For the past month, 15-year-old Rhea Gharia has been busy brainstorming for an awareness campaign taken up by her school, juggling the work with her studies for the upcoming Class 10 board exams.
Gharia and her classmates at Queen Mary School, Grant Road, are planning street plays, learning to make iron-rich ladoos and other activities to sensitise women about anaemia.
“My school has taken up women’s health as a social initiative this year. We are working towards encouraging women to consume iron-rich food,” said Gharia. “It is a time-consuming affair. However, I have managed to achieve a balance between my academics and social projects.”
Last year, her school mates had participated in the Jaljyoti programme, in association with St Xavier’s College, Fort, under which they built ‘bottle bulbs’ and fitted them across city slums. These bulbs do not require electricity, providing free light to slum dwellers.
Like Queen Mary, several city schools are now encouraging students to take up social causes as part of their community service activities or life-skills education. Schools are also using social media to get students interested in altruistic activities.
Ryan International Group of Schools has used the social media hype over the Ice Bucket Challenge to start an awareness programme of its own — the Food Bucket Challenge. The project that started on September 5 is aimed at collecting and giving out one million kilograms of food to orphanages across the country.
Students have been asked to donate a bucket of not-easily perishable food items such as rice, wheat, jowar, sugar, onions, potatoes and pulses.
The food items will be distributed to 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with the schools.
“We want our students to be socially sensitive and such activities help them in engaging with underprivileged students,” said Ryan Pinto, chief executive of the group. “The Ice Bucket Challenge had created waves in the social media and we decided to use the collective movement.”
Social initiatives taken up by international schools are on the rise because students are awarded grades for social service in the International Baccalaureate (IB), said V Balasubramanium, director of NES International School, Mulund. “Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) is a graded subject in the IB. Students are awarded grades for their social work,” he said.
However, non-IB schools are also engaging in innovative social initiatives to teach students to give back to the community. “Students can collect money from their parents and donate for a cause, but they have to realise that they can make a difference in their own way,” said Rakesh Joshi, principal of Apeejay School, Nerul, which has an Interact Club that conducts several such activities throughout the year.
Educationists said that schools should be extremely sensitive while starting social campaigns. “The initiative should be conducted in such a way that students learn to empathise and not look down at the less fortunate,” said Arundhati Chavan, principal, Swayyam Siddhi College of Education, Kalyan, and president of the Parents Teachers United Forum.