The Boar sat down and spoke to Helen Knight, the Programme Manager of Warwick Laksh before the deadline for applications of this year’s programme arrives on 6 December. Helen Knight was a member of staff at the university who took on the role when encouraged by the Director, and has now been involved in the project since 2013. She has visited India eight times and travels to Haryana, India each year which is where the project takes place.
What exactly is Warwick Laksh?
The Warwick Laksh Programme is a volunteer teaching programme in rural India, run in partnership with the Laksh Foundation, which offers free extra-curricular education in maths and English to over 1000 students aged between 3-18, across five villages in Haryana. As part of our programme, the volunteers will mentor and coach local trainee teachers, helping them to develop their English and Maths skills and work with them to create exciting lesson plans to then pass on those skills to the students.
How did the initiative begin?
Ten years ago, the Laksh Foundation in Haryana, India, began an ambitious project. As a small NGO, organic farm and women’s sewing co-operative, it also began to offer free education to the children of local farm workers, offering them a way to improve their futures. We’ve worked with the Foundation since the beginning and have helped to shape their teaching programmes over time.
Back then it was just three Warwick students volunteering in one newly established teaching centre; now twelve students volunteer for a month each across the five schools, and we have ambitious goals for the future. Warwick volunteers made significant impact with the NGO, a small yet very powerful NGO. The project not only gives the opportunity to volunteer and teach abroad, but a hands on and eye-opening international experience.
By providing mentorship and coaching to the teachers, we are making a long-lasting and important contribution to the curriculum and the NGO.
What makes Warwick Laksh such an important initiative to undertake?
Well, the reason we are so unique and unlike other programmes is because our project is shaped by the needs of the foundation, we work with local teachers. By providing mentorship and coaching to the teachers, we are making a long-lasting and important contribution to the curriculum and the NGO.
Going to schools can be disruptive, by teaching the school who are very transient however our project makes a long term impact on the lives of the children by performing an indirect way of impacting the children’s education.
What exactly do the volunteers teach them?
We focus on English, Maths and Social sciences but a range of subjects. We focus on teaching them ways of learning and education on their feet to really enable the children to learn. We believe in stopping passive learning as our techniques help to retain knowledge and change the way children take in information. Knowledge and education is the route out of poverty of these children.
You can see the difference in the numbers, in 2015 we had 450 students across the project and now it is over a thousand. Since inception we’ve achieved a fantastic 550% increase and we are very proud of that.
India is one of the most magical places, it can drive you absolutely crazy, it is so busy and so colourful, so noisy, and so full of life that you cannot help but come back being changed
What do the volunteers take away from this?
We offer a tangible experience. There is a sense of trust, the parents trust the school as it is run by known members of the community and this sense of community is the integrity of the project.
This project has such potential to create impact and the volunteers see that impact first-hand and contribute to international development and the growing of the NGO.
It is not voluntourism, students fundraise money for the project. The project does not take away opportunities from people as the teacher then continue the wok after the volunteers have left.
Moreover, India is one of the most magical places, it can drive you absolutely crazy. It is so busy and so colourful, so noisy, so full of life that you cannot help but come back being changed. You are present when you’re in India, very much focused on the now and this is also an important part in the transformation for our students. They receive a valuable insight into unique culture, you gain experience you won’t get on the Warwick campus, the soft skills and practical skills.
You really learn about yourself.
I found a family in Laksh and I can’t wait to return
Moreover, the people are so lovely, once you have been to Laksh farms, you’ve always got a seat at the table. Many of our students have gone back to spend more time there, it is a really tight knit community. We’ve now all got family in India, and you could too.
A volunteer that took part in the project last year also spoke to us about her time: “I have met some incredible people during my time at Laksh; determined, selfless and inspiring, the teachers never failed to impress. I was involved in teaching them more interactive methods of teaching as opposed to the stereotypical method of rote-learning. We were involved in teaching them self-defence, classroom behavioural management techniques and how to be a good ambassador.
“Despite going to India with the intention to teach the teachers, I have learnt and gained invaluable experiences from them. I found a family in Laksh and I can’t wait to return”.