SHEROES at Apnishala

Published on 1 Sep 2015 . 6 min read

Today we share the story of 3 young, dynamic women – Amrita, Anukriti, Swetha who started Apnishala, an NGO for children. Swetha, one of the founders speaks to us about the venture in detail.

Why did they decide to come together for a social cause? And what inspired them to work in the field of social work? Let’s read on…

Tell us a little about yourselves.

The 3 of us met during our 2 year M.A. Programme in Social Entrepreneurship at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences.

Amrita, is a trained counsellor with Heart to Heart Counselling, worked for 2 years with the Akanksha Foundation, mainly as a teacher and also with the Aasra home for boys in Thane. Amrita eats, sleeps and dreams education. You'd be a lucky kid if you got to be taught by Amrita didi - she's brilliant with kids! After her experience at Akanksha, she joined TISS to do her M.A. in S.E.

Anukriti, is a Jaipur girl. She’s a chemical engineer by training but it was after her 2 years with the corporate sector that she discovered her entrepreneurial drive. She dreams of driving social change through the route of advocacy. 

Swetha despite a degree in engineering, finds psychology to be a more interesting subject. She left her IT job at Godrej Infotech after 2 years to work with NGOs such as Pratham and Each One Teach One to work more closely with children. Her experience with children drove her to work towards a vision like ApniShala's.

How and why did the idea of ApniShala come about?

Our experiences in the field had a lot to do with what work we wanted to do. I for example, after engineering, spent 3 months teaching children in a government school, where I met Harshad, a 12 year old boy. Harshad, like all his other classmates, lived in the slums of Sion Koliwada. He would try hard to focus in class, but often seemed exhausted, not confident, and used abusive language. I found out that Harshad worked in a job before school, his father was an alcoholic and the boy was witness to a lot of violence at home. I always wondered how a child his age would feel when surrounded by such problems and how he dealt with them.

We all wanted to work with children in the field of education. Both Amrita and I had worked with children before, and all 3 of us would talk about the various gaps that existed. Anukriti and Amrita were sure that the lack of access to libraries needed to be addressed. While I was mulling over how we could create a more nurturing relationship between teachers and children and couldn’t figure out my way through it.

Since the 3 of us were friends and studied together, we decided to come together and help each other work on our areas of interest with children. One fine day, we decided to call our initiative towards addressing these problems, ApniShala.

What do the 3 of you individually bring to the concept of ApniShala?

We work in the field of education and positive mental health. Amrita brings a great understanding of the domain of psychology, children and teaching-learning practices. She is also a fantastic facilitator and has used this skill to weave together a great facilitation ethic that ApniShala follows.

Anukriti brings with her a plethora of ideas, ability to strategise and try out new things and a keen sense of resourcefulness.  Her skills are extremely useful in helping to manage our day to day operations.

Swetha, with her love for creating and analysing data.  She finds effective ways to communicate Apni Shala’s work to its beneficiaries and partners. She is great with measuring impact and with communications.

Why opt to run an NGO over a lucrative corporate job?

Both Anukriti and I (Swetha) have worked in a corporate setup before moving to the development sector. We have learnt a lot from our experiences there but along the way we recognized our calling and chose to work here. The ultimate impact our work makes is so much more visible with our work at Apni Shala. And of course the satisfaction to see what you were able to create is motivation enough to stick around.

Amrita always recognized her interest in working with children and in the education space. There really wasn’t another choice to make. The energy she draws from being in a class with a group of kids is what motivates her to keep going and stay in this field.

What is an average work-day like for all of you?

On a typical day, we would spend about an hour or two at a school either facilitating sessions ourselves or observing a session by our teammates. Given, our increasing team size, we also spend a lot of our time in mentoring our new teammates. We often have visitors or other educators interested in our work. We also try our best to meet these individuals and share our learning and experiences. In addition to this, at least once a week we meet as a team to share best practices in our classes, our highs and lows and any challenges we face. This helps all of us to stay updated and learn from one another. Given that the 3 of us have our work areas charted out, you’ll find any one of us busy creating curriculum, another making a fund raising plan and another visiting schools and NGOs to partner with them.

In this business, what are the biggest challenges you face daily?

The social sector is an extremely challenging space to work in. And a start-up phase of your organisation is even more so. Building the strength in our team and keeping their spirits high despite the various ups and downs every day is key and is a huge driver and can be a challenge if not worked on.  

Convincing heads of schools and getting them to take a bunch of ‘young people’ seriously is sometimes a challenge!

What future plans do you have for Apni Shala?

We see our work to somehow help advocate for the need to focus on integrating life skills into school programmes and pedagogy. We eventually want to be able to work directly with the teachers and help schools capacitate their own team to integrate life skills learning as a part of everyday teaching learning.

If you could change one thing about the way NGO's run in India, in general, what would you change?

A lot of great work is being done by NGOs. With so many of us doing different and sometimes similar kind of work there is huge scope for collaboration and working together or sharing resources. We think that this openness to learn from other organizations or extend help to other organizations is an important value to develop. In addition to this sometimes, there is a lack of documentation of all the wonderful grass-root work that goes on. If NGOs could create great ways to document some of this work it would add to the learning of many other organizations.

Paroma Sen
Paroma Sen is a professional content and creative writer.

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