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Sumit Sohani – A role model

Mr.Sumit Sohani , just 16 years old resides in the US. He plays chess and also teaches children chess, through his workshops. He donates the fees so collected to Unnati. He visited Unnati a few days back and sent us this note. I am sure tears will roll down your cheeks when you read this note. We want you to take the trouble to read it out to your children, as we believe it could make a difference in their thinking too. The fact that Sumit is able to improve himself through this journey is the great lesson. This is important. It is not about the good words about Unnati.
Sumit (1)
Sumit Sohani’s visit to Unnati Centre

Mahatma Gandhi told the world to be the change it wanted to see. Each person could strive and help to make the planet a better place.

Many charities in the US aim to fulfill this purpose: to help the underprivileged poor, to bring awareness to and shed light on the concerns of many in exotic lands far away, whose problems don’t concern the plush lawns and fast cars of Americans. Giving money, however, does not change the somewhat negative perception of service in the United States. Many are willing to donate, but how many are willing to truly volunteer their lives for a noble cause? How many are willing to undertake each grueling step of bettering society, one brick at a time?

The Unnati Centre of Bangalore, India, provides a 70 day educational service as a nongovernmental organization living solely on the fiscal donations of others. Their aim is to help the members of society who are shunned by the traditional schooling institutions, taking applicants in for what ends up being a complete mental transformation. Aside from providing the “standard” fare of computer, accounting, and beautician classes, Unnati also mandates more interpersonal courses like emotional management or life skills, ensuring that that their efforts with education are instilled into students with stellar moral character.

But this only scratches the surface of the deep Unnati iceberg.

I was fortunate enough to be able to visit their facility on a sunny and tempered Thursday afternoon. As a chess teacher, I was donating funds to the program: I saw in Unnati exactly what I hoped to accomplish with my students, to promote that drive for learning and excellence.

What I witnessed, though, was beyond my wildest expectations. First, the facility looked completely modern. Now, I wasn’t expecting a shack, of course, but to see a nonprofit school in such condition (and that too, in a relatively costly area in terms of real estate) was astounding. They say that first impressions are important, and Unnati’s was second to none, truly foreshadowing what was to come next.

After meeting Rameshji, the generous benefactor who spearheaded Unnati, I was able to come in and talk to the classes. Akin to the outdoors, each room was carefully furnished with a flatscreen for projecting, computers, a whiteboard, and rows of desks: clean, yet purposeful.

The magic came from the students, however. Before, I knew that I was contributing to a great organization. Like the physical distance between Bangalore and Atlanta, though, the true impact of my actions were fuzzy, hiding behind the impersonal Rupees I was sending. Upon the first minute of standing in that classroom, though, I could sense something more than just money at work. Asked to speak by Rameshji, the students delivered passionate and honest answers—in near perfect English, only after one month (!) in the program. Some talked about how Unnati had changed their “punctuality”—that they would not procrastinate on chasing success any longer. Others hit a more somber note, talking about their less-than-adequate backgrounds and how Unnati would not only improve their condition but that of their families.

Unnati guarantees each student a job after the program, and allots three days of the week for a hands-on apprenticeship of sorts. The real-world experience carries with it a tremendous impact: students exude a certain confidence about being part of the work force and making a difference. A boy stated his typing speed with such confidence (a mere 25 words per minute) that his passion overshadowed his technical shortcomings. In the words of Mr. Rameshji, a kid could go learn English anywhere—only at Unnati could they become better people, better assets to Earth.

The efforts of Unnati demonstrate the necessity of humility and gratefulness. Coming from a relatively wealthy background, I would often criticize school for being too difficult or too boring. Looking at Unnati makes me—and makes one—realize the value of an education and resources as a whole. Everyone who helps with Unnati could be spending their time in more lucrative pursuits: rather, they nobly choose to service the less fortunate. Not only have I seen the importance of such graciousness, I have also realized the importance of appreciating what I have, and remembering that my problems are minuscule compared to those of others.

I suppose that I wasn’t really following Gandhi’s ideology. Money was great, but something truly impactful is something as meaningful as Unnati, not (literally) cold hard cash. Visiting the centre has been a wake-up call as well as a pilgrimage to something far holier than anything I’ve ever seen or done. All anyone can pray for is to follow in their footsteps, selflessly and successfully molding the lives of many from insignificance to opportunity.

Team Unnati

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