You may have read about the Starfish story in which a boy on a beach who is throwing starfish back in the ocean is told it is pointless as there are miles of beach and millions of starfish to save, so his efforts don’t really make a difference – he then throws another one back into the ocean and says “It made a difference to THAT one”.

This too, is a story about the number ONE. It’s also a story about programmes – more specifically our KHELShaala programme. It’s also a story about children – more specifically a child named Satyam – the starfish of our story.

KHELShaala - an experiment

Less than a year ago, we, being the crazy people we are, launched a new pilot programme called KHELShaala – in addition to our 6 other programmes which anyway had us working all day and half the night, seven days a week. KHELshaala was conceptualized as an attempt to get our ‘out of school’ children in slums interested in education by making ‘padhai’ fun and interesting and hopefully generating a curiosity and love for learning in these children, most of whom were working either as ragpickers or helping their parents at a vending stall or as domestic help. Success, we told ourselves, would be when at least some of these kids would enter the formal education system as first generation school-goers from their families.

KHELShaala class at a slum under a flyover
Yukti - who worked with us part-time and full-time in Made in Maidaan now travels 30 +km on her scooty to conduct KHELShaala classes. Yes, we have to pay her fuel costs but in the face of such dedication, do we even have a choice?
A mother who is super busy with her own daughter, Jyotsna di - as she is fondly known - finds the time to teach our KHELShaala children. She also volunteers on weekends in our JustKHELo programme where she gets all art-n-crafty in response to the other sporty volunteers!
Preity didi, a 'graduate' of our Made in Maidaan programme, is wonderful with little kids, has done her B.Ed. and happily travels 20+km by auto to go teach the slum children
Classes are interactive, fun and nothing like boring classroom waale classes - the point is to make them LOVE learning
Most of our children help their parents in their work and also look after their siblings but that doesn't keep them away from our KHELShaala or Made in Maidaan sessions, where children with babies, goats or carrying water cans are a common sight - they mutli-task and innovate but ensure they attend our sessions. Ankul, pictured here, is an example of "where there is will there is a way"

That one Satyam just a month ago has now led to 20 more school admissions of KHELshaala kids from the two slums where we conduct our classes. In just one month, we are now pros at booking rickshaws and mobilizing children to take them to school for their admission tests and interviews, we now know what is to be done to get our children their ID, what we need from their parents and what from the sabhasad, we are experts at communicating with the school and parents and firefighting with cancellations from schools, children going to villages, managing community interactions, judging which parents are going to actually send their kids to school and which will not, deciding whom to give financial support to… and a lot more.

Community interaction, nervous children, happy children, test-taking children, children in an auto, children in a line, children admitted and so much more - all in a day's work when it comes to the admission process

OK, so 21 admissions ... what's the big deal?

What’s the big deal with 21 admissions? Aren’t there NGOs doing 10000x more than that? Isn't this what we are supposed to do? Well, the thing is – technically, NO – its not our work. We don’t have a mandate to get these children into school, or even to launch a new program or to do anything more than our core life-skills education programme. None of our supporters knew about KHELShaala, it wasn't even on our site until very recently.

So, yes, I know 21 admissions is nothing to crow about, but this where the story gets interesting.... we need to look at this small success of 21 admissions in light of all the other work we are doing. So here's a look at some of what we were able to do in the last ONE year alone

  • ~1500 children were enrolled in our core Life Skills Education programme that takes our unique approach to education to shelter homes, slums, low-income schools and village schools
  • Over 3500 children participated in abBAS! workshops, our initiative against Child Sexual Abuse.
  • 2225 young girls, women and boys were empowered through Red Spot, our programme on Menstruation Hygiene Management.
  • ~1000 teenagers enthusiastically participated in Teen Talks, our open discussion forum that deals with adolescence related issues ranging from body image and safe uses of social media to issues around sex and sexuality.
  • We achieved 10,000+ play hours through justKHELo, our weekend programme that provides positive role models to slum children through play based volunteering.
  • We have an additional outreach of over 1,00,000 (one lakh!) in the last year alone through partnerships and events with organizations such as UNICEF. Just one such project impacted 67,000 girls in villages of Uttar Pradesh for awareness on Menstrual Hygiene through a TOT model of delivering our innovative curriculum!

In addition to these 'numbers' , we have a competitive Ultimate Frisbee team comprising of young girls and boys from slums and shelter homes that is getting exposure by playing tournaments with teams from top colleges, corporates and cities across India.

We have a range of social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter that are updated regularly - some weekly, some daily and some multiple times a day - giving our supporters real-time information from the various locations where we are working.

In addition to ALL OF THIS, we do a host of other things which we don't even report as 'impact' when we talk of our work. We take children for movies at theaters, we respond to a fire at our slum location by collecting and distributing clothes and utensils, we do medical camps, we send children for various leadership and educational opportunities, we conduct the Global Peace Games, we get international groups such as Flying Seagull Project and Cambridge Rickshaw Theater groups to our locations, we take our children out of station for tournaments, camps and visits to places like the Taj Mahal, we take them on visits to the local police station, we respond to individual needs of children and their families, we take them to hospital if needed, we celebrate their smallest successes and visit them when tragedy strikes.

The point of all of what you have read thus far is simply this. I firmly believe that we are able to do this because we are able to focus on that ONE. This number ONE need not be a child like Satyam, it could be anything - any ONE opportunity we see where we can intervene - it could even be a movie.

When Jungle Book released, we were utterly convinced that if we did not somehow show our kids this ONE movie in a theater we were failures (find THAT in a laser-focused mission statement or in a project document or in a list of deliverables). So we reached out for support and got tickets and snacks and travel sponsored (not so easy) and we just made it happen. Why?

  • Did we "change lives" by taking children for that movie? No.
  • Did we give them an experience to remember? Yes
  • Do we count these numbers in any of our impact numbers, No.
  • CAN we count these numbers anywhere? No, because we don't have any programme remotely related to showing movies.
  • Was this the first time we took children for a movie? Hell, no.
  • Would we do it again? Hell, yes.
  • Why? Because it's ONE opportunity for those children to experience something and if we can make it happen, we will.

So the point is that we are able to achieve unimaginably huge numbers and outcomes (given our team size, budget size and available resources - more on this in a later post) ONLY and ONLY because we focus on that ONE Satyam. We go all out to get him into school, we do not say things like "getting his Aadhar card is not our work" or "parents should take him to school for admissions, not us". If we can change one life, we do it and in doing so we end up achieving much, much more. As Beth Clark said (and we strongly believe),

Words of Wisdom that resonate with us and our ethos

And that, my friends, is the power of one!

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