At an age when most start contemplating a life of retirement, three 55-year-olds have taken on a mission to give back to society by devoting themselves to providing mentoring and training to young women and men in the slums of Bengaluru, Karnataka.
The three friends, MK Ranganath, Sathyanarayan and Veeraiah, have known each other from childhood and have stood by each other through life’s small and big struggles for over fifty years. The inspiring trio hail from a village on the outskirts of Bengaluru, where they had first-hand experience of braving against the odds and remember the hardships, failures and achievements that have made them what they are today.
“Opportunities were limited those days. We are the sons of farmers, and we, literally, grew up in the fields. We moved to the city to get college education and find a job. For years we worked at very low wages but learnt on the job and climbed up the growth ladder. Things are different today with intense competition and a very fast pace. Companies look for fully-trained young people and no one has the patience to train you on the job. Youth who grow up in our villages do not have access to training and vocational education – how will they stand a chance against the city?” says Ranganath.
Ranganath, with Sathyanarayan and Veeraiah, has been associated with the Social Welfare and Rural Development Society (SWARDS), a community-based organisation, working for the welfare of communities from villages like theirs.
When Smile Foundation approached SWARDS for starting a skill training and livelihood project for youth through its Smile Twin e-Learning Programme (STeP), the three friends were the first to volunteer.
Ranganath works as a Computer instructor at the STeP centre, Veeraiah is the English language instructor, and Sathyanarayan is the project coordinator. Along with a dedicated support team, the three have successfully churned out four batches of trained youth over the past two years.
Talking about the journey, Sathyanarayan shares, “It was difficult at the beginning to enrol youth for the project. We went from door-to-door, organised mobilisation activities and awareness meetings. Finally, we identified the most deserving youth and inducted them to the first batch of trainees. Once these trainees qualified and got jobs, their friends, neighbours, started turning up for enrolment.”
The STeP centre is currently catering to youth from the urban villages of Anajanapura, Amtruthnagar, Gollahalli, Avalhalli, Harinagar, Chunchungahtta, Yelchenhalli, Ruahuvanhalli, Ayappanagar, Sreenidhi Layout, Kothnur Dinne, and New Bank Colony in South Bengaluru.
Once enrolled, the youth are then trained in market-oriented job skills such as English Proficiency, Computer Education, Retail Management, and Personality Development. In addition to a highly relevant curriculum developed by industry experts, the trainees are also given practical exposure through visits to probable workplaces at retail outlets, corporate offices and factory outlets, and career counselling by corporate employees. Furthermore, the youth are placed as per their interest and aptitude at reputed local as well as multinational firms, BPOs and retail chains.
The trio have not just been mentors but also friends to the young trainees, guiding them as they begin their professional journey.
More than 400 young men and women have graduated from the centre so far. Most of them are now employed with some of the leading retail and service sector brands, while others are pursuing higher education that they had to give up earlier.
“At our age now, we do not have many dreams of our own, but we are living the dreams of all these young people. The love and respect that they have for us is the biggest achievement of our lives. As they land a job it is not uncommon to see their parents with tears of joy in their eyes. The youth are our future and nation’s biggest asset. We must all work together to enable and empower them,” Veeraiah summarizes