On Tuesday, in the last few days before James heads home to the UK, we drove out from Mumbai, up into the Western Ghat mountains (very different to the lush Eastern Ghat’s we passed through from Vizag to get to the Arakku Valley) to Pune to see the Mahindra Pride School (MPS).
Opened in March 2007, the MPS is a Mahindra & Mahindra funded not for profit initiative managed by the Naandi Foundation and provides the most disadvantaged but eager to learn students from ages 18-25 with the chance to train and get into the workforce.
Housed in a little building on the edge of the city, the school recruits 160 students each quarter who are typically from below poverty line (BPL) families, have tried their hardest to complete 10th Standard at school but have often had to start working to support the family, have very little or no English and would never be able to afford to attend college and take the next step to securing a real job and career. The most important factor though, and now with a really strong reputation 3 young people apply for every place, is the determination of the student to succeed and really commit to working.
After a basic aptitude test the students are placed onto one of four courses (hospitality, retail, BPO and KPO – IT related courses, or IT hardware – so fixing computers although this isn’t so much in demand from recruiters at the moment), each lasting 3 months and in this time they attend classes all day, 6 days a week using the mock lab classrooms (one room was set up like a little hotel bedroom, another as a restaurant) to practise their new skills. MPS provide hot meals for the students and you can really see the sense of pride in each student at having been selected and given this second chance. Some students were travelling from the rural areas for several hours to get to school each day such was their dedication (we heard how one boy had started sleeping on the roadside next to the school because he wanted to spend as long as possible studying).
The most important part of these courses, and something all the students say is the most life-changing part, is “grooming” where they learn behaviour and life skills like how to use a knife and fork, how to greet people in a professional way, how to dress neatly and take care of their appearance and how to understand banking and money, current affairs and communicate through conversations. For the majority of the students these are skills they haven’t picked up at home and will really set them apart from their peers in being young professionals. Nearly all arrive with no English language either and in just three months through the skills of a passionate English teacher, Manik, with some startling academic credentials, they are able to hold full conversations in English, form ideas on current affairs and write them down in English and even understand nuances in the English language which meant the alumni we met could really joke with us! Quite remarkable and just one sign of the commitment of these students.
When we arrived we had the chance to meet with 9 alumni students from previous batches who had all passed out and were working for very reputable companies – 100% of students are placed in jobs before leaving MPS – they are given interview and assessment centre coaching too. The clever bit is that companies like Macdonalds, Cafe Coffee Day, JW Marriott hotels, Symtel and even Ferrero Rocher (and maybe one day Capgemini...) are actually getting very well presented employees and so offer very competitive salaries, whilst supporting a charitable initiative – so everyone benefits!
Really seeing, hearing and feeling the overwhelming commitment, passion and pride of the teaching staff, ASC Coordinators, Community Activists, and ECE crèche teachers to provide the most deserving young people of India with an opportunity to lead independent and successful lives through getting a better education has become the hallmark of all the Naandi initiatives I have visited on my trip. It's an experience which has really changes my perspective on how very fortunate I have been in life so far and something I will carry with me for a long time.
24th November 2011