Paul Bloom, the legendary professor at Yale, once famously remarked, “We are constituted so that simple acts of kindness, such as giving to charity or expressing gratitude, have a positive effect on our long-term moods. The key to a happy life, it seems, is the good life: a life with sustained relationships, challenging work, and connections to community.”
The story of the founders and volunteers at Angel Xpress Foundation (AXF) brings this quote to life. After spending almost 20 years building a career in financial services, Anubha Sharma changed course started Angel Xpress Foundation. Face to face with the reality of the poor quality of education that the under privileged receive in India, while on a volunteering stint, a realisation of a different sort dawned. Anubha realised that Mumbaikars cared and they wanted to do something for the poor children in their midst. In January 2012, a Facebook request for clothes and stationery generated 3000 calls with a multitude of offers for help.
Anubha felt she had hit upon an idea that could create a way out for the millions of marginalised, first generation learners, who seemed doomed to an unending cycle of poverty arising from lack of opportunities due to illiteracy and poor exposure. Anubha embarked on this new journey together with one of the callers, a business woman called Beenaa Advani, who also decided to abandon her commercial pursuits for this cause. “It’s the love I get from the children every time I walk into a centre that keeps me going”, says Beenaa.
Using the co-existence of slums and high-rises across the city to promote community involvement and ownership, AXF’s core program, ‘Learning Centers in Parks’, has been designed to bridge the gap between first generation learners who reside in slums and their educated affluent neighbours with a social conscience who are keen to give back.
Interactions with volunteers at Angel Xpress Foundation draw out a picture that is heart-warming to say the least. “My involvement starts with seeing the kids smile, and to contribute something for that smile, that gives ultimate joy and internal satisfaction. Teaching is not an easy job; you need lots of patience for it but not everything is done for a return. I just do what I can. It is a fulfilling experience and yes, devoting time to experience the joy is priceless,” says Sapna Parikh, who has been a volunteer at the AXF Santacruz center nearly 10 months. Sapna’s own story is quite amazing. Having worked in stock markets for 15 years, suddenly one day she quit her family business and joined a group called Team Spreading Smiles whose work led her to AXF. Since then there has been no looking back.
Ulka Kishinchandani who also started out working in her family business, had been a homemaker for a few years when she heard of AXF. Keenly interested in teaching, when she read about AXF on Facebook, she called Anubha and found an instant connection with the cause. Ulka started teaching at AXFs Juhu center and the bond has only strengthened over the year she has been with the organisation. “The last year spent with the sweetest, most loving children, who have a very strong desire to learn and progress, has been a very rewarding year. I am deeply involved and very enthused to further this cause. I truly believe that education is the only way forward and I am happy to contribute what I can towards this,” says Ulka.
Anju Pritamani, another stay at home mum who took up volunteering at AXF Santacruz adds,” I heard of Angel Xpress Foundation from a friend and decided to see for myself what it was all about. The rest as they say is history. I have been here for almost two years and love every moment I spend with the children. Angel Xpress has given a new direction to my life and to that of the children coming here. They learn discipline and basic manners along with English and Maths. All they need is a little bit of love and mentoring and then for them the sky is the limit!!”
Zenobia Modi volunteers at AXF’s Andheri East center. A graduate from Nirmala Niketan, Zenobia did her BSc in Textiles and worked at a garment export house for four years. Like many other women who have taken up volunteering at AXF, she quit her job after having a child. Zenobia says, “A friend of mine mentioned she was volunteering at Angel Xpress. I kept following the Facebook page when suddenly I realised AXF had started a new centre at Mahakali ALM Park. That became the turning point in my life. Proximity to home became a major reason to take the leap and in August 2014 I began my journey at AXF.
“My volunteering at AXF gives me an amazing level of satisfaction,” Zenobia continued. “We handle kids from under-privileged backgrounds. I teach English to the 9th graders thrice a week. I have been volunteering for the past year and I feel more and more involved with every passing month. These kids have a keen interest to learn and a strong drive to move ahead. All they lack is the opportunity. I feel blessed to be able to contribute some of my time to this valuable cause.”
It is amazing how much of a difference busy urban folk can make to the society by choosing to contribute just a couple of hours from their week. The volunteers at AXF don’t just act as teachers, but also become mentors and guides. What they get in return is a lot of love and gratitude from the kids and a sense of satisfaction from having made a lasting difference.
AXF kids do better academically, become confident and are more aware of their rights and responsibilities. They have the possibility of a brighter future because a few people spare a few hours each week to teach and mentor them. The beauty of this interaction is that the volunteers at Angel Xpress claim they receive far more than they give. With the potential to make a deep change in society, the idea of Angel Xpress is something every urban community should adopt.
A little over three years since they set up operations, Angel Xpress Foundation operates centres out of parks in six locations with the help of 150 volunteers and a few appointed teachers. Almost 700 children receive daily lessons in English and maths at these centres. The NGO calls itself, ‘A free service provider for Mumbaikars who want to help children in their neighbourhood’. AXF is committed to providing the format, handholding and training free of cost to any citizen groups who want to take up the cause.
A Chartered Account, Debika Mukhija Ajmani, who has worked for organisations like KPMG and FCB Ulka in India and Bahrain went one step beyond volunteering to take charge of AXF’s operations at Juhu, Mumbai. Taking on a centre hasn’t fazed this mum of two who thrives on the responsibilities and the challenges the role throws at her. Debika also uses her corporate contacts to help raise funds for AXF. Recently on a holiday in Europe, Debika found herself missing her kids at AXF so much she would take their calls and chat with them. “It was lovely to see them jump and wave and shout Didi is back”, when I walked in after a month’s gap says Debika. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do to help them build better futures”, she adds as she tries to cajole other woman in the school mum groups and other close friends into joining her to teach at AXF.
Check out Anubha Sharmas article here
If you want to become a volunteer, please reach out to Angel Xpress Foundation here.
India’s Platform for Women in Business
The third annual Think Big: Women in Business Forum will be held on 9 October 2015 at Hyatt Regency Delhi, where 400 participants, including women entrepreneurs, corporate buyers, industry mentors, investors, and media are expected to come together. Think Big 2015 will be a high profile event filled with interesting speakers, panel discussions and interactive skill-building workshops. The event presents great opportunities for business networking among investors, corporate buyers and women business owners.
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