“It all started back in 2002 when a district social welfare officer visited our engineering college as a guest for our Independence Day celebrations. Through her, we got in touch with an old age home. We started visiting the home every week. The old age home used to relocate from one rented place to another when the owners demanded them to move out. The founder of the home requested us to raise funds for the rent,” said Gunashekaran.
Gunashekaran was then studying engineering second year in Erode government engineering college. With the help of hostlers, girls students and alumni of the college Guna and group raised Rs. 50,000 with which the old age home founder bought a land in Erode outskirts. Next, the team collaborated with another engineering college in Tumkur and raised Rs 1,00,000+ for the construction of a building for the home through a charity show in Erode.
Next year, i.e. in 2003, they approached his college principal with a proposal to support another organisation, Gunashekaran recalls, “The principal strongly rejected the proposal saying ours is a government college and many students are struggling to pay the college fee.”
That year Gunashekaran and team formed a group and named it as “Students Welfare Foundation” with a tagline “for the students, to the students, by the students”. They collected Rs 75,000 that year and paid the fees of the needy students in the college. In the final year of his engineering, the welfare foundation raised Rs 1 lakh which was matched by the college.
After his graduation, Guna and a team of about 100 alumni from the college established Smile Welfare Foundation in 2004, with an aim to help more students. All the members of the organisation were full-time working professionals. The organisation is running five projects under Smile Welfare Foundation from last 13 years successfully.
How did Sabarmathi Gurukulam start?
‘Punnagai Paalam’ is one of the programs under Smile Welfare Foundation. It means ‘A Bridge of SMILES’. As part of the project, volunteers, who are are highly successful and competent professionals ,offer extra coaching for the students from govt orphanages.
It became challenging to make a rapport with the new warden each time when the old warden got transfered. “What I have observed is that if the warden of the home is good, everything is good, if the warden is bad everything is bad. I have seen the power of a government official. So in 2010, I decided to try for civil services as I felt I can do more for these students and left my job and prepared for IAS but failed. I began teaching aptitude in a famous IAS academy in Coimbatore and later joined another coaching institute in Erode which gives free coaching in competitive exams to needy students.”
He resigned from the institute and started Sabarmathi Gurukulam with an aim to prepare students for competitive exams and also make them employable if not selected for any job.
What is the need for Sabarmathi Gurukulam?
In his experience, Guna found that there is always a high demand for government jobs and due to the recent decrease in IT jobs and increased unemployment rates there is a massive competition for government jobs. This demand made preparing for these exams very costly. For poor aspirants, this became a burden. Students from government schools and colleges fail very miserably in competitive exams.
- Approximately only 2% students who prepare for competitive exams get selected for jobs and rest of them struggle for years and fail.
- In need of money, they end doing meagre jobs due to lack employability skills.
- Due to difficulties in farming many farmers are abandoning agriculture and doing different jobs in the city which can give them a regular income.
To address all the above points, Guna started the Sabarmathi Gurukulam. The gurukulam is 30 KM from Kanjipuram in a village called Velianallore, Tamil Nadu, situated in the middle of farmlands.
“Sabarmathi Gurukulam addresses brain drain, agricultural decline, unemployment and growing financial burden,” he said.
Started in April 2017, it focuses on skill and employability training. The gurukul is built amidst farmlands with varied flora and fauna. The structures have mud walls and a thatched roof. Also, it has a well-equipped library which cost Rs 1.5 lakh to build. Here, the students are trained for various exams (IAS, IPS, Bank, State PSC) and recruitments (including NEET).
Does Sabarmathi Gurukulam train students for free?
No, Sabarmathi doesn’t teach students for free. But it follows no set norms for fee payment. Since the gurukulam is far away from the city and the land is cheap in the village, the overall cost per student comes to Rs 2000/month with food and accommodation. Whereas in the city, students pay anywhere between Rs 1 to 1.5 lakh for the course.
How do students pay for the coaching?
Considering that education should not be a burden on the students, they are given three options to pay the coaching fee. Sabarmathi follows ancient gurukulam system of teaching. Nearly 45 hostel students and 30-day scholars from surrounding villages come to Sabarmathi for their preparations.
As an avid follower of “Messiah of organic revolution” – Dr G. Nammalvar, Guna has a keen interest in organic farming. Along with my brother, I learnt organic farming through Nammalvar
For hostel and accommodation charges, students are given three options to pay.
Farming: At present 25 students are doing organic farming along with their studies. Nearly 5 acres of infertile land is turned into a fertile area with the help of these students. The revenue generated from these farming activities is compensated for the student’s food and accommodation expense. In future, for every five students, an acre of unused land is taken as lease and is allocated for them to cultivate. Students relish, enjoy and find it more interesting doing and learning farming activities. This also promises an alternate carrier for those students if they are not able to get any job they dream.
Tuition: Students visit nearby villages and give tuitions to government school students. As school curriculum forms the syllabus for a majority of the competitive exams, this not only helps the kids but also the gurukulam students in acing the concepts. Smile foundation covers the hostel accommodation for them. Through this system, gurukulam students will come to know the basic economic, financial and literacy standards of villages, which in turn makes them a responsible citizen.
Paid system: This is the least preferred option among the gurukulam students. They pay Rs 2000 per month for their food and accommodation.
Students who stay at Sabarmathi are trained to live a simple life. It involves various activities, like cleaning the surroundings, farming, encourages the staff and students to donate blood every four months, newspaper reading and also aims at looking at the problems a common man faces directly rather than reading articles about it.
Students are also learning and involved in various activities like organic soap production, and leaf plate making which is yielding a good monthly profit. When a person experiences the immense pleasures of simple living and by being in constant touch with social activities and problems, he/she will be able to give their best when in a responsible position.
After a very long time, Sabarmathi has a lot to share with its well wishers. Update 1 : According to our Gurukulam…
For more details visit here.
With #MySocialResponsibility, we aim to bring you more inspiring stories of individuals and organisations across the globe. If you also know about any changemakers, share their story at [email protected] and we'll spread the word.