BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Atlanta, GA: “I want to study but I don’t remember anything. Teachers are beating me. At home my mother beats me. I have to wash my own clothes and my mother’s. If I am not washing our clothes, then she will beat me. I have marks all over my body. All of the other children laugh at me. It pains me. Nobody comes to help me because they see me beating and scolding other boys. I don’t know how to read in any language. I don’t know what is written on the board in class.” Jeeva, now 11 years old, had said two years ago. Jeeva’s father is a banana seller and his mother, a tailor in garments. This was before he enrolled into Dream A Dream. Two years in Life Skills through Creative Arts later, when his facilitator checked with one of his classmates, he said “M’am, he has become silent. Sometimes he is aggressive but because other children tell him to do bad things, tell lies about him and complain to the teacher. The teacher still punishes him. He still gets angry with other boys but it is no longer his fault. He has become a good boy now.” Some of his classmates even share their lunch with him.
“This behavioral change has been possible due to the care and compassion shown by the facilitator and by accepting Jeeva for the way he is, without judgment. It took two years of persistent engagement and belief to help Jeeva find his own strength. “ says Vishal Talreja, Co-founder and Executive Director of Dream A Dream.
Dream A Dream, a brainchild of 12 young people, was created with the intention of providing children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds such as orphans living in slums with opportunities to have fun and learn critical life skills that eventually integrate them with mainstream society. The goal is also to sensitize the community through active volunteering leading to a non-discriminatory society where unique differences are appreciated.
Started in 1999 with some like-minded folks, Dream A Dream picked up momentum after Talreja decided to concentrate on the organization, moving away from investment banking and the corporate sector in 2002. Today, Talreja oversees strategic direction, vision achievement and management, as the Executive Director. Overseeing a staff of 55 and a network of 2000 volunteers, Talreja also serves as liaison to many national and international partners in both nonprofit and corporate sectors. Recipient of numerous national and international awards for its work, Dream A Dream is currently scaling up its programs and operations to have an even greater impact on education and life skills learning in India.
The issues tackled by Dream A Dream, Talreja identifies are manifold. “In addition to lack of nutrition, young people from underprivileged backgrounds suffer from ‘failure to thrive’ – missing out on sensitive growth periods due to lack of good emotional care leaving them behind in all aspects of life. Education largely focused on exams and rote learning does not develop the creative capacities needed to survive in the 21st century and the Life Skills needed to find and keep livelihoods. “ he says.
Dream A Dream, Talreja says adopts innovative approaches to empower young people from vulnerable backgrounds with Life Skills. Life skills have been defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “the abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life”.
Service offerings include Dream Life Skills Program for 8-14 year olds using powerful mediums of sports, arts and outdoor experiential camps, The Dream Connect Programme for 14-18 year old for career development. It offers the tools and foundational life skills that help transform ability to capability through short-term modules in Spoken English, Communication skills, money management skills, career guidance and access to internships / scholarships / job programs, Teacher Transformation Program aimed at empowering adults that work with young people in both formal and non-formal spaces with life skills. The training is focused on the teacher / facilitator / instructor / trainer and developing their capability and ability to engage with young people effectively, Dream Mentoring, where a caring adult volunteer mentor encourages young adults to find answers to the challenges of growing up through a one-on-one relationship.
Dream A Dream finds partnerships with businesses, organizations and institutions interested in children’s issues. Individual Child growth is constantly monitored with updated profiles and subsequent steps for fostering healthy childhood development.
When asked about the biggest achievement of Dream A Dream, Talreja says it is a difficult question since it can be answered from so many perspectives and they might not necessarily be big. He however adds “One thing I personally feel proud of is that each of the young people we have worked with have learnt to believe in themselves and have built the resilience to deal with life’s challenges without giving up. We see it in the choices they make in their lives today and the way they negotiate with some of life’s conflicts. Life is challenging and it takes ‘not giving up’ to work through it. The young people in our program have learnt that well.”
Dream A Dream was the regional finalist (south) at the India NGO Awards 2007 and 2010, winner in 2011 and runner-up at the Outstanding Annual Report Awards for 2009 and 2010. It was Global runner-up at the Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project hosted by the Global Development Network. Dream A Dream was also Silver Winner at the Global Sports Forum Barcelona in 2011.
“At an organization level, we are proud that we have created a sustainable, high-impact, credible, transparent and accountable organization that is deeply built on the foundation of values of Integrity, Collaboration, Child Centered Approach. This has helped us work with over 12,000 young people directly and over 30,000 indirectly through collaborations with a host of national and international partners and through the spirited efforts of over 2000 volunteers and 50 team members.” Talreja says.
“In the next five years, one of the main goals is to make Life Skills Education an integral part of the education of every child in the country.” Talreja concludes. Here’s wishing Dream A Dream success in all its endeavors. You may visitwww.dreamadream.org for more information.