January 31st, 2017
In India’s marks dominated education system, extracurricular activities are rarely a topic occupying the limelight. Usually, the only time they gain any importance is when private school kids enter high school, with ambitions to apply for colleges overseas. Meraki though is an organisation that challenges all of those notions.
It all started in the summer of 2015, when Ashmika Gupta, one of the co-founders of Meraki, volunteered at Spark-A-Change as a teacher for Math and English. Spark A Change Foundation themselves believe that meaningful literacy enables the transformation of lives and is imperative to progress, both individual and societal. It was only natural that in their nurturing environment, the idea for Meraki took birth.
There, Ashmika experienced the excitement that permeated the room whenever the dance teacher entered her classroom to train the kids for their upcoming annual day. She realised that these children deserved more than just academic teaching given their inclination towards activities beyond the walls of the classroom.
After researching further and finding that there was no extracurricular support provided to the children, by private institutes or the government, Ashmika decided to enlist the help of her close friends, Mishka and Rachita. Their combined love for children and the willingness to commit 100% to this initiative got the ball rolling for Meraki. It took about a year to develop a curriculum and to plan for its implementation. The name itself required some thought, but everyone quickly agreed on using Mishka’s suggestion of Meraki – the Greek word for doing something with complete devotion, or putting in soul, creativity and love into doing whatever it may be. The Dreamcatcher logo was Rachita’s suggestion, to symbolise the fact that they were setting out to help underprivileged students realise their dreams.
Getting the ball rolling was one thing, but keeping it moving was another. However, the founders collectively opine that the children help them remain motivated, especially with their expressions of gratefulness and excited grins on learning something new. Moreover, Spark A Change Foundation was instrumental in supporting them, since that was where the idea was conceived. With Spark A Change’s support, the team at Meraki was able to organise weekend workshops for students that helped them realise their potential.
All the workshops revolved around a particular theme. Whenever the team was covering drama, they conducted exercises that helped students learn how to modulate their voices and then apply those skills in a play which suited that time of the year, such as ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’. Art, on the other hand, was taught as per the guidelines of the elementary exam curriculum and dance involved teaching the basics of various dance forms, such as Indian classical.
Looking back, the team recounts the period from July 2016 to December 2016 as their greatest achievement. Over this time, they were able to conduct workshops of art, dance, drama and creative writing. Through these workshops, the kids improved their English communication skills at an exceptional rate, and some became pretty adept at painting as well. One of the kids went on to give the elementary art exam with Meraki’s support and performed excellently.
A lot of kids started off by being shy and not being confident enough to say ‘I can do this’, but as the last class approached, these kids were the brightest stars. Each of them had something unique to offer, and the team can proudly claim to have had a part in making that possible. What made it even more memorable was the look of pride in the eyes of the kids’ parents, as the children enthralled them with the dance and drama they had learnt over the past few months. At the end of this, the kids’ parents sought out the founders to tell them how “Thankful they were for someone taking up the task of improving their kid’s English communication skills and only wished someone had done that when they were young as well.”
Another heart touching moment that the team shares is that of friendship day when all their students crowded around them to tie them friendship bands. Later the team got to know that in buying these bands for each of them, the kids had spent all their money and couldn’t get bands for their friends. That showed them how much their initiative was valued by their students and reminded them that they were indeed doing something special. The kids also took it further by thanking the Meraki team in front of their parents and calling the team not just their teachers but also their mentors and friends. All said and done; the founders feel that the students have taught them much more.
Spark A Change Foundation themselves have been quite approving of the efforts of the trio and have remarked that “‘Team Meraki has reinforced their belief in the intent and capabilities of youngsters”. The Meraki team intends to work with more NGOs and hopefully a few government schools so that they can maximise their impact in the future.
Meraki has indeed been a step in the right direction, and a much-needed one. We live in a very lopsided society that contains a wide gulf between the opportunities that the wealthy and poor have access to. With this initiative, the founders are trying to bridge that gap, creatively, one student at a time, with their heart and soul invested in it.
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