"SITE VISIT REPORT â€“ Sumangali Seva Ashram"
SITE VISIT REPORT – Sumangali Seva Ashram Date: 17th Jan, 2002 Swetha Narayanaswamy firstname.lastname@example.org Its quite easy to locate and can be reached by Bangalore BTS buses. We got down at the Canara bank bus-stop on the way to Yelahanka near Baptiste hospital and took an auto to the ashram. Autos should charge only the ‘minimum fare’. Be wary of auto drivers who try to make more money with tales of lack of return passengers etc. Everyone in the area knew where the ashram was. Smiling faces and charming locale is the hallmark of SSA. I went there with my father, and we were warmly greeted by Mrs. Susheelamma, the pillar of strength and dedication at SSA. The place was neat and clean. We were taken on a tour of the campus by Ms. Shobha. What struck me as different from some other voluntary organizations and missionaries that I have visited is that, most of the staff (mostly accounting staff and teachers) here are salaried people. They come in the morning and leave in the evening and get a regular monthly salary. The main purpose of this site visit was to find out the details of the computer center that is to be started at SSA. I spoke with Ms. Sreedevi, who is our primary interface for the computer project. The computers will be located in a room which presently houses sewing machines. When I saw the room, there were stitching classes going on there. The plan is to shift out the sewing machines to a room downstairs and then install the computers there. The room is quite spacious. The plan is to teach computing to the accounting / general staff in the campus first and then to make them teach students starting from the 5th grade. Problems: 1. The plan is to start with the basics of computer usage, Kannada and English word processing software and the internet. I spoke to some staff, and not many of them know English. Hence, I would think that apart from computer education, they might require some basic English training. Ms. Sreedevi mentioned that there are some women who are taking English classes. I asked to see them, but she seemed reluctant saying that they are shy etc. 2. The students in the school that I spoke with are again mostly Kannada speaking. From, what I spoke with them, it seemed to me that they are finding it hard to speak and write English and it will be quite an effort to teach them English software on the computers. Kannada word processing may be easier but I am not sure how easy it will be for them to find jobs after learning Kannada software. Ms. Sreedevi seemed to think that there is a demand for Kannada word processing also. Also, Ms. Sreedevi mentioned that since their organization has been tried and tested, they have a good network of contacts and respect among employers, and hence getting jobs would not be a problem. 3. The power situation is slightly bad there, and Ms. Sreedevi is speaking to various people to improve it soon. Its not likely to affect starting up the computers but its something to consider when the number of users is increased. 4. The initial batch will be around 15 staff. Salary for instructors seems to be a big bottle-neck. They charge very exorbitant fees (Rs. 15000 per batch), hence they are on the look-out for some economical instructors. I have requested some people I know to contact Ms. Sreedevi if they can find any instructors (part-time / full-time). 5. So far, corporate involvement in the effort has been nil. SSA has approached them, Ms. Sreedevi said, but they have turned a cold shoulder. ASHA Bangalore might be able to help in this regard, in contacting some companies. Ms. Sreedevi mentioned that Mr. Narayana Murthy’s wife ( of Infosys fame) had spoken with them, but monetarily or otherwise no help has come so far from the big-wigs. 6. When asked as to what else they need to set-up the computer center, Ms. Sreedevi mentioned that some more funding for furniture would be useful. Ms. Sreedevi mentioned that by June 2002, the computers would be ready for use by the children. By first of March of this year, she plans to have the computers installed and ready to go. They already have internet connection for 1-2 computers there which they are using for mail correspondence etc. Hence, they understand the logistics of obtaining internet on the campus. They have about 4 machines now, they plan to buy 4 more with the money given by ASHA. They have some computers donated by people, but Ms. Sreedevi is reluctant to use them, as she feels that she must have the high speed computers with the latest software, as upgrading will be a problem later on. I spoke with her and told her that high speed may only be required for internet facilitated computers. In my opinion, for kids to understand what a computer really is, for starters, a 486 would be ok too! There are some people who have donated some older computers, and I think we should push for those to be used as well. For installations and software set up, they have employed Mr. Vasudevan for a fee of Rs 10000 anually. I was unable to meet him as he only comes in on an as needed basis. The tour of the campus was very insightful. Gobar gas is prepared in the campus and used for fuel. I saw the hostels. They are neat but slightly crammed. 110 children reside in 3 dormitories. The children are given special energy foods since vegetables are very expensive. Energy foods consist of legumes and other grains ground together. They are prepared at SSA. Upto 7th standard, the students study in the SSA school, thereafter the kids go to another school called Abhayashrama in Basavanagudi. There are about 20 women who live on the campus. They have one room that they are sharing. The women are engaged in activities such as stitching, spinning, food preparation etc. A number of children that are normally engaged in rag-picking are brought to the SSA campus and they are engaged in making paper covers for grocery shops. They are paid and given food for the same to encourage their parents to send them to SSA. The school has about 520 children. Apart from children who stay in the campus there are also other students in the school. The classrooms are neat although, they are in need of some furniture there. All students were in uniform, and when asked I was told that the parents of the students pay for the uniforms and books. For the orphaned students, SSA provides uniforms and books. The library is in bad shape, and they are in a need of some better books and library facilities. There are a total of about 520 students and each class has about 60 children. There is a total of 11 teachers, and they are all paid government salaries. I spoke to students of each class and they were eager to speak and pose for pictures. The students are happy with the food and education and there were lots of smiling faces. I saw a dance that they were preparing for the forthcoming Jan 26th republic day celebrations. As we were leaving, I spoke once again with Smt. S. G. Susheelamma and Smt. Rama B. Mane. They struck me as very dedicated and hard-working people. One thing that is worthy of note is that in the entire ashram only Mrs. Sreedevi is aware and completely in- charge of the computer project. It would definitely be better if they had at least one more dedicated staff to help out with the computers.