What an incredible opportunity the Chennai Challenge has proven itself to be already; within 36 hours of being in India, our team of 11 were introduced to the whole management team of Oasis in Chennai; a beautiful grassroots organisation that has community hubs in usually-ignored slums across four regions of the country.
Oasis have been in operation for more than 20 years and adopt the model of establishing self-sufficient support groups within community hubs within a particular slum community. Once they’ve passed on their knowledge, skills and ideas, they move on to a new hub to engage with more individuals… their activities include a range of specialisms from after school programmes to life skills work shops; they teach everything from English to tailoring and are dedicated to ensuring community members feel confident to continue working, learning & engaging long after the time in their hub ends.
We learnt about all of this and their ambitions to become more enterprising / less reliant on funding. I also got to ask for the manager’s thoughts on political engagement within the country and between their organisation vs the government. (The answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear, unfortunately…)
After Oasis, we enjoyed coffee with both the General Secretary and the President of the YMCA Madras; a city centre hostel that forms part of the larger YMCA charity & social enterprise.
The YMCA use commercial activities here in India to help fund their community development work with orphaned and disadvantaged boys. For example, they have hostels, gym suites and cafes which generate an income and, in turn, helps them to run orphanages, schools and women’s centres. They have a site that’s been built on what feels like waste land in a different part of Chennai; ‘Boystown’ – comprising a school, the orphanage, a multi-use hall and a women’s centre. Approximately a third of our time is being spent with the 50 or so boys who are based here.
The UK charity that I’ve come to India with (Chennai Challenge) commits to working with and supporting this particular site annually – and have done since 2003. Work carried out, thanks to UK volunteer fundraising, includes raising the floor of the multi-use area to prevent it from flooding, providing a ‘sump’ to help store and treat human waste, and in building a shower and toilet block for the boys outside of their dorms.
I won’t deny that I was initially sceptical of supporting the Chennai Challenge (when I first saw their website) but, my God, what an inspiring achievement. For three people to have got the ball rolling on something that they had such limited experience in (and who continue to roll that ball…) is inspiring and nothing short of incredible. Their ethos of working with established groups in the heart of the communities, and in remaining with the same throughout the years means that they align each summer’s activities to the requests of those in the know. (This year we’re facilitating management workshops in the fields of financial planning and better communication – in addition to fun & educational activities with the kids; as per their request).
To find out more click through:
Volunteer with Chennai Challenge.
Learn about Oasis
Learn about the YMCA
Donate to Chennai Challenge (now that I’m here, I can hand-on-heart say that all your donations are valued and effective) Please, don’t underestimate the difference a fiver can make.