Educating the Next Generation with Hope
CapitaLand Hope Foundation sets up first Mission Education Centre in India
Issue: Sep 2011
Their education secure, these children at the Smile Foundation Mission Education Centre can truly smile at their future
When Shahnara Khatoon was seven years old, her oldest sister got married. What should have been a joyous occasion became a burden that would tear the family apart. The wedding expenses proved too much for their rickshaw-puller father and factory worker mother to bear. The family had to take a loan. To pay off their debts, Shahnara, her second elder sister and their parents ventured out of their hometown in Gangarampur in West Bengal, India to search for better-paying jobs in the city. Her father became a gardener for a private developer. Shahnara's sister and mother became domestic workers in madamjis (urban apartments). Her two brothers remained in Gangarampur to act as guarantors for the loan. The family was broken up.
Shahnara would have become one of 44 million children in India who do not go to school, according to a report by The Times of India in April 2010. She might have joined the ranks of 12.7 million child workers in India between the ages of five and 14, an estimate by the Census of India 2001. She might have added to the numbers that make India the country with the largest number of child labourers in the world, based on 2000-2009 estimates by UNICEF. But she didn't. All thanks to one organisation – Smile Foundation.
Shahnara Khatoon, now 13, had to leave her hometown when she was nine to follow her parents into the city to search for better jobs to pay off their debts
Every Reason to Smile
Smile Foundation is an Indian development agency. Its mission is to help the 35 million children in the country in need of care and protection by providing them with education, health care, empowerment education for young girls, life skills training and job training. One of its key programmes is the Mission Education programme which provides basic education and healthcare to underprivileged children who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the formal education system. Now, CapitaLand Hope Foundation (CHF), the philanthropic arm of CapitaLand, has joined hands with Smile Foundation to add a new Mission Education Centre. Smile Foundation current has 74 Mission Education projects across 20 states and 27 cities in India. The new Mission Education Centre in Udaipur is CHF's first initiative in India.
"CapitaLand is committed to contribute back to the communities in which we operate. India is one of our key secondary markets and the Group's portfolio in the country comprises offices, shopping malls and serviced residences. CHF is happy to be working with Smile Foundation to build this Mission Education Centre in Udaipur, and we look forward to doing more to improve the lives of underprivileged children in India," explained Tan Bee Leng, General Manager of CapitaLand Hope Foundation.
CapitaLand Hope Foundation has been building Hope Schools as part of its efforts to improve literacy of underprivileged children
Commitment to Literacy and Education
CapitaLand Hope Foundation was established in 2005 with the mission to build a better life for underprivileged children. Since then, CHF has sought to provide shelter, education and healthcare to needy children in the cities where CapitaLand operates. Every year, CapitaLand allocates 0.5 per cent of its net profits to the foundation.
One way CHF has helped to increase literacy and improve education is through the CapitaLand Hope Schools. These are elementary schools that are either built from scratch by CapitaLand or existing school renovated with better facilities. There are currently 15 Hope Schools in China and one in Vietnam.
In India, CHF has found a local partner whose mission fits well with its own. It is sponsoring a new Mission Education Centre in Udaipur in collaboration with Smile Foundation. When this Mission Centre opens its door at the end of the year, the centre will have five teachers and cater to about 200 out-of-school children. It will provide free education and training needed to re-integrate these students into mainstream education.
"Mainstreaming is the main objective of Mission Education," said Mr.H N Sahay, Smile Foundation's Director of Operations. "We identify all the government schools in the vicinity and work with them on providing Bridge Course education for children. Once the Mission Education team is satisfied with a child's performance, he or she is put into an age appropriate class in the formal school."
The centre will also give students monthly health checks and periodic counselling sessions with their parents. Like any school, it will also organise extra-curricular activities to ensure a well-rounded education.
"We will organise community mobilization and outreach programmes to publicise the project," said Sahay. "There will be counselling [to emphasize the need for literacy and education], advocacy, door-to-door surveys, road shows, pamphlet distributions."
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
To reach even more partners to further the cause of providing education to the children of India, Smile Foundation decided to make a movie two years ago.
"Indian people love cinema and if used effectively, the tool of cinema can help in sensitising privileged masses of the country, which is almost a quarter of the total population."
The movie, "I am Kalam", focuses on the right to education and was released all over India on 5 August. But for a year before that, "I am Kalam" was screened at nearly 25 prestigious international film festivals around the world. It won critical acclaim and has since garnered 12 national and international awards. The movie trailer can be viewed below.
This movie highlights the pressing need to bring change to the lives of hundreds and thousands of children in India. "We realised that even after more than 60 years of independence, with hundreds of schemes launched so far by the Government and despite more than three million NGOs present in the country, there are more than 50 per cent of children who still do not go to school," added Sahay.
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"I am Kalam" tells the story of a poor Rajasthani boy who has a strong desire to learn to read and is inspired by the life of former President of India, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
8 September is International Literacy Day. While Shahnara may not know this, she can certainly be a poster child for this day that celebrates and champions literacy. Since enrolling in a Mission Education Centre in Gurgaon three years ago, she can now read and write in Hindi and English. She also goes for sewing and computer classes on weekend.
In her own words, "Sab achha hai", which means "Everything is fine."