Gift of Gratitude
Harmony - Celebrate Age|February 2017

Over 25 years ago, a group of professionals took an oath to repay their debt to society by opening doors for underprivileged boys. Chitra Ramaswamy discovers some amazing success stories

Chitra Ramaswamy

Venkatesh oozes confidence as he alights from his bike and shakes off his helmet. The 25 year-old former Infosys employee is a budding entrepreneur and his Bengaluru based web design company is going great guns with franchises overseas. Yogesh, who completed his post graduation in biochemistry, is pursuing a full-scholarship PhD in clean energy from Carnegie Mellon University in the US. Ramesh, an artist and sports person, who routinely participates and wins various marathons across the country, is a brand ambassador for an international sporting goods company. While these achievements may seem ordinary, there is one fundamental difference: these young men started with a handicap that could have scripted a very different fate for each one of them. But thanks to Bengaluru-based Snehalaya Homes, they, and many others like them, are part of the mainstream and live each day with a smile.

“I was one of the first kids to be admitted to Snehalaya, when I was just four years old; that was 26 years ago,” says Raghavendra, an associate consultant with Mindtree in Bengaluru. “I got the best of everything—an education, house mothers, a big family with whom I share a strong bond and, above all, a strong value system.”

Indeed, Snehalaya is more than just a residential facility for destitute boys. It was set up in 1991 under MILT or the McGrath Institute of Leadership Training Charitable Trust, by internationally acclaimed management guru and trainer Aporesh Acharya, former faculty at Dale Carnegie Associates in the US.

“Setting up Snehalaya Homes was a decision taken by a group of Miltonians, who hail from all walks of life. We had all undergone a powerful leadership training programme under the legendary Aporesh Acharya,” explains 71 year-old R Venkatanathan, vice-president of Karvy Group, and a founder member. “The urge to rise above selfish commercial interests and give back to society was the compelling and inspirational learning experience from Acharya’s programme.”

C Grahadurai, 53, chairperson of the MILT Central Trust and the two Bengaluru chapters of Snehalaya, adds, “We believe we all have a responsibility towards society and by giving back to it, we are only purifying ourselves, and that the taker is actually obliging us in this self-purification process.”

The first two Snehalaya centres were established in Bengaluru’s Malleswaram and Banashankari residential areas; a few months later, a centre each was opened in Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai.

What distinguishes these institutions from others that care for disadvantaged boys is its focus on shaping their young wards into future achievers and leaders. They call it ‘growth-oriented development’. Thus, with the help of social workers, Snehalaya handpicks only 15 boys—either orphans or those who have only one parent—for each of the five centres, every year.

While living at the facility, these boys are schooled in the mainstream till Class 5. After that, they continue their education at the MILT Residential School in Shimultala, Bihar, where informal education is the mode of study. Here, the emphasis is on leadership training even as the boys are put through a regimen that is a mix of academics and sports. Eventually, they take the Class 10 and 12 board examinations under the Central Government’s National Institute of Open Schooling system.

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