Manjunath spent his teenage years in a shelter home for boys after being rescued from the streets. There, he joined a football program and started playing as a way to channel his energy and improve his life. Years later, he would be selected for a Sports Coaching Fellowship by Dekeyser and Friends foundation in Hamburg, Germany, where he spent two months and learned how to create a similar impact movement in his own community through football. Coming back to India, Manjunath set up by himself a complete football program in a girls’ school, with teams, training and coaches, using this sport to engage girls.
The football program Manjunath participated in many years ago was developed by Dream A Dream, a Bangalore-based organization which delivers life skills programs and empowers youngsters from disavantaged backgrounds with self-esteem, confidence and ability to handle life’s challenges. Started in 1999 by 12 young people, Dream A Dream boosted after Vishal Talreja, a graduate from Bangalore University, decided to concentrate on the organization, moving away from investment banking and the corporate sector in 2002.
“In India there is a huge invisible population providing us invaluable services, but we don’t even look at them, we don’t know who they are. I wanted to change the way we, as a country, look at dignity, compassion and appreciation for one another”, says Vishal. His efforts and engagement with childhood development were recognized and he became an Ashoka Fellow in 2005. Earlier this year, he was nominated for the Eisenhower Fellowship, which identifies, empowers and links outstanding leaders from around the world.
Today, over 80 million children are out of school in India and more than 50% of those in school will not complete it. The key missing link in their lives is the ability to make healthy choices, decisions, manage conflicts and negotiate the weights of life. “We started designing programs which create life changing experiences or learning moments that will develop these life skills and be part of their DNA”, tells Vishal. Dream A Dream’s impact happens through after-school programs with government aided schools, teacher education institutes, institutions and NGOs.
Their programs include Dream Life Skills, using sports, arts and outdoor experiential camps, the Dream Connect, a career development program for teenagers between 14 and 18 year old, offering tools and foundational life skills that help transform ability to capability; Dream Outdoor Experiential Camps, a 4-day camp in the outskirts where adventure games and contact with nature build self-esteem and team work in participants; and Dream Mentoring, where a caring adult volunteer mentor encourages young adults to find answers to the challenges of growing up through a one-on-one relationship. The next cycle of Dream Mentoring will start in November.
In addition to substantive training, Dream A Dream offers volunteers the opportunity to contribute their time and resources at their own convenience. The organization maintains extensive volunteer performance records which are shared with volunteers to help them see the extent of their contributions. “Volunteering gives a powerful platform to change the way we think. People who have come to help these children are also being helped themselves in a sense of expanding their horizon and helping to build a culture that is more sensitive to the needs of all human beings”.
Over the past 12 years, Dream A Dream has reached over 31,000 young people through the support of 2,000 volunteers and partnered with 18 NGOs. They are currently scaling up its programs and operations to have a greater impact on education and life skills learning in India. Dream A Dream has also developed a unique program to empower adults working with children in both formal and non-formal spaces with life skills – the Teacher Development Program, a series of life skills facilitation workshops spread over 6-12 months with a mission to engage and enable teachers and youth workers to empower youths in turn. They are also notable for their fundraising methods, particularly emphasizing on nurturing relationships with donors by creating win-win strategies for all parties. Unlock Smiles is an online fundraising campaign through crowdfunding which aims to empower 800 children through life skills sessions until the end of 2013.
In the past two years, they have been spending time and resources in developing their curriculums, in refining monitoring systems, designing their training framework, so that they can start taking the work out of Dream A Dream and integrate it into a larger ecosystem. Vishal believes that empowerment will fail completely if we don’t build a sensitive community around us. He signs off by saying, “The more I engage with young people, the more I realize that this work opens up the sense of humanness that we are born with and which we lose as we grow up. The real work is in finding those prejudices, stereotypes and mindsets within us and finding the courage to break out of them. In the world we live today, there’s an increasing division happening and the only thing able to reconnect us is the sense that we are all humans, connected by love, care and compassion for each other”.