As with many suburbs in Chennai, Mogappair has its share of economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The vicious cycle of the ‘poverty trap’ ensures that its children are destined to a deprived lifestyle, bereft of any opportunity to succeed.
A dismal eventuality, that had been accepted as norm by most residents of the area. In 2017 however, the actions led by one local girl, sparked a change in this attitude and continues to be a beacon of hope for many of Mogappair’s underprivileged youths.
This is the story of Ithika.
November 2016 – while pursuing a college degree, Jayashree Selvam (Jaya), volunteered with a youth club at Nolambur Government School, as a planner for extracurricular activities and special education. The club’s teenage students came from poorer neighbourhoods nearby.
As a mentor to 30 adolescents, Jaya recognized their potential and provided much needed support. For instance, Mani (then 16) was frequently admonished by his teachers for being an academic underachiever, was low on self-confidence.
As a result, he became ecstatic on receiving praise from his new mentor, Jaya, who was thoroughly impressed by his Kabaddi skills.
Later, Jaya organised a Kabbadi event at Mani’s school and encouraged Mani to focus on developing his skills. Before long, Mani went on to become a member of his school’s team. With newly gained confidence, he was now fuelled by self-motivation, making him unstoppable….
Now 19, and a high school graduate, Mani is a proud member of the Indian National Kabaddi team !
Jaya’s unofficial role as Counselor, had been equally beneficial to several club students who were facing significant social and emotional challenges; ones that had otherwise derailed such teens from achieving personal (including academic) goals.
Inspired by the transformative power of a well-directed mentorship program, Jaya felt compelled to make an even wider impact, i.e. on the youths of the neighbourhood.
Consequently, just six months into a career in IT, she quit her job in order to dedicate her efforts to this cause. With the help of her father (Mr. Selvam), she officially registered Ithika as a charitable trust. Ithika (Tamil) means –
‘A beacon for a brighter future’.
Growth and future ...
Ithika started with just one mentor and 18 students; most of whom were chosen by the Vice Principal at Jaya’s high school (identified as ‘at-risk’); while others were referred by her ex-mentees from the club at the Government School. By its first anniversary (late 2017), parents had started to notice several positive changes in their children and word of Ithika’s free programs spread throughout the neighbourhood.
Since then, Ithika has added 3 staff, 15 volunteers and continues to develop existing and new programs. Students, staff and volunteers are vibrant community members, regularly engaging in projects (e.x. planting trees) and events (e.x. art performances).
In a span of just 18 months, Ithika’s role in one of Mogappair’s poorest neighbourhoods, has become apparent as indispensable. The marked improvements in students’ attitudes (and numerous achievements), along with growing encouragement from the community, have contributed to an atmosphere of tremendous optimism.
And just as with Mani, when Ithika’s children start to dream big, the future looks incredibly promising…