
With the sheer multitude of activities under its umbrella, NSS touches a significant number of lives – the lives of the groups for whose benefit NSS activities are organised, and the lives of the volunteers and team members themselves. As Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” The doors at NSS are always open to anyone who wishes to contribute to society and make an impact, no matter how big or small. NSS sums up its intentions in the words:
“To sympathise is human, to empathise is beyond. To want change is commonplace, to be the same is not. How wonderful it is that when desire is inspired and built upon with the ingredient of direction, the most difficult paths seem treadable! Immerse yourself in the ocean of service and be assured that the pearls you are about to take home are going to be priceless.”
NSS officially kicks off its activities this year on Independence Day. The inaugural ceremony will be graced by M. S. Swaminathan, the father of the Green Revolution in India, who will also deliver a lecture on “Joy of Service”. Be there!