Shyamchi Aai Foundation (SAF) is working towards enabling adolescents achieve a meaningful synthesis between their inner strengths and the outside world to create their own career pathways.
India has 253 million adolescents (10 to 19 years), equivalent to the combined populations of Japan, Germany and Spain. With the highest number of adolescents, the chances of a bright future is only possible if this section of individuals in the process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood are given the right education and direction.
Adolescents, during this period, are capable of abstract thinking, better articulation and developing an independent ideology. But, when misguided they face a number of challenges that give rise to important questions of, how do we as a community support and enable them to become self-exploring adults or how do we create an environment that fosters adolescent students to develop a process of self-discovery and create their own career pathways encompassing their interests and abilities?
With the aim of finding an answer to these questions and to reach every unsure adolescent struggling to make career choices, SAF was established in 2013. The foundation whose programs are targeted towards bridging the gap between education skills and livelihoods, believes that to build a sustainable ecosystem it is crucial that there is a meaningful collaboration between the government, corporates and community.
From a voluntary programme to an established NGO
Sheetal Bapat was struck with the reality of the problems underprivileged kids faced with regard to education. Her house help could not afford to continue her daughter’s schooling and approached Sheetal to look out for a job for her daughter. “I realised that it was unfortunate that we still hadn’t been able to deal with issues that push youngsters to drop out of school or college. I wanted to help guide adolescents like my help’s daughter to be able create a future of their choice and passion,” says the 45-year-old founder.
Driven by this vision and the need to do something meaningful, Sheetal started a volunteer engagement programme to mentor poor students and children in 2011 with the establishment of the Shyamchi Aai portal for a collective philanthropic endeavor by citizens to help mentor and support children. The support of the people through the portal was immense but as the foundation explored deeper into the volunteer program and started working with adolescents the more they realized the needs and requirements for adolescents.
In 2013, the vision grew bigger into providing assistance to all adolescents, and Shyamchi Aai Foundation was registered as an NGO in Pune. Sheetal, who had gained a first-hand understanding of today's youth and the challenges they face in their professional lives while she served as a visiting faculty at the BMCC Institute in Pune for the BBA courses, shares that were other challenges too: “Our biggest need was to create a system that would cater to needs to all adolescents and equip them with the ability to make informed decisions and towards meaningful pathways. With this in mind we got experts on board to help us develop the design thinking, through which we have designed our programmes.”
A, B, C and D as building blocks
SAF believes that students equipped with the life skills and the awareness about their interest and aptitude are more likely to succeed in and contribute to the society they live in. “Adolescents as advocates need both thinking and social skills for consensus building and advocacy on issues of concern. If the students are aware of these changes and equipped with the different ways of handling them, the adverse effects on their lives can be eliminated. We exist to help the youth of today make informed choices,” says Vikram Vasuki, Manager - Corporate Communications, SAF.
Thus, to enable adolescents to create the best career pathway for themselves and make informed decisions, SAF follows an A, B, C, D programme structure of Ability Tests, Basic Life Skills, Counseling Platforms and Direct Intervention Support.
Launched in 2016, SAF developed, administered and interpreted a unique Ability test in association with the School Education Department, Government of Maharashtra called the Kal Chachani Project. “Class X is a pivotal point in a student's life but unfortunately almost half of our students today are pursuing higher education courses that do not align with their aptitude and interest, preventing them from living up to their full potential. The Kal Chachani Project seeks to turn around this situation through its unique solution, which includes a comprehensive interest test and subsequent career guidance,” says Vikram. In the last two years, over 32 lakh Class X students have received career guidance through the project.
To instill Basic life skills, SAF developed a life skills curriculum based on intensive research to help equip students with 21st century life skills. The curriculum designed to enhance the emotional intelligence of students, helps them identify their inner strengths and areas of improvement, develop social leadership, address teenage developmental issues confidently, develop a learning mindset and understand the importance of a value system. The curriculum was adopted by Government of Maharashtra and is now a mandatory subject called self-development and art appreciation for all Class IX students across 22,000 state board schools.
As part of the Kal Chachani Project, SAF also developed an online Counseling platform to help students make informed higher education choices. “The portal lists over 83,000 higher educational options from government approved colleges in Maharashtra. These courses are further mapped to the student's relevant district and assessed interest. The portal also serves as a rich source of information, with numerous videos and articles on the seven education fields (Arts, Commerce, Fine Arts, Technical, Health Sciences, Agriculture and Uniform services). A helpline also offers students one-on-one counseling with trained counselors,” says Vikram.
Further, recognising that children have potential, but not equal privileges, SAF has Direct intervention programmes focused on identifying the children who need financial support. Project Sanjeevani in association with ABP Majha conducts a two-year quarterly residential mentoring programme for 30 students across Maharashtra who are awarded a scholarship for higher education. “Through the assistance of our generous donors and corporate partners, we help them become the best person they can be, by restoring their right to equal education. We have directly mentored and supported around 1,000+ adolescents through this programme,” informs Vikram.
A focus on wholesome growth
Since 2013, 32 lakh adolescents have received career guidance under the Kal Chachani project and 17 lakh students have taken the interest test. Moreover, SAF is working relentlessly to equip not only adolescent students but also teachers and other stakeholders to help facilitate the growth of adolescents. It is implementation partner to Government of Maharashtra for the continuous professional development of secondary teachers in government and government-aided schools.
Avirata a 10-day programme is training over 42,000 head teachers and teachers from across the 408 talukas in Maharashtra. The program helps equip teachers with 21st century life skills while also helping teachers develop techniques to identify the uniqueness, in adolescents.
With this, the small 14-member team backed by 10 volunteers has managed to engage every stakeholder involved in the development of the child be it, parents, teachers and community across the state of Maharashtra. Through its projects with the government, the number of youth having access to quality career guidance is a 100 percent today, while it was a mere five percent before the Kal Chachani project.
“India is going to have one of the largest workforce in the world in a few years. To ensure that the youth of today are responsible citizens engaged in meaningful careers thereby contributing to the national growth, the entire community needs to work together. To make this a possibility SAF is in talks with other State governments where it would be expanding its programmes soon,” concludes Vikram.